Title of Work
Eldren M. "E.M." Bailey 1
Date of Work
Super 8 film
Art & Design Study Collection: James Smith Pierce Film Collection
Stored: JSP.FAST.FILM BOX 1
UND Art Collections Repository
Born in Brooklyn, New York, James Smith Pierce received his PhD in art history from Harvard University. During his career as a professor, Pierce also became an accomplished artist, whose artworks were included in important exhibitions (including a show on land art at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC) and books on contemporary earthworks and site-specific sculpture. Pierce was also a photographer, exhibition curator, and art collector.
About Eldren M. “E.M.” Bailey
Born in small town Georgia in 1903, Eldren M. Bailey was educated to a third-grade level before leaving home to work on the railroad. Bailey claimed that in his railroad days, while passing through Atlanta, he saw a young girl in her yard beside the tracks, jumped off the train, and would ultimately marry her. They would ultimately spend the rest of their lives in this house next to the train tracks.
In 1942, he started making tombstones and working as a gravedigger. In his free time, Bailey began construction of an outdoor sculpture garden. These concrete sculptures acted as a reflection of his values and the troubles of the times. They also reflected contemporary historical events.
Bailey was a self-professed “good Christian man”, fittingly, the first outdoor piece he constructed was a 9 foot crucifix built in 1945. He also covered much of the interior of his home in molded concrete designed to resemble a grotto. Many of the sculptures in the garden reflected African American funerary traditions. Urns, guard dogs, and other traditional symbols were incorporated into the space.
Bailey’s sculptures commemorated historical figures and events as well. He created a large sculpture to act as a memorial for John F. Kennedy after his death. Bailey claimed that he wrote the government about a proposed monument and, after failing to hear back from them, set out to make his own. His final outdoor sculpture was a memorial to Henry Aaron hitting his 715th home run. Bailey finished the sculpture the same night that the historic event took place. Bailey died in 1987; some of his smaller sculptures are displayed in various museums but the majority of his larger works have disappeared from public view.
Digitally preserved 2021.
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