“You may know your business, but no one else will, if you don’t advertise.” Miles Carpenter’s successful lumber and ice business, active after 1912, needed little promotion, and his first small carvings of animals and figures, made during the early 1940s, were essentially pastimes. After retiring in 1955, the industrious Carpenter opened a roadside store offering ice, soda pop, and vegetables. In 1960 he began carving trade signs for the new business. After his wife’s death in 1966,Carpenter devoted himself to a third career—carving sculptures. Many he called “advertisements”; others were benevolent interpretations of contemporary history and human nature. Still others were meant to entertain children and adults alike, and some were decorative pieces. All reflect his astute grasp of an audience, his unerring ability to extract forms from wood, and his delight in tinkering with materials at hand.
After 1966 Carpenter carved figures and animals that he displayed in the flatbed of his pickup truck, which he strategically parked next to his roadside stand or drove throughthe community. Indian Woman [SAAM 1986.65.235] was one of the first “advertisements.” Although her wardrobe changed over the years, she has always worn the clothing of Carpenter’s late wife. A male Indian figure and a boy were among her companions in the truck and, locally, the trio was considered a portrait of Carpenter’s family. Carpenter was discovered by the contemporary art world in 1972. As carvings in the truck sold, he substituted new works, often the watermelon slices, “monkey dogs,” “root monsters,” and small farm animals that became the staple of Carpenter’s repertoire.
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)
Miles Carpenter operated a lumber mill, an icehouse, and a movie theater before taking up carving. He began whittling figures and animals from wood during a slowdown in his mill in 1940, but didn’t take it up full-time until he retired in 1957. He made many sculptures that addressed current and political issues, including an Elvis Presley figure and a caricature of an elephant for President Ronald Reagan. (From an interview with Chris Gregson, “Miles Carpenter: The Wood Carver from Waverly,” 1985, and Jeff Camp, “A Good Friend,” Miles B. Carpenter Centennial Exhibition, 1989)