Art World James Harold Jennings (1931 - 1999)
Pinnacle, North Carolina, 27043, United States
About the Artist/Site
James Harold Jennings’ whimsical and colorful explosion of art no longer exists as one assembled collection, but the painted wooden sculptures by the craftsman are still dazzling viewers in private collections and museums across the country. Born and raised in North Carolina, Jennings began his sculpting following the death of his mother in 1974. With scrap material, assorted wood pieces, and a variety of hand-tools strapped to his belt, Jennings created depictions of everything from pop culture and Miss Piggy, to divine mythologies, indigenous cultures, and Amazonian fight scenes. A favorite subject of Jennings’ constructions was his “tough girls,” scenes that would showcase strong women dominating men in various circumstances. Jennings would stack the flat pieces of rough-hewn wood to create dimension in his work, often incorporating kinetic components that added an element of movement through either the wind or human intervention. Each piece was painted vibrantly using house paint with hues of bright primary colors that made up dizzying patterns of zigzags, stripes, and polka-dots.
Jennings’ property showcased an assemblage of his multi-media tableaus, labeled with a signature star, sun, and moon motif. His solitary lifestyle was unbothered by modern comforts; the artist chose to live without TV, telephone, electricity, or even running water. While the chain across his driveway and “unwelcome” sign near his house discouraged trespassers, Jenning’s works began to accrue a substantial fanbase, leading to a steady stream of visitors to Jennings’ home. Anecdotes from those who got to know Jennings often mention his repurposed bus, his bright red hair, his affinity for astrology, and his offer to chat over lukewarm beer served in a mason jar.
During the later part of Jenning’s artistic career, his work began to gain attention among folk art collectors in America. After a fortuitous chance meeting with members of the Jargon Society of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Jennings’ art was displayed in numerous shows sponsored by the society, eventually leading to more inclusions in other shows around the states. Today, Jennings’ colorful sculptures can be seen in institutions like the Birmingham Museum of Art, American Visionary Art Museum, High Museum of Art, and the Taubman Museum of Art.
The attention and renown were not all beneficial for Jennings. Plagued by growing health concerns and fears about the new century, compounded by a new, intimidating popularity, the artist was subject to growing paranoia and eventually took his own life in the spring of 1999. While both Jennings and the site on his former property are no longer in existence, his legacy and body of work persist. Jennings voiced his thoughts on his own art, stating in an interview with the Winston-Salem Journal in 1986:
“I just make things that are beautiful to me. They are just things that come to my mind. I get all kinds of ideas. I go on things that come to my head, and I don’t really know what I’ll go with next.”
~Nikki Ranney, 2023
Brinson, Linda. “Behold! An Artist Has Been Discovered.” Winston-Salem Journal, June 8, 1986.
Oppenheimer, Ann. Intuitive Art: Three Folk Artists- James Harold Jennings. Richmond, VA: Virginia Tech, 1986.
Taylor, David. “Ode to an Artist.” The Oxford Americano. 65, June 2009.
found objects, paint
SPACES Archives Holdings
1 folder: clippings, pamphlets, images
Map & Site Information
Pinnacle, North Carolina, 27043 us
Latitude/Longitude: 36.3293051 / -80.4331116
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Prospect Hill, North Carolina
Collettsville, North Carolina
Charlotte, North Carolina