Kentuckian Edgar Tolson was born in 1904 in the east-central portion of Kentucky in Wolfe County. He was born fourth out of eleven children and was only educated up to the sixth grade. He worked for many years as a carpenter and as a stonemason in order to support the eighteen children he had fathered.
While wood carving had been an interest and a hobby of Tolson from a young age it wasn’t until after he suffered a stroke in 1957 that Tolson made the decision to put his carving talents to use as a means of generating income. It took Tolson eighteen months to recover from a stroke that left him bedridden and paralyzed. So, in 1959 Tolson began carving again, this time with more intent and purpose than in the previous years leading up to this.
If you can have minimalism in folk art Tolson’s carving technique is one that may stress this concept. His figures and other carvings started as a simple block of wood and he wound only carve away what little material needed to be removed in order to create the finished product. Tolsons signature style of carving which leaves many surfaces “raw” or natural, which is feature that actually breaths life into his finished products.
In these two pieces, both versions of “Herod’s Palace” the viewer can see an evolution of sorts, or the changing of the story by noticing small changes and difference within the two. These two works of the same motif have never before been publicly displayed together so that one may see both the obvious, and the subtle variances between the two; and comparisons of the stories being portrayed in each.
Tolson first began selling, and trading, his figures; both of human and animal form, as well as carved and painted walking canes and traditional mule ear chairs at a local monthly market that took place in the county he resided. He was also known to carve oxen, bulls and horses and would then give to friends as gifts. While animals and canes were a predominant part of Tolsons body of work, he is probably best known for his biblical based carvings focused around the characters of Adam and Eve.
It was in the 1960’s that Tolson became involved with the Grassroots Craftsman, a local arts and crafts coop where he made connections with collectors and promoters of the folk art movement who then brought the works of Tolson and other folk artists to the rest of the art world. This delivery is what had lead Tolson to being featured at the 1973 Whitney Biennial, and has lead to his work being represented by galleries and sought after by many.