Edgar Alexander McKillop

 

McKillop carved an extraordinary collection of outsized animals and human figures during the late 1920s and early 1930s. To the delight of his neighbors, he exhibited hiscreations in his modest house in the mill village of Balfour, south of Asheville, North Carolina. Later he took them on the road in the back of a pickup truck and alsodisplayed them in a tent on the main highway. His daughter, Lelia McKillop, recalled that people would stare at them and ask, “Are they alive?”Woodcarving is a common pastime, but few men ever matched McKillop’s vision and intensity. Working with several black walnut trees donated by a neighbor, hesawed and chiseled out a wide-ranging menagerie that included eagles, a rhinoceros, a gorilla, a kangaroo, an owl, a lion, a bear, a cougar, a frog, a turtle, a squirrel,and even a seven-headed, ten-horned dragon inspired by the biblical Book of Revelation. What distinguishes McKillop’s carvings are their enormous size, carefulfinishing, and expressive qualities. Many stand two feet high; the rhinoceros is five feet long and contains a record player in its belly. As its red tongue slid back andforth, it would announce to all assembled, “E.A.McKillop, a born, carving man.” Clearly, McKillop had a talent for self-dramatization and regarded his carvings as aunified collection.McKillop also created at least five human figures ranging from two to four feet high, including a fiddler, a man holding an eagle aloft, and a man with a rifle standing beside an eagle, with a shield and “LIBERTY” carved into the base. These works emphasize the importance of music and patriotism to McKillop. The two remainingfigures, however, are enigmatic. Two naked, demonic-looking men stand clutching the head of a thick, fanged rattlesnake that encircles their bodies. Whatever personalor religious significance these gaunt, grimacing men held for McKillop is now lost.By all accounts, McKillop was a dreamy, eccentric man who thought nothing of devoting years to hewing out his walnut blocks. Variously a farmer, cooper, logger,mill mechanic, and blacksmith, he was a true jack-of-all-trades who could make nearly anything he wanted (including musical instruments, walking sticks, toys,decorative clock cases, furniture, kitchen implements, and plows). Sometime during the late 1930s he apparently tired of his collection, bartering it away for a smallfarm, where he quietly spent his remaining years.