Levi Fisher Ames


This unique collection is comprised of over 600 carvings by self-taught artist Levi Fisher Ames. Ames created a vast wooden menagerie of animals from around the world, as well as bizarre or heroic characters. After Ames had accumulated several hundred individual carvings, he decided to house them in wooden shadow boxes, hand labeling the carved figures and branding his initials into the top of each box. The glass-fronted boxes were customized to accommodate the various-sized carvings. Hinged in the center, they open like a book to reveal the creatures within. Each side may contain one or several carvings with a similar set on the opposing side. 

In addition to his fantastic collection of animals real and imagined, Ames carved other objects. His intricate and beautifully realized walking sticks attest to his skill, while small wooden tools and odd items carved from shell, stone, and coconut shell evidence his love of experimentation and exploration. Over the years, he also whittled items such as wooden chains from a single tree branch and types of carvings generally thought of as "tramp art" or "hobo art," along with many Masonic and fraternal symbols and logos. Ames' walking sticks evidence his many interests, and are decorated with chains, animals, and the diamonds, moon, crosses, trefoils and other shapes that represented specific corps in the Civil War.

Levi Fisher Ames firmly believed that his body of work needed to be seen as a comprehensive group in order to be understood and fully appreciated. For this reason, he kept the carvings together, never selling any of them. 

Through Howard Jordan, Ames's grandson, Kohler Foundation acquired this entire body of work in 2001 in order to preserve it and keep the collection together as Ames desired. Since then, several other works by Ames have been acquired, including one of his musical instruments, a cello, found in North Carolina and now restored by luthier Jack Hastings. All are now in the collection of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.