Fleming, a native of Marion County, Alabama, creates fantastical characters drawn from nature and his own rich imagination and crafts them in bronze. The works’ durability and whimsy make them perfect companions for the children at the CDRC.
Fleming’s latest installment in the garden is a family of ducks named Judy, Milla and Amy. They join the larger-than-life Peter the Rabbit, Frank the Frog and John the Turtle, which were already in the garden. All nestle in the shrubs just steps away from the center’s entrance, greeting the children as they arrive each morning.
Fleming, who was born in 1940, suffered from a speech impediment that kept him mute and isolated for most of his childhood. Yet he credits those childhood challenges and his rural upbringing for his love of nature and the close observations that later informed his art.
Eventually the artist overcame his difficulties with speech through years of intensive therapy. His interest in creating art grew in college, and he earned a bachelor’s degree in art from Florence State College (now the University of North Alabama) in 1962 and a master’s in fine arts from The University of Alabama in 1973.
Although Fleming’s best- known work is “The Storyteller,” located in Birmingham, his sculptures appear in collections from the Smithsonian American Art Museum to galleries in New York and France. In 2009, Dean Milla Boschung commissioned Fleming to create the first works for the CDRC, which were given on behalf of John L. and Margaret Rhoads.