Leslie Garland Bolling carved wooden figures that drew national attention in the first half of the twentieth century. Bolling, the son of a blacksmith from Surry County, attended Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute and graduated from Virginia Union University. To make a living, he worked in Richmond as a porter, letter carrier, and utility tradesman. In his spare time, Bolling carved sculptures out of poplar wood with pocket knives and a scroll saw. The majority were single human figures standing between a foot and two feet tall.
A Richmonder introduced Bolling to New York art critic Carl Van Vechten, who became one of the artist’s supporters, following a group exhibition at the Richmond Young Women’s Christian Association. The self-taught carver received an award in 1933 at an exhibition in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Harmon Foundation, which supported African American art. Later that year, at Howard University, he displayed four more sculptures.
Bolling frequently depicted African Americans at work or at play. Among his most well-known works was the Days of the Week series of seven figures, which depicted black people going about their daily lives. Bolling was the first African American in Virginia to have a one-man exhibition at the Richmond Academy of Arts in January 1935.
The William D. Cox Gallery in New York held a one-man show of seventeen of Bolling’s works, including the completed Days of the Week series, in June 1937. Bolling collaborated with Richmond leaders to establish the Craig House Art Center, a Works Progress Administration project that opened in 1938 to teach African Americans about art and its appreciation.
Before the center closed in 1941, Bolling taught woodcarving and displayed some of his sculptures there. Bolling displayed a few more pieces, but by the time he died in 1955, he had most likely stopped carving. Scholars have documented more than eighty of his sculptures, but only about half of them are still missing.
Bolling’s work can be found at Yale University, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Valentine Richmond History Center. Bolling died in New York on September 27, 1955.