The Fifth Child Burning

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    Photo: Ron Lee/The Silver Factory
Found materials from a burned house: wood table, book bag, detergent bottle, shoe, wall plaque, glass bowl, child's clothes, metal chair. wooden rocking chair, electrical cord, table lamp, window blinds, television, toaster oven, radios, cable box, electric can opener videocassette recorder, roller skate, bed parts, other materials
87 x 72 60 inches [dimensions variable]
Collection of
Baltimore Museum of Art
Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

The Fifth Child Burning is Holley's conception of the remains of a house fire that consumed a child. It consists of numerous household items, including a television with VCR, end table, chair, toaster, lamp, boom box, book bag, clothesline support, clothing, and roller skates. All of these items have been burned or melted prior to their use in this sculpture. The result is a portrait of the lost child's world, one that evokes fear and sorrow in equal measure—fear that such an unexpected tragedy can visit anyone at any time, and sorrow for the child's lost potential. The piece's title refers to the legendary church bombing in Birmingham that killed four children, thus linking this unidentified subject with a historical tragedy of great importance to the civil rights movement.

"A little girl in Birmingham burned to death in her own house. She was a classmate of A.J., my son. These things in this artwork all came out of her burned-down house. Her parents was not home. They had given her luxuries but not their own time.

"Four little girls died in the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963. They was the victims of racism. The 'fifth' child burned from a kind of family neglect. We got to look past racism sometimes and find the blame within ourself." —Lonnie Holley