ELIJAH PIERCE (1892-1984)


Pierce was born into a farm family near Baldwyn, in northeastern Mississippi. His father was a former slave; when he was nine, his older brother Tom gave him a pocketknife. “When I was a boy I was always carving, I’d look at a tree, and I could hardly help it. I’d start carving. I carved pictures of cows, hogs, dogs, Indians with a bow and arrow shooting, girls’ names … most anything I could think to put on the bark of a tree.” In 1924 he moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he worked as a barber. He opened his own shop, which he operated until he retired in 1978. Pierce also preached in Baptist churches and continued carving throughout adulthood.

Each summer, Pierce and his wife would load their car with his carvings and travel, displaying his work at fairs, shops, and churches. He would tell the story behind each piece to those who gathered. “Every piece of work I got carved is a message, a sermon, you might say,” he said. Many of Pierce’s works had religious themes and his other carvings depict folk tales, sports and political figures, and scenes from the artist’s own life.1

1 © National Endowment for the Arts (visit the NEA website)