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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
c. 1970
Wood, cast resin, and nails
32 x 23.75 x 2.5 inches
Collection of
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco museum purchase American Art Trust Fund and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

At the age of 81, Jesse Aaron felt desperate as he searched for a way to pay for his wife’s cataract surgery. Then, as Aaron later recounted, “in 1968, three o’clock in the morning, July the fifth, the Spirit woke me up and said ‘Carve Wood.’” The first artworks Aaron produced after receiving this diving encouragement were carvings of faces on living trees, which both grew and changed with the passing of seasons. Aaron then turned to whittling smaller, freestanding sculptures from found pieces of wood, such as this tree slice featuring three heads with implanted cast-resin eyes. These heads, which seem to morph between human and animal incarnations, suggest that there is an unseen world perceptible only to those with vision. The beliefs of Aaron’s mingled African American and Native American ancestry are the likely source of his perceptions that spirits reside in—and animate—objects in nature. —Lauren Palmor