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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Folk Art: Folk Reliefs: Christ Carrying the Cross




Elijah Pierce

(born Baldwyn, MS 1892 -- died Columbus, OH 1984)

"I don't draw my pictures first, Oh, if you could see my drawings you’d laugh at them. But I find them in magazines and newspapers and see them in my mind, and then I can see pictures in the wood." Elijah Pierce, quoted in Betsa Marsh, "The Woodcarver of Long Street," Columbus Monthly, n.d


Elijah Pierce described himself as a "peculiar" child, because he did not want to work on his father's farm like his brothers. Instead, he wandered in the woods surrounding his home and carved animals, figures, and names into tree trunks (Betty Garrett, "Elijah Pierce: Sculptor, Preacher, Barber," ARTnews, March 1974). He ran away as a teenager and traveled the country by hopping freight trains, eventually settling in Columbus, Ohio, where he opened a barber shop. In the late 1920s, Pierce carved a small elephant as a gift for his wife. She liked it so much that he resolved to make an entire zoo and started carving sculptures during every spare moment in the shop. Memories of his religious childhood inspired him to carve images based on scenes from the Bible. He believed God had given him the talent to carve, and that his life's purpose was to make "every sermon I never preached." (Betsa Marsh, "The Woodcarver of Long Street," Columbus Monthly, n.d.)


Image Credits: Courtesy Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts.