Ricky's legs are each 40 feet long, 17 feet high, and weigh a collective 80 tons.
Ricky's legs are each 40 feet long, 17 feet high, and weigh a collective 80 tons.

Giant Legs of Ricky Pearce

Field review by the editors.

Henderson, North Carolina

Claude Richard Pearce Jr. -- everyone calls him "Ricky" -- was born in 1958. He's lived his entire life in Henderson, North Carolina. He works with a backhoe, and he's very good at it. When we first spoke with Ricky, he was using his backhoe to dig a grave in a Henderson cemetery, which he owns, as well as owning all of the properties on his block. That latter fact helps to explain how Ricky was able to erect two 40-foot-long legs on the same street as his house.

Ricky Pearce.
Ricky Pearce: backhoe operator and artist.

"This is the second most toured place in the country," said Ricky, standing proud beneath the arched knee of one of the legs. "First one is Graceland."

According to Ricky, it was not until the late 1990s that he realized that he was an artist. He was digging a foundation for a house, he said, when the owner noticed Ricky's skill with the backhoe, and introduced him to Thomas Sayre, a sculptor who makes artworks cast from holes dug in the ground. Sayre recognized Ricky's talent, and felt that Ricky could help Sayre make giant "earthcasting" sculptures more precise than those made by other artists. "What a person does with a paintbrush or a chainsaw, I do the same thing with a backhoe," said Ricky.

Giant Legs.
Each leg shows marks left by Ricky's backhoe bucket.

A year or two later Ricky was driving to a job for Sayre when he got the idea for the giant legs. "I decided to do a sculpture for myself," he said: a pair of lady legs inspired by a famous image of Marilyn Monroe's billowing dress from the film, "The Seven Year Itch" (The image has also inspired another giant tribute). Ricky recalled that Sayre and his crew gave him a pen and a napkin and told him to draw his artwork. Then they laughed. "And three years later, it was up," said Ricky. "And I told Thomas, I said, 'Y'all laughed about it.' And Thomas said, 'We didn't laugh as a laugh thinking you won't gonna do it.'"

It wasn't easy. Aside from the engineering needed to carve two 17-foot-high, 40-foot-long legs with a backhoe, cast them in the ground with reinforced concrete, and then lift the 80-ton sculpture so that it wouldn't collapse, Ricky had to navigate the local bureaucracy. It helped, of course, that he owned all of the surrounding land, and that everyone in town knew him. "They know I'm a good person," he said. "I got a heart. I love everything."

Giant shoes.
Another Ricky artwork, High Heels, uses red rebar as the toe straps.

The artwork, which Ricky titled "Reminiscing," nevertheless had critics. Some viewed it as offensive, even vulgar. What people most objected to, Ricky said, was the shrubbery that was planted at the juncture of the legs. Ricky told us that it was just foliage, although we're not sure if we believe him. "It's an artist's job to explain the half of it to you, and you figure out the other half yourself," Ricky said. "You can sit and watch 'General Hospital' and see more than you can right here."

Giant shoes.
Ricky's neighborhood: High Heels in the foreground, Giant Legs down the street.

Another aspect of Ricky that rubbed some folks the wrong way is that he had what he called "a little bit different lifestyle" than his Henderson neighbors. "I live with a lot of women," he said. When we asked him how many, he answered, "Right now there ain't but three, but back then" -- when he built the legs -- "there was more." When we asked him why the number of women had decreased, he answered, "I have to slow up."

Ricky seems to be a happy guy, and he's always eager to talk. The conversation quickly turns, as it often does with folk artists, into a list of all of the media in which the legs have made appearances. One of them, a textbook titled "Southern Culture," made Ricky especially proud. "My niece came to me one day and said, 'Uncle Ricky, we're studying you in college,'" he recalled. "I said, 'No!' She said, 'Yeah, it's in a book this thick.' And I said, 'How much was that book?' And she said, 'Sixty-five dollars.'"

The giant legs have been standing in Ricky's neighborhood since 2004. He's subsequently created other artworks, but none with the eye-grabbing presence of his Marilyn-inspired tribute. If that suggests a lack of grand ideas, it doesn't bother Ricky. "You don't ask for serendipity; it comes," he said. "If you ask for it, you mess up."

Giant Legs of Ricky Pearce

Address:
365 Welcome Ave., Henderson, NC
Directions:
I-85 exit 218 onto US-1 south. Drive around four miles, and exit onto NC-1148/Old Epsom Rd. Turn right, drive a little over a half-mile, then turn left onto NC-1138/King St. When King St. turns right it becomes Welcome Ave. The legs will be there.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Soul City - Unrealized UtopiaSoul City - Unrealized Utopia, Manson, NC - 11 mi.
Roadside Rock Grave of Senator JeffreysRoadside Rock Grave of Senator Jeffreys, Harris Crossroads, NC - 23 mi.
Transformer TractorTransformer Tractor, Wendell, NC - 34 mi.
In the region:
Tobacco Museum: Farmer Robot, Durham, NC - 34 mi.

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