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Tyree Guyton

Public artist and Heidelberg Project founder Tyree Guyton was born on August 24, 1955 in Detroit, Michigan to George Guyton and Betty Solomon Guyton. He grew up on Heidelberg Street and Ellery on Detroit’s East Side near legendary “Paradise Valley.” Guyton attended Ralph J. Bunche Elementary School, Miller Junior High School and Northern High School, but the accidental fatal shooting of his cousin caused him to drop out of Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in 1972 to join the United States Army.

Guyton was released from the U.S. Army in 1973. He returned to Detroit, working at Chrysler’s Jefferson Assembly Plant and the Ford Motor Company. In 1980, Guyton began art classes at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies and at Marygrove College, where as a painter and sculptor he was mentored by Charles McGhee. McGhee introduced Guyton to the works of Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Robert Blackwell. He was also greatly influenced by Al Loving, artist in residence at Eastern Michigan University. During this period, Guyton joined the Detroit Fire Department, serving there through 1984. In 1986, shocked by urban violence, he responded by painting found objects, throwing the objects into the trees and nailing stuffed animals and dolls to abandoned houses as memorials. Guyton’s signature style featured bright clashing polka dots. He has been featured on NBC Nightly News, Nightline and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Through his art, Guyton succeeded in bringing the world’s attention to the East Side of Detroit, largely abandoned after the 1967 riots.

Since 1988, Guyton has been a teacher or artist in residence at Marygrove College, City of Detroit, Syracuse University School of Fine Art, Cranbrook Museum, Detroit Institute for the Arts (DIA), Harvard University, University of Michigan, St. Olaf College, Ohio State University, New School for Social Research, Intuit Art Center, Central Michigan University and Brazil’s Universidade Federal Da Bahia. Guyton’s work became a part of the curriculum at Wayne State University under an honors course called Art Community and Social Action: The Heidelberg Project, under which, Guyton helped to develop. He has received the David A. Hammond Memorial Scholarship, the Spirit of Detroit Award and the Humanity in the Arts Award. Guyton’s work can be found at the Studio Museum of Harlem, Kresge Art Museum, Detroit Institute of Art, the Delaware Art Institute and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Guyton is married to Jenenne Whitfield and has five children: Tyree, Jr, Towan, Omar, James and Tylisa.

Guyton was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 8, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.078

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/8/2007 |and| 6/26/2007

Last Name

Guyton

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Center for Creative Studies

Ralph Bunche Elementary School

Sidney D. Miller Middle School

Martin Luther King Jr. Sr High School

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Tyree

Birth City, State, Country

Detroit

HM ID

GUY02

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $1,000 - $5,000

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

South America, Ecuador

Favorite Quote

Stick And Stay, And It Will Pay

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

8/24/1955

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Detroit

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Public artist Tyree Guyton (1955 - ) founded the Heidelberg Project which, along with his other public art projects in Detroit, succeeded in bringing the world's attention to the East Side of Detroit, largely abandoned after the 1967 riots.

Employment

Ford Motor Company

Chrysler Corporation

The Heidelberg Project

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Tyree Guyton's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Tyree Guyton lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Tyree Guyton describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Tyree Guyton describes his maternal family's sharecropping

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Tyree Guyton remembers his maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Tyree Guyton describes the Paradise Valley section of Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Tyree Guyton describes his mother's early aspirations

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Tyree Guyton describes his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Tyree Guyton lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Tyree Guyton describes his parents' personalities and his likeness to them

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Tyree Guyton remembers his grandparents' house on Heidelberg Street in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Tyree Guyton describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Tyree Guyton describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Tyree Guyton describes his community in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Tyree Guyton remembers his great-grandmother's spirituality

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Tyree Guyton recalls his early interest in art

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Tyree Guyton describes the challenges he faced as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Tyree Guyton recalls his family's opinions of his artistic talent

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Tyree Guyton remembers the music of his youth

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Tyree Guyton remembers Ralph Bunche Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Tyree Guyton remembers the uprisings in Detroit in 1967, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Tyree Guyton remembers welfare inspections

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Tyree Guyton remembers the uprisings in Detroit in 1967, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Tyree Guyton remembers the racial demographics of his neighborhood

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Tyree Guyton recalls the African American organizations in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Tyree Guyton remembers his housing conditions in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Tyree Guyton remembers Sidney D. Miller Junior High School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Tyree Guyton remembers the gang activity in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Tyree Guyton remembers his track coach at Sidney D. Miller Junior High School

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Tyree Guyton remembers his relationship with his mother

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Tyree Guyton remembers leaving school to enlist in the U.S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Tyree Guyton remembers his visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Tyree Guyton recalls his desire to serve in the Vietnam War

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Tyree Guyton describes his experiences in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Tyree Guyton recalls his experiences of discrimination in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Tyree Guyton remembers the accidental death of his cousin

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Tyree Guyton talks about working with youth in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Tyree Guyton describes the psychological effects of the Vietnam War

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Tyree Guyton remembers leaving the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Tyree Guyton remembers his special assignment in the U.S. Army, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Tyree Guyton remembers his special assignment for the U.S. Army, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Tyree Guyton recalls his early professional career

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Tyree Guyton describes his early artwork

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Tyree Guyton recalls becoming an inspector at the Ford Motor Company

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Tyree Guyton recalls his maternal grandfather's support

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Tyree Guyton remembers the murder of his first wife

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Tyree Guyton remembers qualifying for welfare as a single father

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Tyree Guyton recalls his decision to attend the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Tyree Guyton recalls studying under Charles McGee, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Tyree Guyton recalls studying under Charles McGee, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Tyree Guyton describes the changes on Heidelberg Street in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Tyree Guyton remembers moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Tyree Guyton remembers the influence of drugs in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Tyree Guyton describes the start of the Heidelberg Project

