JENNINGS, JAMES HAROLD
was an artist who made colorful, idiosyncratic constructions in wood, plywood, and metal from the 1970s to 1990s in Pinnacle, North Carolina, where he was born.He lived and created his art in an environment comprised of a group of abandoned school buses, without running water, electricity, a telephone, or television.Surrounding his buses were the whirligigs, Ferris wheels, standing Indian figures, and other complex constructions that the artist created. This colorful scene attractedmany visitors, who bought Jennings’ works as fast as he was able to produce them while working seven days a week from dawn to dusk. Although he was reclusive,Jennings liked the attention his work brought.Jennings’ complex of buses was located across the road from his family home, where he had lived with his schoolteacher mother until she died in 1974. He attendedschool until the fifth grade, after which his mother instructed him at home. He worked in the local tobacco fields, as a projectionist at a drive-in movie theater, andcollected bottles and cans along the highway to cash in for a little money. He never married, claiming that he had to pay too much in taxes to be able to afford it. Whenhis mother died and left him a small inheritance, he started making art.Jennings obsessively made thousands of pieces of art using many materials; all are full of movement and color. The themes of his art reflect his religious philosophy,which rejected organized “hell-and-damnation” religion because, he said, it frightened him. He believed instead in the “sun, moon, and stars” and in metempsychosis, or the transmigration of the soul into another body, either human or animal. A wooden cutout of an angel is the subject of one of his works; above its head in woodenletters the artist spells out
which is also the title he gave to the piece. He created as well colorful decorative crowns (which were not actually to beworn on the head) of metal, wood, and plastic, and wooden signs depicting large-breasted Amazons dominating men, such as his “tufgh” women tableaux, labeled
Bully Gits Sat On
Kathy Tames a Bully.
A prolific and accomplished abstract artist, Jennings felt that his art reflected his dreams, which he said he never forgot, as well as his interests in old movies andreading. He loved primary colors, and painted his wood constructions using outdoor paint. One large and complex work,
James Harold Jennings Arts,
incorporates acolorful tableau of Indians, totem poles, and animals. In his later works, the artist used a wider range of color and applied this color using small dot patterns. Jenningssaid that his art gave him a feeling of self-respect. The artist died on April 20, 1999, his sixty-eighth birthday, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Religious Folk Art; Sculpture, Folk;
Lampell, Ramona, Millard Lampell, and David Larkin.
O, Appalachia: Artists of the Southern Mountains,
New York, 1989.Manley, Roger.
Signs and Wonders: Outside Art Inside North Carolina.
Raleigh, N.C., 1989.Yelen, Alice Rae.
Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present.
New Orleans, La., 1993.