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Elijah Pierce: An American Journey



An American Journey explores the work of self-taught, American folk artists of the 20th century, Elijah Pierce (1892 – 1984). Pierce was a prolific African American wood carver known for his brightly painted sculptural panels illustrating biblical stories, moral lessons, historical events, and images from popular culture – a landscape of wood-carved art that is unlike any in America. This exhibit focuses on 40 major works. Featured in the exhibit is Pierce’s most ambitious carving, “Book of Wood” (1932), consisting of seven panels with 33 scenes illustrating the years Christ lived on the earth, as well as works depicting segregation, the Vietnam War, Watergate, and Civil Rights, among others. This exhibition is on view November 24, 2017 - March 4, 2018.
 

It wasn’t until 1971, at the age of 79, that he was given his first solo exhibition at The Ohio State University art gallery. Within a few years Pierce became known both nationally and internationally in the world of folk art – participating in exhibitions at the National Museum of American Art, the Renwick Gallery, and the Museum of Modern Art. In 1973, Pierce won first prize in the International Meeting of Naïve Art in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. In 1982, his carvings were included in the monumental exhibition Black Folk Art in America 1930 – 1980 organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art. This exhibit was the turning point for contemporary black folk art. In that same year, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a National Heritage Fellowship as one of 15 master traditional artists.
 

In a 1979 article from The New York Times Magazine, Dr. Robert Bishop of the Museum of American Folk Art in New York noted, “There are 500 woodcarvers working today in the United States who are technically as proficient as Pierce, but none can equal the power of Pierce’s personal vision.”
 

The select carvings by Elijah Pierce in this exhibition fully represent his narrative carvings created between c. 1925-1975. Several of these carvings have not been widely exhibited because they were owned by fellow church members of Pierce in Columbus and were not known outside of his community until recent years.

 





 

 

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