Carlton Elonzo Garrett


an ingenious woodcarver of human and animal figures, created at least eight dioramas, most of which were motorized. He also whittled smaller vignettes, hundreds of individual carvings, and a number of toys. Garret had an innate talent as a carver and an understanding of mechanics.Born in Gwinnett County, Georgia, Garrett was raised on a farm in Forsyth County, and moved with his family to Flowery Branch, near Gainesville, Georgia, in1924, where he married Bertie Catherine Clark, in 1927, and remained for the rest of his life. He worked for almost forty years as a craftsman at the ChattahoocheeFurniture and Mooney Furniture factories, and, for many years, simultaneously managed he local water works. He was ordained a minister at the Flowery Branch Baptist Church in 1931.Growing up near a water mill, Garrett was fascinated by mechanical processes and the way power was harnessed to do work. He whittled from an early age,“carving toy-truck wagons, bicycles, flutter mills, [and] waterwheels.” He made his first large work,
following abdominal surgery in 1962, the year that heretired.
Mt Opel
is a major work, comprising a country church service with thirty-seven figures arranged as a congregation in two rows of pews facing a preacher. The flipof a switch triggers a phonograph to start the sound and action of the work. To the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” the preacher moves his hands up anddown, a man moves a collection plate through the aisles, a woman appears to be playing the piano while another fans herself, and someone pulls the rope attached to a bell. Other figures shake hands and a child is spanked—all movements that Garrett rigged electrically. Garrett called his complex piece a “wonder box,” because whenthe viewer looks at it, “you wonder if it will work.” Other significant works by Garrett include
The Waterworks, Car Parade, The Old Mill, The Machine, John Henry, Crucifixion, Merry Go Round,
.Garrett used only a pocketknife, drill press, band saw, and a homemade electric metal hacksaw to make the hand-carved wooden gears, pulleys, cams, and shafts,which he held together with strong cord and powered with a motor, used to create the motion in many of his complex works. The various types of cottonwood, oak, plywood, and other materials that he sanded, painted, and assembled in his workshop, which he called The Playhouse, were purchased at the local hardware store.“The Folk Art Sculpture of Carlton Garrett” was a one-person exhibition of Garrett’s work at The High Museum of Art, held in 1981.
See also
Sculpture, Folk; Toys, Folk
Gaynor John, and Michael Stowers. “Folk Art That Comes to Life.”
Popular Mechanics,
vol. 159, no. 5 (May 1983): 105, 206–208.