Miles Burkholder Carpenter


became widely known during the last dozen years of his life for the figural wood sculptures that he carved, painted, and displayed by the roadside stand where he soldice and fresh produce in Waverly, Virginia. His family moved to that part of the country from their Pennsylvania farm, and his father opened a sawmill. Laboring in themill during his childhood and adolescence, Carpenter became accustomed to working with wood. When he was in his early twenties, he opened his own sawmill nearby. With his business in a slump during World War II, Carpenter took to carving smallanimals and other figurines from scrap wood, but he did not develop his creative woodworking abilities until an injury prompted him to close his lumber business, in1955.By the 1960s Carpenter had resumed carving as a means of drawing attention to his roadside enterprise, which he continued to operate, and he considered theresults of his efforts as promotional trade signs. After his wife’s death in 1966, in part as therapy to help him overcome his grief, he undertook more ambitiouswoodcarving projects, which included life-size sculptures of animals and people as well as “root monsters,” which he made from evocatively gnarled and twisted treeroots. Carpenter displayed these works in the back of his pickup truck while it was parked alongside his place of business, and while he drove around Waverly.Among these life-size figures was a Native American family ensemble that included a man, a young boy, and a woman, which Carpenter dressed in his late wife’sclothes. Another such figure was the fur-haired, redlipped woman he named Lena Wood, which regularly occupied the passenger seat of his 1951 Chevrolet. In thewhimsical carved and painted sculptural piece
The Devil and the Damned,
a nineteen-inch tall horned red devil figure drops figures into a pit of fire.Students from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond discovered Carpenter’s art in 1972, and soon he began to receive visits from the few individuals whowere then buying or selling contemporary folk art in this country. By the time of his death, Carpenter was widely recognized as one of this country’s most importantcontemporary self-taught sculptors.
See also
Sculpture, Folk
Carpenter, Miles B.
Cutting the Mustard.
Tappahannock, Va., 1982.Gregson, Chris, and Marilyn A.Zeitlin.
Miles Carpenter: The Woodcarver from Waverly.
Richmond, Va., 1985.Hartigan, Linda Roscoe.
Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art.
Washington, D.C., and London, 1990.Oppenhimer, Ann. “Miles Carpenter, The Woodcarver from Virginia.”
Raw Vision,
no. 5 (winter 1991/1992): 38–41