The son of a slave, Mr. Pierce began barbering at age 16. Due to a hip injury, he retired from barbering in 1978 after 52 years. As a child he began whittling wood, and honed his woodcarving talent by whittling to pass time between customers. Pierce believed himself to be an instrument of God, and he set out to carve daily testaments to his faith.
For decades he carved scriptures from wood and gave them away for the asking. It was not until 1971, when friends persuaded Pierce to exhibit his work at a senior citizens' art show. His work was quickly noticed, and was soon diplayed in art galleries in Philadelphia and New York, and in the Smithsonian Institution's Renwick Gallery, among others.The National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a National Heritage Fellowship.
Among his most prized works is The Crucifixion, a scene in which 38 individually carved figures are mounted on a backboard measuring 4 feet tall. The piece centers around the four gospels. Perhaps his masterpiece is called The Book of Wood. In it, Pierce portrays the 33 years that Christ was on earth, on 7 pages of wood measuring 27 x 30 inches. Each page represents a highlight in Jesus' life: nativity, the flight into Egypt, the first meeting of Jesus and John the Baptist, Jesus turning water into wine, the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven.
Mr. Pierce's work is displayed in a small building which he named the Elijah Pierce Art Studio, and is now the Long Street Gallery, in Columbus, Ohio (listed in the National Register of Historic Places). On a counter in the studio is a plaque carved by Pierce, depicting the attack on Pearl Harbor. Another commemorates the night Joe Lewis won the world heavy-weight championship. Other carvings depict animals, comic strip characters, national heroes and current events. A concern for social issues is revealed in a plaque which shows a face divided between the likenesses of Dr. Martin Luther King and Booker T. Washington.
Pierce believed that God gives everyone a page in life's book daily. One day that book will be opened and read before your own eyes. And you won't be able to deny it because you wrote it yourself. Elijah Pierce wrote a book to be proud of. Elijah Pierce was inducted into the Barber Hall of Fame in 1991.