ClydeFEST is an ol’ timey carnival based on colorfully painted cedar creatures (a.k.a. “critters”) and the former woodsman who makes them. Self-taught folk artist Clyde Jones and his ever-present Stihl chainsaw delights in the joy his art brings both children and adults. Still, who knew when ClydeFEST was launched 15 years ago that it would be such a resounding hit with kids and their parents, as well as with the volunteers who help make it happen? In advance of this year’s 15th annual ClydeFEST on Saturday, September 24th, we asked folks who’ve been involved in ClydeFEST about their recollections of this unique Chatham County arts event and the man at the center of all this sparkly folk art fun.
Do you remember the first time you saw a Clyde Critter?
Jim Crawford, current chair of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, is a volunteer with the Chatham Senior Center, and a former faculty member in the history departments at UNC-Greensboro and Elon College: “It was 1988 and there were several ‘critters’ outside Crook’s Corner restaurant in Chapel Hill. I also remember seeing Clyde critters in Orange and Chatham as I did carpentry work with Tate Hamlet.”
Lesley Landis, a current Chatham Arts Council board member and a graphic designer: “In 1988, I was living Raleigh and drove to Bynum to see if I could find the folk artist I’d read about who made whimsical creatures out of cedar with tennis balls and soda bottle caps for eyes. When I drove into Bynum, I couldn’t believe my eyes…critters were everywhere.”
Beth Turner, works at a public health non-profit, is a founder of Girls Rock NC, and was a Pittsboro Town Commissioner: “I was at Captain John’s Dockside restaurant around 1994. The colorful paintings on the wall with lots of glitter were unforgettable.”
Do you have a favorite kind of critter? Where is it? Why this one?
Debbie Bousquet, Facilities Management Coordinator with UNC Housing and is a former Chatham Arts Council board member: “The Dynamic ‘Raff Duo at the PBO Town Hall. They’re like greeters as you walk in.” (‘Raff is “Giraffe” in Clyde-speak)
Lesley Landis: “I have a ‘Gator that I place in the middle of a big patch of ajuga that grows in my front yard. When the ajuga blooms in the spring, the gator looks like it’s coming to the surface of a lush purple swamp.”
Beth Turner: “I just like seeing them pop up in really interesting and unexpected places…like a seafood restaurant.”
What were your impressions the first time you met Clyde Jones?
Debbie Bousquet: “I was slightly intimidated but not for long after his childlike observations shone through.”
Jim Crawford: “He is clearly a man of purpose. Toughened hands, sun-worn skin, clothes that showed no difference between work and play. Mr. Jones didn’t say much, but his creations speak to everyone.”
Lesley Landis: “It took me a while to catch on to Clyde’s accent and his sense of humor. Now I know that when he’s talking to me, he’s more than likely pulling my leg.”
Efrain Ramirez is retired from a career in international sales and currently serves as a substitute teacher in Chatham County Schools: “A most interesting man who named me ‘Egan'”
When did you first attend or volunteer for ClydeFEST?
Jim Crawford: “In 2009 I started to help with directing traffic.”
Lesley Landis: “It was 2005 or 2006 when ClydeFEST was held at the Chatham County Fairgrounds.”
Efrain Ramirez: “I’ve been to all of them, except for past 2 years.”
Beth Turner: “I played bass in a children’s band called Baron von Rumblelbuss at the 2009 ClydeFEST. The next year I started staffing the merch booth pretty regularly. Come see me for your ClydeFEST T-shirts!”
What’s your best memory from a ClydeFEST?
Debbie Bousquet: “When ClydeFEST moved to the Bynum Ballfield because it was such a carnival atmosphere. That was the first year the original Clyde games were introduced, which were the brainchild of Stephen Meyers.”
Jim Crawford: “Since I’ve handled parking in the past, I am the first person most guests meet when they drive to ClydeFEST. I like seeing families going in not knowing what to expect, but then coming out with kids covered in paint carrying a fish, butterfly, or penquin.”
Lesley Landis: “One year, an expert in Early Childhood Development said she’d been to a lot of children’s events across the country and that ClydeFEST was perfectly designed for kids from 4 to 11. It made me feel like we were doing something really special that also happened to be a uniquely Chatham County art experience.”
Efrain Ramirez: “The first one, which I believe was at “THE farm“… and the incredibly hot one which was held at Shakori Hills.”
Beth Turner: “I remember my coworker came last year and said, “This is the greatest analog thing that I’ve seen for kids in a really long time.”
Why did or do you attend or volunteer for ClydeFEST?
Debbie Bousquet: “Because it holds a very special place in my heart.”
Jim Crawford: “Because I wanted a Critter Control t-shirt!”
Lesley Landis: “Because it seemed like it would be fun. Then when I joined the board of the Arts Council, I became very proud of ClydeFEST and wouldn’t dare miss it.”
Beth Turner: “Because I like to volunteer, and ClydeFEST is fun…and there’s nothing difficult or stressful about it.”
What can you tell people about Clyde Jones or ClydeFEST that they may not know?
Debbie Bousquet: “How truly magical it is!”
Jim Crawford: “You don’t have to be a kid to have a good time.”
Efrain Ramirez: “Great fun for children, parents, grand parents, aunts & uncles
Lesley Landis: “Though you see lots of Clyde’s art around, he doesn’t sell his work. You have to be given a piece of Clyde’s work or win it at an auction which makes owning his art a very special thing indeed.”
What will ClydeFEST be like in the year 2031?
Jim Crawford: “ClydeFEST will be held at a park that overlooks the Haw River and it will focus on the critters of the Haw and the importance of clean water.”
Lesley Landis: “Adults who attended the first few ClydeFESTs as children will bring their own children and the cycle will be complete and start all over again. The 30th ClydeFEST will feature some nationally known kids bands on the ClydeFEST stage –- including local school children playing stringed instruments — our theme will be one of creative reuse and sustainability…and despite all the change that is coming to Chatham, ClydeFEST will still have the same, sweet, small-town, handmade, rural community feel that it does now.
- Go See This: 15th Annual ClydeFEST
- When: Saturday, September 24, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
- Where: Bynum Ball Park (in the mill village of Bynum. The address is 173 Bynum Hill Road, Pittsboro, NC 27312)
- Bynum is a small village with limited parking and narrow roads. Save gas by ride sharing and using our FREE Park & Ride Shuttle from Northwood High School to get to the fun stress-free. Check out our handy dandy map at this link.
- How Much: Free for kids under 3, $3 kids ages 3 to 11, $7 ages 12 and up. Buy advanced tickets
- For More Info: www.ChathamArtsCouncil.org / 919-542-0394
- Accessibilty: Accessible parking and facilities
- Kids/Pets: Yes, yes, yes to kids! No pets, please.
- In Case of Rain: Sunday, September 25, Noon–5 p.m.