Skip Navigation


Earl Gray
Folk artist Earl Gray works on a stone carving at his Cabell County studio. Photograph by Michael Keller.

“Finding a Face in the Stone”

Folk Artist Earl Gray

By Jeff Pierson

Earl Gray of Glenwood, Mason County, is a self-taught artist who carves unusual faces and figures in wood and stone. Reminiscent at times of the sculptures found on Easter Island, those of Aztec gods found in Mexico and Central America, or ancient Celtic carvings, Earl’s art is primitive and timeless. He manipulates various surfaces to create metamorphic faces and designs, some of which become quite intricate as they develop. Earl does not sketch ideas on paper before executing the final work, but rather develops them on the spot, inspired by the moment and by the materials that he finds in the woods behind his home. “I would look at the grain of the wood and find faces,” Earl explains. “Once I had found the face, I would carve it out of the wood.”

Earl was born in Sistersville on May 14, 1955. Sistersville, a small river town located about 40 miles up the Ohio River from Parkersburg, was quite isolated at the time. Earl’s parents were Clarence Frederick “Catfish” Gray and Mary Francis Gray. Catfish, originally from Jackson County, was well-known as an herbal doctor, carrying on a tradition that went back several generations in his family. ...

The Gray family worked a farm on Spurlock Creek in northern Cabell County. There were 10 children in the family: four boys and six girls. Earl, one of the middle children, spent most of his days helping out around the farm. Earl lived what he considered to be a rather normal childhood. He attended school in the area and graduated from Fairfield High in 1972.

As a young man, Earl discovered that he had talents in carpentry, house painting, farming, and woodworking. “I did what I could do to get by,” he recalls. “I made money by working odd jobs and working with my brothers.” In the early 1980's, Earl went to work with his brothers at a local tobacco farm.

At the tobacco farm, Earl spent most of his time waiting on his brothers while they made delivery runs. Earl recalls, “One particular day, about 20 years ago now, I was sitting waiting for my brothers Jon and Dorman, and I started looking at the stick I had picked up. As I carried the stick around, I began to see a face. So, I pulled out my pocket knife and started carving the stick until I had a face looking right back at me. Up until that point in my life, I had never thought about making art. I had no interest in art at all.”

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.