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Current Exhibition

Elijah Pierce’s America

Until January 18, 2021

See life, faith, and politics through the eyes of a virtuoso woodcarver.


Elijah Pierce. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Kennedy Brothers (detail), 1977. Carved and painted wood relief with glitter. Courtesy of Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio

Adults $25; seniors $23; students $5; members free

About the Exhibition

“In a biblical flood of carved imagery, this barber turned preacher turned wood-carving artist and storyteller shows us heaven, temptation, and grace.”The Philadelphia Inquirer

Elijah Pierce’s America presents the exceptional work of self-taught woodcarver Elijah Pierce (1892–1984), known best for a tour-de-force volume of biblical scenes. His carvings depict remarkable narratives—religious parables, autobiographical scenes, episodes from American politics—and sometimes include figures from popular culture and sports.

A barber by trade and a preacher by calling, Pierce reacted to life in 20th-century America through his handcrafted works, which also reflect his experience in one of the first generations of African Americans born into freedom. Pierce’s rich and varied sculpture is celebrated in this landmark exhibition, held in the Roberts Gallery.


Elijah Pierce, age 91, displays one of his carvings, 1982. Courtesy of Columbus Metropolitan Library

“Every Piece I Carve Is a Message”

Experience Pierce’s narratives up close in the Roberts Gallery.

Exhibition Catalogue

Elijah Pierce’s America


As the first substantial book on Elijah Pierce to be published in more than 25 years, this catalogue marks a new phase of the artist’s critical reception. Copublished by the Barnes and Paul Holberton Publishing, this beautifully illustrated catalogue features essays by co-curators Nancy Ireson and Zoé Whitley, as well as contributions from Sampada Aranke of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, artist Theaster Gates, and Michael D. Hall, Adjunct Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art at the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio.

Exhibition Organization

This exhibition is co-curated by Nancy Ireson, Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions & Gund Family Chief Curator at the Barnes Foundation, and Zoé Whitley, Director of Chisenhale Gallery, London.

Additional support for the exhibition is provided by Jeanne Ruddy and Victor F. Keen, Amy A. Fox and Daniel H. Wheeler, Jack and Barb Hafner, Pamela and James Hill, John J. Medveckis, Lisa Roberts and David Seltzer, Frank and Kathleen M. Seidman, and other individuals.

The publication is made possible by a generous grant from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Foundation.

Ongoing support for exhibitions comes from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Exhibition Fund, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and Aileen and Brian Roberts.

In addition, support for all exhibitions comes from contributors to the Barnes Foundation Exhibition Fund:

Joan Carter and John Aglialoro, Julia and David Fleischner, Leigh and John Middleton, Jeanette and Joe Neubauer

John Alchin and Hal Marryatt, Christine and Michael Angelakis, Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz, Lois and Julian Brodsky, N. Judith Broudy, Laura and Bill Buck, Elaine W. Camarda and A. Morris Williams, Jr., Gloria and John Drosdick, Eugene and Michelle Dubay, Christine and George Henisee, Lisa D. Kabnick and John H. McFadden, Marguerite Lenfest, Maribeth and Steven Lerner, Victoria McNeil Le Vine, Leslie Miller and Richard Worley Foundation, Hilarie and Mitchell Morgan, Kay and Michael Park, The Rittenhouse Hotel, Adele K. Schaeffer, Katie and Tony Schaeffer, Dr. and Mrs. Eugene E. Stark, Joan F. Thalheimer, van Beuren Charitable Foundation, Kirsten White, Anonymous.

Related Programs

Private Exhibition Tours
Friday–Monday, 10 – 11am
You and up to four guests can tour the exhibition with a specially trained docent and learn about the life and work of the self-taught woodcarver.

Curator Conversation: Elijah Pierce’s America
Wednesday, September 23, 4 – 5pm
Join us online for a lively introduction to the exhibition. Explore key works and themes with co-curators Zoé Whitley and Nancy Ireson.

Member Previews: Elijah Pierce
Friday, September 25–Saturday, September 26
As a member, see our newest exhibition before the public opening.

PECO Free First Sunday Family Day
Sunday, October 4 and November 1
We’re excited to offer free access to the exhibition and the Barnes collection on the first Sunday of the month.

Online Class: How Art History Is Flawed: Inverting the Center of 20th-Century Art
Mondays, October 5–26, 6 – 7:30pm
In this four-week course, explore how art historians, museums, collectors, and critics can include artists like Elijah Pierce in a fuller and more expansive story of American art.

Members-Only Online Tours: Elijah Pierce
Wednesdays, October 7–October 28, November 4 & 18, January 6 & 13, 2 – 3pm
Members are invited to exclusive online tours of Elijah Pierce’s America. See the show virtually with a specially trained docent.

2020 Barnes Art Ball
Friday, October 16, 6pm
This year, our annual benefit coincides with the landmark exhibition Elijah Pierce’s America. Pierce’s legacy inspires this celebration of the creative voice within us all.

College Night at the Barnes
Thursday, November 12, 6 – 9pm
College students, take a break and enjoy free admission to our collection and Elijah Pierce’s America.

Conversation: Collector Sheldon Bonovitz with Nancy Ireson
Wednesday, November 18, 4 – 5pm
Join us for an online conversation about collecting and curating art, with a special focus on the work of self-taught artists.

Facing Change: Race as a Social Construct
Monday, December 14, 6 – 7:30pm
In our new series, artists, scholars, and community activists explore issues related to race in America.