As a child growing up on a farm in Bear Creek, Alabama, Fleming developed a love of animals. Because of a speech impediment that he later overcame, he was teased by other children and came to feel more at home with the farm animals. That bond with the natural world remained with him and was a major creative force in his work.
The artist once said, “I deal with animal imagery, with plant life and with my surroundings, what I grew up with and what I know.” He didn’t find it necessary to sketch the works before creating the sculptures. He just brought the subjects to life in his hands. His work is known for its intricate, lifelike detail. He has credited his childhood experience in picking cotton with helping him develop the dexterity he called upon in his work.
As an undergraduate at the University of North Alabama, Fleming planned to major in biology but an elective course in art revealed his talent and he soon changed his major to art. After earning his B.A, he continued his art education with an M.A. and M.F.A. at the University of Alabama. Then, setting up a studio in Birmingham, he began making functional and decorative pottery as well as sculpture.
His first one-man show — in 1974 at the Birmingham Museum of Art — received rave reviews and garnered attention from curators around the country. Over his life span, his work was featured in more than 40 solo exhibitions and more than 100 group shows. He also lectured and taught workshops across the nation and abroad. His sculptures are part of public and private collections around the world.
“We are so honored to have his works on our campus at the Child Development Resource Center,” said CHES Dean Milla Boschung. “The children love them.” Dean Boschung commissioned the first works in 2009; they were a gift on behalf of John L. and Margaret E. Rhoads.