Man Carves Phrase into Life

20 Jul

Your life is a book.

I’ve read that somewhere…in a book, perhaps.

While it almost sounds like a cliché, I decided to search for its origin. I found a most fascinating story about an American folk artist named Elijah Pierce.

Born in 1892 in Mississippi, he was the youngest son of a former slave. According to several reports, his uncle taught him to carve from wood when he was just seven years old. While siblings went to play ball and other sports, Elijah preferred wandering the woods, picking up pieces of wood and then sitting for hours whittling out small animals.

One report said he enjoyed giving away his carvings to the kids in school. That practice would become a lifelong one as he gave one piece after another to those who admired his work.

You see, Elijah first made his living as a barber. His barbershop was a gathering place for news, and Elijah participated in the community activities. Sorrow visited him when his wife, Zetta, died only one year after their marriage and after the birth of their son, Will.

His second marriage would take him to Columbus, Ohio, where he continued to barber and carve. He carved an elephant for his wife, Cornelia, after he saw her interest in an elephant statue. She often wore the gift around her neck. He then proceeded to carve a whole zoo of animals, often biblical in nature.

After Cornelia died at age 61, he opened his own barbershop in 1951 and a year later married Estelle, who was 46 at the time. Over the years, he continued carving, and soon his artwork took up a second room at his shop. A lay minister, he often told a biblical story to accompany each of his carvings.

He was well into his 70s before he or his work were known outside the community in which he lived. One such carving now hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and simply says “Your Life is a Book and Every Day is a Page.”

According to an article on Elijah in the Antique Review Preview (August 1985 by June Donmoyer), he claimed to have many visions from God. Supposedly, God told him,: “Elijah, your life is a book. And every day is a page…and one day that book will be read to you and you can’t deny it because you’ve written it.”

An eye and ear in the top right of the carving was Elijah’s way of showing God is all-knowing. Two angels in the carving represent God’s reward for the faithful.

The Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts exhibited his carvings and sculptures in November 1972, and within a year, his work became known worldwide when he won first prize in the International Meeting of Naïve Art in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.

Elijah Pierce died in 1984, and now the Columbus Museum of Art owns the vast majority of Pierce’s carvings, more than 300 pieces. He also is honored with a gallery in his name at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Performing and Cultural Arts Complex.

Waxing philosophically, I now see “Your life is a book” and the added phrase, “and every day is a page” as much more than a cliché. The quote embodied the life of a man who lived each day to the fullest.

Elijah Pierce carved a bit of life to inspire the rest of us.


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