Not everything in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg relates to 18th c. America. The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg also houses the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, which features all manner of delightful pieces from the 18th-21st c. (including this early 20th c. carousel cat from an earlier blog post) by artists and craftspeople working outside the mainstream of academic art.
This gargantuan wooden watermelon with a grapevine stem and its own handcart is one of my favorites in the entire collection, and it seems appropriate for the first sultry week of July. Carved around 1960 as an advertising sign, the watermelon’s history from its exhibition placard is worth repeating:
“Miles Carpenter (1889-1985) was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where he and his brothers grew up working in a family-owned sawmill. By 1910, he had married and moved his family to Waverly, Virginia, where he set up a sawmill of his own. Millwork slowed with the onset of World War II, prompting Carpenter to begin making decorative carvings out of bits of leftover wood. By 1942, however, the pace of his primary business had resumed, and not until 1955 did he again find to time to whittle and paint.
To supplement his sawmill income, Carpenter peddled garden produce from a roadside stand using this watermelon as an advertisement. In 1972, a former curator of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum spied the amusing melon when passing through Waverly, and eventually the oversized fruit was acquired for the museum. Carpenter enjoyed describing the incredulous reactions of passing motorists who had mistaken his carving for a work of nature.”
I bet those passing motorists were disappointed, too.
Above: Watermelon, by Miles Burkholder Carpenter, Waverly, VA, 1960. Oil on elm wood with natural grapevine stem. Art Museum of Colonial Williamsburg.