Since he moved to New York City in the late 1970s, LaFayette, Georgia-born author, artist and designer Byron Keith Byrd has been busy. He's done holiday window decorations for esteemed stores like Macy's and Bloomingdale's and bedecked a tree for "The Today Show," among others.
Byrd thanks his mother for recognizing his talent early on. "She arranged for Santa to bring me my first oil paint set at 13," he says. He grew from there, tackling watercolors and abstract painting.
While working at a local boutique in high school, Byrd volunteered to decorate the window displays to draw people into the shop. It came naturally to him.
In the process of crafting his delicate oil paintings, he transforms the empty space of a canvas corner by corner. He applies the same principles when crafting the elaborate scenes of an interior or exterior holiday display.
When Byrd moved across the country more than 40 years ago, he joined a company dedicated to selling storefront window designs. One of his first displays was in the children's toy department at Macy's flagship store in New York City.
In 2018, Byrd's work was featured in the Manhattan Bloomingdale's main shop windows. He's also co-authored holiday books including how to perfect the art of gift wrap, and a coffee-table book featuring Christmas trees designed by celebrities like Giorgio Armani and Bill Blass. He also co-authored a book about the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and the history and evolution of the city's centerpiece.
Byrd has designed custom Christmas trees for "The Today Show," Neiman Marcus and the Hallmark Visitor Center's special collection.
The artist landed his first solo show in New York City this past October, showcasing his oil paintings and watercolor. At 63, he says everything happens when it's supposed to if you're determined. Though he hasn't forgotten where he started. Byrd still finds connections to Chattanooga in his daily life. He holds a permanent collection of his work at the Hunter Museum of American Art, and this fall, by happenstance, a Chattanooga resident purchased two of his paintings through his website.
Name: Byron Byrd
Hometown: LaFayette, Georgia
"Chattanooga's a place you can't escape no matter how hard you try," Byrd says with a chuckle.
"I was born on a large working farm. We had to work the farm, but I had different aspirations. My mother realized that.
She taught all four of her boys that we could be anything. Unfortunately, she passed of a brain aneurysm at 49, but the last gift she gave me was a book on creative visualization, 'The Magic of Believing' by Claude M. Bristol. I read it from time to time.
I went to West Georgia University, got a bachelor's of fine arts and then moved immediately to New York City in 1978. I had my first show within one year on Madison Avenue.
I've been extremely lucky and extremely focused.
The goal [of window decorating] is to sell the merchandise. I was a marketing minor in college with an art major, so [decorating] made sense to me. You have to sell your art, whatever that may be.
In high school, I worked as a sales clerk. I started doing the window displays every two weeks, sometimes weekly. I actually put up my first solo show there with my art as the backdrops.
[As a young artist] I worked a lot of watercolor. I did my first watercolor in Manhattan. I see the influence [of my first professor at West Georgia University] in my art and painting.
Surrealism with watercolor ... it's unforgiving. The surrealistic nature caused me to become cerebral with my choices. Now, my favorite thing is abstract expressionism on canvas in oil.
... The last painting I did — that's my favorite or the best I've done ... It's ultimately a competition with myself. I have to paint something that I think is better.
When I go to a blank canvas, it's total freedom. Then, at some point, that style has to become an actual thought process. This might work over here, but you keep working until every square inch is covered. That's how I do it. And it can happen in two or three sessions, but you can't put a timeline on it.
The power of positive thinking is different than manifesting. I think all of our thoughts can be new. I have so many thoughts going through my mind, it's confusing in there.
I think things happen for everything when they're supposed to if you're in tune. It's a great journey. It's still happening."