This whimsical work of art one of the many pieces of folk art on exhibit at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Edgar A. McKillop (1879-1950) was a blacksmith from Balfour, North Carolina who began his art career when a neighbor offered him four black walnut trees in exchange for removing the trees from the neighbor’s property. McKillop used the wood to create hand carved sculptures as well as practical items such as furniture and kitchen utensils.
The hippocerous is one of his largest works. Created in the 1920s, the piece is actually a hand cranked phonograph. McKillop carved the cabinet from walnut and created a fantastical beast with characteristics of the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus. It looks like a creature that would have populated the pages of Where the Wild Things Are.
I find it interesting how many folk artists integrated technology into their otherwise rustic art. In this case, McKillop used the work as a cabinet for a hand cranked phonograph. The hippocerous doesn’t simply hold the phonograph. When a record is played, the sound comes from its mouth. But wait, that’s not all. As the record plays, the beast’s tongue wags back and forth with the music. It’s a wonderful and whimsical work of art.