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Root Monster

1977
Origin: America, Virginia, Waverly
Overall: 18 1/2 x 16 1/4 x 10in. (47 x 41.3 x 25.4cm)
Paint on wood with leather ears
Gift of Ellin and Baron Gordon
Acc. No. 2006.701.6
A freestanding painted figural carving made from a tree root. The figure is an unrecognizable animal form painted pale yellow with brown dots and having two brown ears and four long legs.
Label:Miles Carpenter was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but in 1901, his father moved the entire family to the area of Waverly, Virginia, where he operated a sawmill. Eventually, Miles ran his own milling business and expanded into other ventures including an icehouse, an outdoor movie theater, and a roadside vegetable and fruit stand. He married Mary Elizabeth Stahl in 1915, and the couple had one son.

The onset of World War II slowed work at the mill, prompting Carpenter to begin creating decorative carvings out of odd bits of "leftover" wood. By 1942, the pace of his sawmill business had resumed, and it was not until 1955 that he again found time to whittle and paint for pleasure.

In 1960, Carpenter shaped and embellished a chunk of elmwood to resemble a giant watermelon, placing his creation on a hand cart and setting it beside his produce stand, occasionally propping it up on a wooden coca-cola crate as a seasonal advertisement. When passing through Waverly in 1972, a former curator of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum spied the melon and negotiated its purchase for the museum. Carpenter enjoyed describing the incredulous reactions of passing motorists who mistook his carving for real fruit.

After his wife's death in 1966, Carpenter turned increasingly to whittling and painting. Today he is known for a tremendous variety of imaginative carvings, including animals, biblical figures, politicians, monsters, and devils, many of them patently inspired and guided by the natural twists and turns of the roots and branches that were his raw materials.
Provenance:The Gordons, AARFAM's donors, bought this piece from dealer Jay Barrows of Richmond, Va., who is believed to have received it from dealer Jeff Camp upon the latter's departure from the Richmond area.
Inscription(s):Inscribed in pencil on a patch of unpainted wood under the figure's jaw is: "MILES/CARPENTER/1977".