The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Hermès & Humility

The life and art of a man from Texas

8 months ago

By Katie Bradshaw

He has a quiet personality, but his creativity is loud. Kermit Oliver is not the typical person who comes to mind when looking at Hermès — the luxury goods company with iconic silk scarves that run for hundreds of dollars — but he’s the artist behind some important pieces from the French fashion house. 

Many of Oliver’s pieces include “Texas” in the name, and it’s no surprise that he has some relation to the southern state. Oliver is from Refugio, Texas, but moved to Waco in 1984. He worked as a postal worker and an artist for 40 years. Passing out mail during the day and drawing at night just made sense for Oliver.

However, this does not mean that his work has gone unnoticed. He had his first solo art show only two years after he graduated from Texas Southern University in 1967. Since then, he has been featured in The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., The Dallas Museum of Art and many more. 

Oliver has an impressive resume, but no one would ever know that because of the life he presents. The humbleness is what truly makes his story so captivating. He could have had a million different lives, but he had the support to follow his dreams. 

He grew up the life of a cowboy, with all the materials and connections to pursue that path, but his family knew that wasn’t what he wanted, so they supported his artistic dreams.

“Painting is just something I do. Art was a way of communicating because I am a very ‘inside person’; this allowed me to communicate without having to be verbal,” Oliver said. 

Oliver’s collaboration with Hermès began in 1980 and he has since created 16 designs for the fashion brand. He could have taken the pride of designing for the esteemed fashion house and run with it, but he opted against that. He had fame from the art scene but stepped back from it in the 1980s to live his simple lifestyle.

Oliver enjoys his privacy and the fact that nobody knows much about him. He has experienced great grief throughout his life; his son Khristian was executed on death row in 2009. Oliver has been able to find relief through his art, with many pieces never leaving his own home, so they remain private like him. 

His life was not easy, but Oliver had goals and ambitions, and he had people in his corner supporting him like no other. It’s stories and experiences like his that bring life to the art of brands like Hermès.

The current collection on display at Art Center Waco features his art not only on loan by Oliver himself but local Wacoans who also share a love for his work. The space is filled with scarves hung in frames, draped across mannequin bodies and displayed in ways to wear in hair or on the head. There are even little books placed around the exhibit on the history of the scarves and how to style them. With all the different prints and colors, it is easy to get lost in the art. Not only are the scarves beautiful to look at, but they each tell a story on their own, creating a beautiful exhibit to get lost in at Art Center Waco.

The current exhibit closes on October 14.