Columbus Dispatch  (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 Columbus.

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 from me.”  

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 woodcarvers.

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 Dispatch