First published: Summer 2008
It is nine years since James Harold Jennings made his self-chosen exit from this world with a single bullet to the cranium fired from a revolver he had kept handy for years at his roadside compound in a rural stretch of the North Carolina Piedmont. For his friends and admirers of his work, the news of this widely known self-taught artist's suicide came as a shock. It is unlikely that anyone realised the extent to which depression and paranoia had invaded his psyche. Although he had many visitors and usually seemed to enjoy their company, he was a fiercely private man – a quiet, habitually reclusive lifelong bachelor, temperamentally not unlike the skittish, half-wild cats and kittens with whom he shared his otherwise solitary meals.
Jennings' output was prolific, and over his last twenty years his idiosyncratic, festively painted cut-out-wood pieces attracted admirers from all over the world and made their way into many collections and museum exhibitions.
His art continues to circulate among dealers and collectors, but he remains an enigmatic, marginal figure even in the field of self-taught art – an artist who has yet to receive the level of attention long accorded to his peers such as Howard Finster and Minnie Evans.