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Pamela Lee Gray

wood carver, sculptor, and folk artist, was born Jesse James Aaron in Lake City, Florida, to descendants of slaves and Seminole Indians. Aaron attended school for less than one year before he was sent to work as a contract laborer for local farms. Trained as a baker when he was twenty-one years old, he found he enjoyed the creativity it required. He opened several bakeries, worked as a cook at Gainesville's Hotel Thomas from 1933 to 1937, and then cooked for a variety of fraternities and hospitals in Florida. Aaron also worked as a cook aboard the Seaboard Air Line Railroad during this time.

Aaron married Leeanna Jenkins, and when the family settled in northwest Gainesville in the 1930s they opened a nursery. From this point until 1968 when Aaron became a folk artist at the age of eighty one it is difficult to determine what is ...

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Susan B. Iwanisziw

activist, listed in some records and Philadelphia city directories by the names of Burgoe, Berge, or Burgu, was evidently a free African American by the time his name appears in public records, when he was already over fifty years of age. No information about his precise date or place of birth, status at birth, parentage, marriage or children, or date of death has come to light. The 1790 census records show that he shared a house at 19 Cresson Alley, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with three other free African Americans, possibly his family. Over a decade later he is listed in the St. Thomas African Episcopal Church Birth and Baptismal Register as an adult of sixty-five years, who was baptized on 23 January 1803. No other persons named Burgaw appear in the records spanning the years 1796–1837 which suggests that his immediate family had already dispersed by this time or ...

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Mary Krane Derr

anthropologist, educator, author, and wood sculptor, was born in Orange, New Jersey, to Stanley and Mabel Harper Gwaltney and into a thriving, extended family environment that also included his brother, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Gwaltney became blind by the age of two months. His mother taught him the alphabet and the names of animals with homemade cardboard shapes, encouraged him to play the piano, and gave him pieces of wood to carve as he saw fit. Throughout his life, Gwaltney carved “ritually inspired” wood sculptures, taking as his role model his great uncle Julius in Virginia. This relative was known locally for his ritual wood carving in “the tradition of the Old Time Religion … the translation into wood sculpture … of that Core Black theology … a largely undocumented and clandestine art” (Freeman, p. 70). Concerned about John's need for formal education, Mabel Gwaltney ...

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Caryn E. Neumann

a self-taught folk artist, was born with a veil as the second youngest of nine children in Baldwyn, Mississippi, to the farmers Richard Pierce, a former slave, and Nellie Wallace Pierce. Among African Americans, a baby born with a veil, a thin membrane covering the child's head, is blessed with the ability to prophesy and is viewed as being chosen by God to be religious.

By the age of eight, Pierce was already carving. Having a favorite uncle who carved and getting some rudimentary knowledge of carpentry from growing up on a farm undoubtedly had a great deal to do with Pierce's avocation. By his teenage years, Pierce had already decided that he would not be a farmer. He laid track for the railroad but sought a trade that would give him independence. Accordingly, he apprenticed with a local barber. On 26 September 1920 Pierce became ...