Elijah Pierce (1892–1984) was born in Baldwin, Mississippi and took up carving wood after his father gave him his first pocketknife when he was only seven years old. As a young man, Pierce left Mississippi and moved north. Working as both a barber and a preacher, he ultimately settled in Columbus, Ohio in 1924. Today, he is best remembered for the scores of painted wood relief “story-telling” panels that he created between giving haircuts in his barbershop.
Pierce’s Long Street barbershop became a gathering place for the local African-American community as well as a gallery for his work. In the late 1960s, Pierce was discovered by an art world newly interested in the work of folk and self-taught artists. He quickly became something of a celebrity both locally and nationally. In 1982, Pierce traveled to Washington, DC, where he was honored at the Corcoran Gallery of Art at the opening reception of a landmark national exhibition recognizing African-American folk artists. Later that year, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Pierce the National Heritage Fellowship.
In the year following his death, the Columbus Museum of Art acquired more than one hundred Pierce carvings for its permanent collection. This unique trove has been growing steadily as collectors continue to donate important Pierce carvings to the Museum making CMA’s collection of carvings by Pierce the largest in the world.
See Pierce’s work in person in The Essential Elijah Pierce exhibition now on view at CMA through Spring 2013.
Pierce was an inspiration and mentor to many in the community. Do you have a wonderful memory or story to tell about Pierce? Please share it here in the comments!