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Tyree Guyton describes his reasons for starting the Heidelberg Project

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Tyree Guyton remembers cleaning the empty lots on Heidelberg Street in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Tyree Guyton describes the deterioration of homes in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Tyree Guyton talks about using shoes in his artwork

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Tyree Guyton remembers creating the Baby Doll House

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Tyree Guyton describes his inspiration for the Heidelberg Project houses

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Tyree Guyton remembers the Heidelberg Project's early press coverage

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Tyree Guyton talks about the use of stuffed animals in memorials

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Tyree Guyton reflects upon the Heidelberg Project

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Tyree Guyton describes the response to the Heidelberg Project

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Tyree Guyton remembers the tourists attracted by the Heidelberg Project

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Tyree Guyton reflects upon the success of the Heidelberg Project

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Tyree Guyton describes his wife's role in the Heidelberg Project

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Tyree Guyton remembers Mayor Coleman Young

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Tyree Guyton talks about his relationship with his neighbors

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Tyree Guyton remembers meeting celebrities through the Heidelberg Project

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Tyree Guyton describes his plans for the future

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Slating of Tyree Guyton's interview, session 2

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Tyree Guyton describes his public artwork in Australia

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Tyree Guyton describes his book, 'Connecting the Dots'

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Tyree Guyton talks about his sculpture for Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Tyree Guyton describes his course at Wayne State University

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Tyree Guyton talks about his motif of dots and circles

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Tyree Guyton reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Tyree Guyton shares a message to future generations

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Tyree Guyton describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Tyree Guyton reflects upon the growth of the Heidelberg Project

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Tyree Guyton describes his plans for the future

Tape: 8 Story: 12 - Tyree Guyton lists his children

Tape: 8 Story: 13 - Tyree Guyton describes the legacy of the Heidelberg Project

Tape: 8 Story: 14 - Tyree Guyton describes his philosophy of life

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Tyree Guyton narrates his photographs

DASession

1$2

DATape

6$8

DAStory

4$6

DATitle
Tyree Guyton talks about using shoes in his artwork
Tyree Guyton talks about his motif of dots and circles
Transcript
What happened with the shoes? I know that the first, I think the first article I ever read about Heidelberg [Heidelberg Project, Detroit, Michigan] was when I was living in Chicago [Illinois]. People were talking about a brother in Detroit [Michigan] who's got shoes hanging from trees. And, you know, "If you ever go Detroit, you ought to see it, you know, you ought to see these shoes." What, what (laughter), were you aware that that was the first, well, one of the first, I guess, publicity pieces I've ever hear about Heidelberg was about the shoes. What was the shoes about? What were the shoes about?$$Well, the shoes, there were several stories that I heard about the shoes. It started with, it started with my [maternal] grandfather, Grandpa Mackey [Sam Mackey] who was born in 1897. And, my grandfather told me several stories. That was one story he shared with me that his, his, his brother was auctioned off as a slave and he never saw his brother again. And, then there was another story he told me, he, he was a young boy and he was walking through a field and he saw a person hanging from a tree. And, I said to my grandfather, I said, "Well, what did you actually see?" And, he said that he saw the person moving and swaying with the wind and he said, he saw the soles of his shoes. That's what he told me. Then, there was a group of homeless people who came over, they had no place to live and they was living in these boxes, cardboard boxes. It was over by the Jefferies Projects [Detroit, Michigan]. They had no place to go. So, they took over this vacant land and the city sent in the police and told the people they had to go. And, so, the people put up some resistance. And, the police came in there and they used force to move those people off of that land that was owned by the city. And, they came over and asked me could I talk about their plight? And, I said, "Well, what do you want me to say?" And, they said, "I don't know. Can you say something?" So, what came to me was to cover the whole street from corner to corner. And, I put six thousand shoes in the street. And, people was driving over 'em. People was laughing about it. And, the neighbors went crazy and the police came and, and all hell broke loose and then I, I was on trial. I was found guilty and had Dr. Robert Farris Thompson from Harvard University [Cambridge, Massachusetts] to come testify for me.$$About when did this happen? Now, had--were you well into the project by this time?$$Oh, this was in the '90s [1990s]. This is--$$Okay.$$This is ninety--$$So, this well into the project?$$This is '90 [1990], '91 [1991]. I mean, it's off and it's running because I'm going on the Oprah show ['The Oprah Winfrey Show'], and I'm going on '20/20,' and primetime. I mean, it's, I mean it's jumping now.$Now, you were talking about the dots, and that's a big part of, of the Heidelberg Project [Detroit, Michigan]. Tell me about the dots or the circles.$$(Laughter) That circle, those dots has gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years. But, it started way back. It started with my [maternal] grandfather, Grandpa Sam Mackey who loved jellybeans. My, me fighting with city government to keep the art project where it's at today, which is on Heidelberg Street. The city wanted to come over and to get rid of it, and we talked about a plan B, or a second phase. And, he loved jellybeans and, and what came to me was to use that same concept, jellybeans which reflects different shades of people in the world.$$Okay.$$And, this thing grew. So, we polka dotted a house and then I told the city that I was gonna polka dot the whole city if they came over and if they took down the project. So, they took down part of it. I started polk- this whole movement of polka dotting the city, and other people came out to play a part in it, and there are polka dots all over the city. But, for me it was a metaphor that, that helped me to understand life and how life repeats itself over and over. The world is round. Life, we travel in a circle, you know, we live to die and then we live again. It never stops. Here's a circle. I'm also inclined to believe that there are other planets, and it's a circle, round and around, never stopping.