Encyclopedia of American Folk Art

By Lee Kogan; Gerard C.Wertkin | Go to book overview

Manley, Roger. Signs and Wonders: Outsider Art inside North Carolina. Raleigh, N.C., 1989.
Patterson, Tom. Not By Luck: Self-Taught Artists in the American South. Milford, N.J., 1993.



is an artist who powerfully depicts crime and violence in the African American ghetto of Algiers in New Orleans. He was the eldest of eight children; his family lived in two rooms. He completed only the sixth grade at school. He began carving at age seventeen, making walking canes that came to be known as "killer sticks" because a man was reputedly killed with one. He sold them for drugs, living a street life marked by gangs, pimps, and prostitutes. He was incarcerated for thirteen years at the infamous Angola Prison of Louisiana and has two scars from bullet wounds in his stomach.

Singleton's carvings are mainly bas-relief on found wood, often old oak and cypress doors. He paints them with bright enamel, and the subjects are often autobiographical. His Club 27 is a carved and painted door, measuring 72×32 inches, and depicting a local club. Male and female prostitutes, framed by bloody knives, are positioned at the top, with patrons below drinking at the bar. In another panel of the same work is the figure of Big Hat Willie, a notorious pimp; he holds a killer stick and stands on the back of a woman. He is framed by figures injecting heroin. The bottom of the work is lined with skulls and dice. This powerful work is carefully incised and painted in bright colors. Its narrative shows the degraded world that Singleton experienced firsthand. Other works by depict subjects such as a funeral march in New Orleans; a lynching; a boy singled out as a dunce in a classroom setting; and a grocery store where Singleton worked. All these are permeated with vitality and emotion rendered in stark colors.

Singleton has also carved a number of works depicting Adam and Eve, and the Crucifixion, which are equally striking. His carving is done with hammer, chisel and pocket knife, after he has drawn the rough design on the wood.

See also African American Folk Art (Vernacular Art); Sculpture, Folk.

Arnett, Paul and William, eds. Souls Grown Deep. vol. 1. Atlanta, Ga., 2000.
Sasser, Bill. "Herbert Singleton," Raw Vision, vol. 40, issue 40 (autumn 2002): 30-37.
Trechsel, Gail Andrews, ed. Pictured in My Mind. Birmingham, Ala., 1995.


SKILLIN, JOHN (1745-1800) and SIMEON SKILLIN JR. (1756-1806)

were sons of the patriarch of a prolific family of carvers, Simeon Skillin Sr. (1716-1778). Three of Simeon, Sr.'s five sons who lived to maturity, and two grandsons, became professional carvers. Simeon Sr. opened his carving shop in Boston about 1737. The Skillin shop was renowned from Salem to Philadelphia for producing highest-quality ship, decorative, and architectural carvings. John Skillin was apprenticed to his father, and Simeon Jr., in turn, most likely learned woodcarving from his father and older brother.

Beginning in 1777, John received commissions to make carvings for several ships being built in New London and Norwich, Connecticut, including the Confederacy. After its capture by the British, Skillin's carvings for the ship so impressed her captors that a drawing of them was made for the British Admiralty.

Shortly after the death of their father in 1778, John and Simeon Jr. formed a partnership. They opened a shop that was listed in the Boston directory for 1796 as being located on "Skillins Warf." John Skillin was so highly regarded by his fellow carvers that he was chosen to lead Boston carvers in parades celebrating the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788 and Washington's visit to Boston a year later. In 1798, the Philadelphia sculptor Samuel Rush (1756-1833) recommended that John Skillin carve the figurehead Hercules after Rush's design for the U.S.S. Constitution.

The Skillins were also patronized by cabinetmak-ers, architects, and wealthy merchants who commissioned trade figures for their shops and ornamental carving for their houses. Salem merchant Elias Haskett Derby (1739-1799) hired Samuel McIntire (1757-1811) to design his summerhouse, for which McIntire also created the decorative relief carving. But Derby hired the Skillins to carve the figural garden pieces. Three of these, Gardener, Plenty, and Pomona survive, and the names of two others, Hermit and Shepherdess, are recorded. Derby's garden, with its summerhouse designed by McIntire and ornamented by the Skillin's sculptures created a remarkable and unique pastoral setting. In addition, the Skillins also carved three figures for a chest-on-chest ordered by Derby, carving for one of his ships, and the capitals on the pilasters of Derby's Salem mansion.

With John's death in 1800, Simeon Jr. continued the business. Several apprentices, including their


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Encyclopedia of American Folk Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Introduction xxvii
  • A 1
  • B 35
  • Bibliography 75
  • C 79
  • Bibliography 107
  • Bibliography 111
  • D 113
  • Bibliography 144
  • E 145
  • Bibliography 153
  • F 161
  • Bibliography 166
  • Bibliography 171
  • G 189
  • Bibliography 203
  • Bibliography 210
  • H 217
  • Bibliography 225
  • Bibliography 235
  • I 247
  • Bibliography 249
  • J 251
  • K 269
  • Bibliography 273
  • L 279
  • M 293
  • Bibliography 309
  • Bibliography 311
  • N 337
  • O 349
  • P 355
  • Bibliography 388
  • Q 411
  • R 421
  • Bibliography 433
  • S 447
  • Bibliography 450
  • Bibliography 472
  • Bibliography 484
  • Bibliography 490
  • Bibliography 494
  • Bibliography 496
  • T 509
  • U 527
  • V 529
  • W 539
  • Bibliography 540
  • Bibliography 546
  • Bibliography 556
  • Y 561
  • Index 569


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