Carved Portraits of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (MO 1941.4.12-13)

Noted African American artist Leslie Garland Bolling (1898-1955) presented these carved figures of the Roosevelts to the President and First Lady in 1940.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Bolling was a largely self-taught artist who captured the attention of the art public with his busts and sculptures of working people and nude figures carved from wood. Bolling preferred to work with poplar because of its softness. He used a scroll saw to rough out the shape of a figure and a set of pocketknives to carve the details. He left each of his pieces unsanded, exposing his tool marks. Though these figures of the Roosevelts were painted, Bolling treated most of his works with only a light coating of wax.

Though Bolling never obtained enough funds from his art to work on his carvings full-time, he gained recognition for his art in the form of art shows and patrons. In 1935, he became the first African American to display his work in a one-man show at the Richmond Academy of Arts. He went on to exhibit his work in New Jersey, Texas, and New York. In 1938, with support from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Bolling and several local community leaders established the Craig House Art Center in Richmond. The Center offered training in art and art appreciation to African Americans and other minorities.

“Leslie Garland Bolling at work. Photo by Kenneth Space, ca. 1936-7. Part of The Harmon Foundation Collection at NARA.”
ARC ID: 559230