The assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963, is among the most emotionally powerful historical events of recent times. Marshall Fleming, like many other artists, was deeply moved by the President's murder, which inspired him to create a tribute to Kennedy and the three other assassinated American presidents, Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. "I have always admired President Kennedy. Upon seeing the funeral procession [on television] I thought I would like to make the caisson." He based his effort [ Kennedy Caisson 1986.65.305] on one of the many commemorative postcards available after the assassination. The carving is true to the traditional features of a state funeral. It also includes a signboard, added to place Kennedy in the history of assassinated American presidents. Fleming, who began carving as a child, continues to construct small horse-drawn wagons, carts, and farming machinery that he houses in a small museum he built near his home.
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)
Marshall B. Fleming grew up in the small community of New Creek, West Virginia. He made toys from anything he could find around the house, and once destroyed his father’s toolbox to make an airplane. Following a back injury, he took early retirement and devoted his time to making sculptures. His wife, Janet, “raised thunder” about the number of sculptures taking over their house, so Fleming built a small barn to display his work (Woodward S. Bousquet, “Folk Art Further Afield,” Voices, 1992). His sculptures recapture events in his life, such as the memory of a circus passing through the town, or the sawmill where his father worked. His largest piece is Little Hidden Valley Prayer Chapel, which he built for his mother. Completed in 1975, the chapel is open twenty-four hours a day for anyone to use.