Since the early 20th century, woodcarvings and carved walking sticks were noted in writings and photographs about the Savannah area. For example, walking sticks by African American woodcarvers in Savannah and Southeast Georgia were featured in the WPA-funded Georgia Writers Project publication Drums and Shadows in 1940. Sometimes discussed in terms of a lingering African aesthetic in the traditional arts of the American South, these works were explored by scholars and later featured in exhibits in the 1960s and 1970s, and in 1983, an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington brought national acclaim to Savannah woodcarver Ulysses Davis. Although he is better known for his carved wooden portrait busts and fantastic creatures than his walking sticks, Davis’s example inspired other men in Savannah and South Georgia to take up the art form.
Although some of these artists are now deceased, their work and the works of others point to a strong tradition of carving and creating “personal sculpture”—a tradition still alive in Savannah today. Largely drawn from Telfair’s permanent collection of folk art, Stick Men celebrates this rich artistic heritage in a focused exhibition.
Arthur Dilbert; Cane with Leopard and Alligator; 1998.9