ELIJAH PIERCE Elijah Pierce Main < BACK

Elijah Pierce was born in 1892, into a very religious family. He wanted to become an artist and had a burning mission: to carve the Word of God. Pierce’s father was a Deacon in the family’s hometown, Baldwyn, Mississippi. Pierce had a strict, evangelical upbringing resulting in a profound effect on his life and work.

Pierce was a barber’s assistant at the age of sixteen, and despite a brief time of travelling and working on the railroads, barbering became his life-long profession. In 1920, Pierce received his preaching license and settled in Danville, Illinois. He married his second wife, Cordelia, (his first wife had died after about one year of marriage), and spent his time barbaring during the week and preaching sermons every weekend.

Cordelia encouraged him to carve animals. His work progressed rapidly; when business was slow, he would work between customers, and he eventually turned the back room of his barber’s shop into a workshop. His carvings were sculpted on pine wood with a pocket knife. He would paint the wood with bright colors and decorate the images with glitter and rhinestones. The size of his work would vary in scale from a few to over fifty inches.

In the late 1920s, and throughout the 1930s, Pierce’s art became an important visual vehical for his sermons. Pierce and his wife would travel extensively in the summer months in hopes of selling his work at fairs and churches. They would also promote the work by placing an appropriate carving in front of Pierce while he preached. In 1954, Pierce’s barber shop served a second purpose as an art gallery. He would occasionally sell his carvings from his shop. Most of the images available were pieces “commanded by God”, but Pierce was also able to produce a series of humorous works of public figures and sports heroes.

In 1970, Pierce retired from barbering, and concentrated on art. His work was beginning to get recognized outside of Danville, and his success as an artist prospered. Pierce converted his barber shop into the “Elijah Pierce Art Gallery”, and exhibited his work until he died of a heart attack in 1984.

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