Artist Profile – Calvin Black

Calvin Black

1903-1972, born in Tennessee, lived and worked in Yermo, California

Faith, Hope, and Charity

Calvin Black / Faith, Hope, and Charity, / c. 1955-72 / redwood with polychrome, fabric, metal / Faith: 20 x 6 1/2 x 4 inches Hope: 17 x 5 1/4 x 4 1/2 inches Charity: 19 1/2 x 5 x 4 inches / Collection of Robert M. Greenberg / Photo by Charles Bechtold

Calvin Black was a folk artist who lived in California’s Mojave Desert and created more than 80 life-size female dolls, each with its own personality, function, and costume. He also built the “Bird Cage Theater,” where the dolls perform and sing in voices recorded by the artist.

Cal and his wife Ruby began building Possum Trot in 1954 as an attraction for their rock shop as well as an artistic expression. Calvin carved the dolls, each representing someone important in his life, and Ruby made clothes for them. The animated displays were designed to entertain visitors.

In 1977, Allie Light and Irving Saraf made Possum Trot: The Life and Work of Calvin Black, 1903-1972 , a documentary film which works on two levels. One is the documentation of the artist’s legacy and commentary on women: grotesque female figures moving in the desert wind and the theater with its frozen “actresses,” protected by Cal Black’s widow from a world she views as hostile. The other is the re-creation of the artist’s vision through the magic of film, as the camera enables the dolls to move and sing and brings theater to life as the artist imagined it.

An excerpt from Possum Trot: The Life and Work of Calvin Black, 1903-1972 (1977, Possum Trot Productions). Full video is available at http://www.folkstreams.net/film,105.

Artist’s Work