Self-taught artist, preacher and activist Elijah Pierce, who lived from 1892 to 1984, is the focus of a new exhibit in German Village.

“Elijah Pierce & Historic Self-Taught Art from the Ohio Valley” will be on display through Feb. 28 at Keny Galleries, 300 E. Beck St., Columbus.

Pierce was a revered wood carver, a hobby that started while he was growing up in Baldwyn, Mississippi, said Tim Keny, co-owner of the gallery.

“There are many things I like about him,” he said. “First of all, he was very genuine.”

Pierce was a noted storyteller, Keny said. Pierce moved to Columbus when he was in his 20s and translated his experiences into wood carvings, he said.

One of the pieces in the exhibit, “Picking Cotton,” offers several evocative depictions of slaves in the South, from faces appearing out of the cotton fields to disappointment in the government’s broken promises in the Reconstruction era, he said.

“(Pierce) is just a great visual editor,” Keny said. “He doesn’t really give you more than you need.”

Of the 11 pieces from Pierce, one is his “preaching stick,” a tradition brought to the U.S. from Africa, Keny said.

An advocate for peace and racial harmony between blacks and whites, Pierce would use the stick as part of his extemporaneous street sermons, Keny said.

The wood cane is ornately carved with animals and other images reflecting Pierce’s life experiences, he said.

Also included in the exhibit are works from William Hawkins (1895-1990), Mary Merrill (1920-99), Ernest “Popeye” Reed (1919-85), LaVon Van Williams Jr. (born 1958), Ralph Bell (1913-95) and Aminah Robinson (1940-2015).

One of Hawkins’ most acclaimed pieces, “Eagle,” a colorful painting of an eagle with its wings spread, is part of the exhibit.

“He could have been an amazing graphic artist,” Keny said of Hawkins.

The exhibit is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and by appointment on the weekends. Admission is free.

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