Josephus Farmer (1894 - 1989)

Birth date: 1894 Death date: 1989  
Birth location: Trenton, Gibson County, Tennessee Death location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin  
Media: Painting , Woodcarver Web site:
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Josephus Farmer

Josephus Farmer (1894-1989) was an African American Pentecostal minister and street preacher who became known for his woodcarvings and paintings on panels. Born in Tennessee, Farmer joined the ministry in St. Louis, Missouri. He moved to Milwaukee in the 1940s and became identified with its inner city through his evangelism and his storefront church. Though he worked a variety of jobs during his lifetime, his true vocation was to spread the word of God, sometimes traveling to do so.

In late middle age he began making and selling carvings and paintings in order to finance his religious work. Reverent Farmer’s aims in producing art were certainly not predominantly commercial, however. Each of his works was clearly meant as both informational and inspirational. He seems to have developed his considerable skill as a folk artist for these didactic purposes, not merely to create interesting objects as a hobby or for sale.  

Farmer is best known for bas-reliefs carved in redwood and painted in colorful enamels. He favored biblical themes, but devoted considerable effort to patriotic ones as well. Farmer’s relief called “Tribute to the Kennedys” (1963) is a fine example of his story-telling technique applied to a non-religious theme; he also made portraits of other national leaders. Reverend Farmer often carved biblical stories in sequences of distinct frames or panels, augmenting his visual iconography with dates and pithy texts. Farmer made direct and economical use of commonly-understood images and symbols, like effective artist-evangelists of every age and creed.

Today, Josephus Farmer’s carvings and paintings are found in collections of American folk art, “outsider” art, and those documenting African American culture. Farmer’s influence is apparent in the work of modern-day African American woodcarvers such as Edwin Jeffery Jr. 

Wisconsin Affiliations

Wisconsin Art Organizations

No art organizations were found.

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