Title of Work
Date of Work
35mm slide, digitized 2020
James Smith Pierce Collection: Folk and Outsider Image Collection
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.
Calvin, 1903-1972, and Ruby Black, 1915-1980, moved from Redding, California, to Yermo, located directly south of Death Valley in the heart of the Mojave Desert, in 1953. They opened a small rock shop and refreshment stand along the highway and began constructing outbuildings, large whirligigs, tableaux, and other amusements to attract customers. They called this spot "Possum Trot," after a building type from their native south, and populated it indoors and out with home-made, life-sized dolls. Calvin carved and painted over 80 dolls, some based on real people, and gave each a name, which was painted on a wooden tag. Ruby used discarded clothing to dress the dolls. The Possum Trot was registered to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. After Calvin and Ruby died, despite what the Blacks wanted, the dolls were split up and sold to buyers. Currently, some travel to different museums and some continue to be traded amongst collectors.
This was the main building of the Possum Trot where Ruby and Calvin homed their rock shop.
Image is provided for educational purposes only. © University of North Dakota. All rights reserved.
35 mm slide in excellent condition.