Winter Arts Preview: "Pierce to the Soul"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Celebrated folk artist and local legend Elijah Pierce will get star treatment this spring through a new world-premiere play by Columbus playwright Chiquita Mullins Lee.

CATCO's Pierce to the Soul is a time-warp look at the life of Pierce, the son of a Mississippi slave who migrated to Columbus in the early 1900s.

As a barbershop owner and part-time preacher, Pierce was a popular figure around Columbus. But it wasn't until an OSU grad student stumbled upon a collection of Pierce's artwork at the YMCA that the rest of the world took notice.

That student helped the octogenarian set up several important exhibitions, and his woodcarvings quickly garnered national attention. In 1982, the National Endowment of the Arts awarded Pierce a National Heritage Fellowship, bestowed upon him by then-First Lady Nancy Regan.

Pierce to the Soul is a one-man performance set in the barbershop the night before Pierce received that prestigious award. Alan Bomar Jones will play Pierce as he reflects on the phases of his life and how they inspired his work.

The play will offer a peek at the 20th century through Pierce's eyes, exploring how his work was inspired by the events of America's past. They'll see a young Pierce carving wood with a pocket knife, his stint as a baseball player, his travels riding the rails and boxcars in his twenties, and how his love for a woman brought him to Columbus.

Director Geoffrey Nelson says Pierce to the Soul is an inspiring way to explore the culture and history of Columbus, calling it, "A very rich play in terms of personal growth and self-realization."