Elijah Pierce's America offers Black woodcarver's view of American life, faith and politics

He used his art to reflect his views of American life and culture.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The Barnes Foundation has a new exhibition showcasing the work of a self-taught woodcarver who was among the first generation of African Americans born into freedom in post-Civil War America.

Elijah Pierce's America tells the story of an artist born in 1892 Mississippi, to a father who had been enslaved.

"He became a barber and a preacher, and also an artist, says co-curator Nancy Ireson. "As a young man, he was chased by a white mob. His brother had been murdered by a white mob."

Pierce was part of the Great Migration North and settled in Columbus, Ohio, where he used his barbershop as a studio and his art to reflect his views of American life, faith, politics and racial injustice.

This is the first major retrospective of the artist's work in Philadelphia in more than a quarter-century. You'll be surprised at the variety of the work on display.

There are more than 100 pieces such as carved animals and biblical scenes -- all created from the 1920s to the '80s and featuring everything from the serious to the joyful.

Made with whatever materials Pierce could find.

'The Book of Wood' is considered one of the most important pieces in the exhibition.

Pierce and his wife traveled with the book across America.

Pierce lived by a favorite expression that curators think will resonate with viewers today.

"Your life is a book, and every day is a page, Ireson says. "The sense that we can do better, that we make our own fate."

Barnes Foundation I Elijah Pierce's America
Through Jan. 10, 2021
2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Philadelphia, PA 19130
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