(May 8, 1984):
p. 5 B.
“Artist Carved Niche in World.”
By Steve Berry.
His work graces art collections around the world.
But his heart remained in
He had been honored in the
nation’s capital, put under the spotlight of network television and examined
in the pages of slick art journals.
But the most prominent object in
his cluttered gallery-workshop at 534 E. Long St. was an old-fashioned metal
barber chair, a relic of how he made his living for many years.
Elijah Pierce, one of America’s
leading folk artists, died Monday in Columbus.
He was 92.
IN ALL THOSE years, the years of
chipping away at wood and life, the self-taught Pierce never forgot that his
skill and talent were gifts to be treasured.
The man with the stringbean frame
and low, gravelly voice was a man of wood and a man of God.
“I don’t like to carve
anything degrading,” he once said. “I
wouldn’t spoil the talent God gave me, because I believe He’d take it away
Pierce’s early works were
peopled with story-telling figures. Noah’s
Ark, a 1929 lacquered wood relief, tells the biblical story of the ark.
A NEW YORK City museum director
once said there were 500 woodcarvers who equaled Pierce’s technical
perfection, but none could equal his personal vision.
That vision began in his
log-cabin home in Baldwyn, Miss., where as a boy of 8 he would use a small
pocketknife to carve flowers, fish and faces in the bark of trees.
“I’d carve anything that was
a picture in my mind,” he once said. “I
thought a pocketknife was about the best thing I’d ever seen.”
He moved to Columbus in 1924,
worked full time as a barber and filled his free time with carving.
HE COULD CLIP hair as well as he
could chip wood. Barbering was
Pierce’s second love, until he retired after a hip injury in 1978.
On the shelves of his shop, hair tonic stood next to the paint and
varnish and hand chisels.
Although his formal schooling
ended in the eighth grade, the son of a one-time slave became the king of the
His honors were as numerous as
the chips of wood on his workshop floor.
In 1973, he received first prize
at the International Exhibition of Primitive Art in Yugoslavia.
Two years ago, the National
Endowment for the Arts awarded him a National Heritage Fellowship as one of 15
master traditional artists.
His Long St. workshop was a
stone’s throw from the Columbus Museum of Art, where 10 of his works are in
the permanent collection.
Yet despite worldwide acclaim,
Pierce never changed the sign announcing his modest workshop.
It read, simply, “Elijah Pierce, Woodcarver.”
Copyright 1984 The Columbus
REPRINTED, WITH PERMISSION, FROM THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH