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Norfolk folk artist etches work in wood

Retired Navy veteran turned folk artist J.J. Moore's work tells stories that testify of problems and issues in the world that have directly impacted him.

NORFOLK, Va. — J.J. Moore is 67-year-old retired Navy veteran turned folk artist. 

Every morning, out of his garage in Norfolk, Virginia he carves projects that display the details of real-life stories.

“Well, the details…It’s all in the details. It all tells stories,” he said.

J.J. has no formal training. He learned the art of wood carving through observing his relatives and by working on pieces for his family and friends.

“I’m what they call a folk artist. I kind of learn on my own,” he said. "I have to picture it in my mind. Once I picture it in my mind, I bring it into reality. I tell the story in the wood.”

Many of his pieces tell the history of what he has been through and experienced. His stories also tell of his passion and faith in God.

“This one right here is called ‘A Gift to God’… It’s a baby dedication,” he said. 

His vivid and candid carvings speak of the early years and good times of his life in Philadelphia.

“This one right here is called ‘Reflections with Libations’. Right here you have the 'baby-momma' drama here on the corner...The guys under the street light playing basketball,” he said.

J.J.’s stories testify of problems and issues in the world that have directly impacted him.

“This one’s called ‘Makes No Sense’. It’s about street violence and gun violence. They’re coming in to get the body,” he said. “I had two nephews that died from gun violence. It was devastating. Here today...gone tomorrow.”

To Mr. Moore, life is precious and nothing is to be taken for granted. He reflects on the frailty of life that can be taken at any moment. 

He knows this very well as he lives with a life-threatening medical condition.

“I got stage 4 prostate cancer. It’s spreading from my prostate to my bones and I have traces in my liver,” he said.

Despite this sobering diagnosis, J.J. lives his life to the fullest looking to serve others with his personal testimony and the stories he carves. His craft is fueled by his passion to help others.

“I don’t worry about this diagnosis,"  he said. "I don’t even think about it. I’m truly blessed every day I get up. You pray in the morning and thank the Lord at the end of the day...As long as you live on this earth you got to pay rent. And the rent you pay is the service that you do for others.”

“You’re only here for a certain amount of time then you’re gone….(You) go to the great beyond,” he said.