Benniah G. Layden
York, Pennsylvania 1875
York, Pennsylvania 1968
A lifelong Pennsylvania Railroad employee, Layden began carving in 1905 after seeing a piece of wood inlay produced at a penitentiary. He relied heavily on images seen in popular illustrations and the Bible as the basis for his carved figures and furniture. Layden was primarily known for his masterful inlay work, once fashioning a checkerboard game with almost twenty-two thousand pieces of wood. Written in crayon on the base of Accordion Player [SAAM 1986.65.255] is the number "1190," denoting Layden's habit of recording the number of wood pieces used to construct his objects. The eccentic design of the Accordion Player reflects a knowledge of traditional chain carving, interlocking wooden chains with caged balls whittled from a single piece of wood. Although Layden's many works were popular in his community and at the York Interstate Fairs, only one other work, now in the collection of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, has been attributed to him.
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990)