Carroll Barnes – Paul Bunyan – 1938

Photograph by R. H. Hensleigh and Tim Thayer.

Carroll Barnes

Paul Bunyan, 1938

Born 1906, Des Moines, Iowa; Cranbrook Academy of Art, Student, Department of Sculpture, 1940; died 1997, Sebastopol, California
Cherry wood
40 ¼ x 24 x 12 inches
Gift of the Artist
CAM 1981.58

The tall tale of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe first appeared in the Detroit News-Tribune in 1910, based on stories originating from Midwestern logging camps. The heroic lumberjack soon became a nationally recognized icon and a fitting subject for an artist in search of a new and typically American subject matter. Carroll Barnes, who had once worked as a lumber-packer, sculpted his robust figure of Paul Bunyan shortly before enrolling at Cranbrook Academy of Art to study with Resident Sculptor Carl Milles. Although expert at carving materials as diverse as stone and Lucite, Barnes’s greatest affinity was for wood, a material particularly appropriate for subjects like Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed, whom he also sculpted. After settling into a studio near Sequoia National Forest in 1941, Barnes embarked on a 16 ½-foot-tall version of Paul Bunyan, a project which, interrupted by service in the Army, preoccupied him for seven years. Carved from a 2,000-year-old Redwood tree, the mammoth statue gained distinction as the world’s largest wood carving and earned Barnes a legendary status among sculptors.

Joe Houston
from 1
Category(s): Sculpture

Decade(s): 1930s

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