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FREEING ART FROM WOOD: The Sculpture of Leslie Garland Bolling
Leslie Garland Bolling (1898-1955)

Freeing Art From Wood

An Ordinary Life

Few Things This Side of Heaven …

Patrons and Supporters

Working For More Appreciation of Negro Art

Spirit and Action


List of Titles

Teaching Resources

Credits and Thanks

Through timing, perseverance, and sheer good fortune, Leslie Garland Bolling (1898-1955) captured the attention and imagination of the art public from 1926 to 1943 with more than eighty portrait busts and sculptures of working people and nude figures. He faced obstacles: he was African American, he was self-taught, and he lived in the segregated South. Legislated segregation throughout the South limited the region’s African Americans economically and socially. Viewed with a mixture of contempt and pity by most whites, creative black southerners such as Bolling shaped an alternate community that offered support. In Richmond, Virginia, where Bolling lived, the African American community developed into a vibrant center of activity that drew on business and economic connections with Harlem in New York City. This community offered moral support for Bolling, and the progressive white communities in Richmond and in New York provided financial support.

Bolling entered the consciousness of American art early in the 1930s when a debate raged over the direction of African American art and the depiction of African Americans. His sculptures occupy a unique position among artwork created by African Americans in the 1930s and early in the 1940s. Working in small scale and in wood, Bolling created figures that transcend the arbitrary distinctions between "folk" and "fine" art by combining a keen observation of the human figure and realistic portrayals of the culture of Richmond's African Americans. As Bolling wrote to James A. Porter in 1933, "Few things this side of Heaven give me the joy that carving does."

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The Library of Virginia >> Exhibits >> The Sculpture of Leslie Garland Bolling