By the mid-1980s his work had diversified to include paintings and recycled found-object sculptures. His yard and adjacent abandoned lots near his home became an immersive art environment that was celebrated by visitors from the art world, but threatened by scrap-metal scavengers and eventually, by the expansion of the Birmingham International Airport. In late 1996 Holley was notified that his hilltop property near the airport would be condemned. He rejected the airport authority's offer to buy the property at the market rate of $14,000, knowing that his site-specific installation had personal and artistic value he demanded $250,000. The dispute went to probate court and in 1997 a settlement was reached and the airport authority paid $165,700 to move Holley's family and work to a larger property in Harpersville, Alabama.
The appearance of the artist with dreadlocks in small-town Harpersville, accompanied with 5 of his 15 children and a truckload of artwork created from trash, did not please his new neighbors.
Holley's first major retrospective, Do We Think Too Much? I Don't Think We Can Ever Stop: Lonnie Holley, A Twenty-Five Year Survey, was organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art and traveled in 2003 to the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England. From May 2003 to May 2004, Holley created a "sprawling, sculptural environment" in the lower sculpture garden at the Birmingham Museum of Art as part of their "Perspectives" series of site-specific installations. The creation of the work was documented in the film "The Sandman's Garden" by Arthur Crenshaw and in photographs by Alice Faye "Sister" Love.
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