More than anything, Bynum folk art legend Clyde Jones likes to make children smile. He has an unconventional way of going about it – by revving up his chainsaw. It works. And kids aren’t the only ones smiling.
He starts with log remnants or an old stump. With a few swipes of his saw, some hammer and nails, and perhaps a coat or two of paint, a “critter” is born. Plastic flowers, tennis balls, artificial grapes, and bottle caps become eyes. A pair of panty hose or a clip-on braid becomes a tail. Some get saddles or a string of lights. The lucky ones get a frosting of glitter.
Clyde has been creating these fanciful dogs, horses, giraffes, elephants, anteaters, ardvarks, and other beings since 1982. His yard in the former mill town of Bynum is full of them. And the world has taken notice.
Clyde’s creatures have been on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, and as far away as Africa and the Great Wall of China. He made a star appearance in New York City and has been featured in several documentaries. He also creates large, textured folk-art paintings.
But they aren’t for sale. “You can’t buy one, but I like it when people come and take a look,” Clyde said. In fact, when famed Russian ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov arrived in a limousine in 1991, Clyde politely refused to sell him one.
Yet he generously donates them to schools and to local nonprofits. And he gives them to folks he takes a liking to, which includes most of his neighbors, owners and waiters at area restaurants, his dentist, and the Pittsboro Town Hall.
Betty Wilson, a former guidance counselor at North Chatham Elementary, recalls when Clyde visited the school. He constructed a critter for the playground and then helped each child hammer a nail into its back. All had a hand in its creation, and Clyde figured the nails would keep them from climbing on it. When it was finished, he gathered the kids around and shared this wisdom:
“Always remember: Deep down, each of you has something you can do to make other people happy. I want you kids to look inside and find what that is and go out and do it.”
With that spirit in mind…
Best Place to Celebrate Kids’ Creativity with Clyde: ClydeFEST
The Chatham Arts Council honors Clyde with an annual full-day, smile-packed event for children called ClydeFEST. Kids play original Clyde-themed games, make their own art, eat food, and enjoy live entertainment on the Bynum Front Porch Stage. At Clyde’s Critterville, kids get to paint and glitter their own Clyde Critter cut-out to take home. This year’s ClydeFEST is set for Saturday, May 2 from 11 a.m. til 4 p.m. at the Bynum Ballpark. Tickets (and sponsorships!) are available now.
10 Things You Might Not Know About Clyde
- He was born in Chatham County on April Fool’s Day, most likely in 1938 (he isn’t sure). His parents were William and Hedi Jones, and he was the eldest of three boys.
- He attended school in Pittsboro up to grade nine.
- He has made a living cutting lumber, clearing brush, mowing lawns, training dogs, doing carpentry projects, and working at the local polyester mill.
- He lost his left middle finger while working as a wood cutter in the late 1970’s.
- In 1979, a large log crushed his leg, and his doctor told him he might never walk properly again. It took him three years to recover. During that time, his urge to create art was percolating.
- His first chainsaw critter was a pig, created on March 23, 1982.
- His chainsaw of choice is a mid-size Stihl called a Farm Boss.
- He began making paintings in 1987 at the age of 49 – 11 years older than Grandma Moses who started at age 38. He didn’t begin signing them until 10 years later.
- He began adding glitter to his critters and paintings in 1992 because he liked the way the reflected light made them sparkle.
- He doesn’t drive, except for his riding lawn mower. Instead, neighbors and friends pick him up and take him where he needs to go. A neighbor once said that if she awakens to the sound of his mower outside her bedroom window, she knows it’s an invitation to head into town for breakfast.
Best Place to View Clyde’s Critters: Bynum, NC
When you get to town, you’ll know when you are at Clyde’s house. His is the one that’s painted with whimsical animals and has a herd of critters in the yard. Bynum is like a drive-through folk art gallery, as nearly every yard has one. During the holidays many are strung with lights. Look for the houses near the intersection of Bynum Church Road and Thompson Recreation Road, and please be respectful of residents.
Best Place to View Clyde’s Paintings: Captain John’s Dockside Restaurant
When Clyde stopped in to Captain John’s Dockside for a take-out order 23 years ago, he and the new owner John became fast friends. The two met up in “Critterville,” and Clyde invited John to pick out a painting. “Something with a fish, please,” said John. The restaurant now has the largest collection of Clyde paintings in one place, many of them custom made. Clyde usually stops in for a meal about once a week.
Future Clyde Folk Art Viewing: The Small Folk Art Museum
Construction of this new museum is expected to begin in the spring at the corner of Small and East Street on the property of the Small B&B Café in Pittsboro. It will feature over 400 pieces of folk and visionary art that has been collected over the last 40 years, including six by Clyde. (Meanwhile, you can view several pieces by Clyde at the Small B&B Café right now.) A fundraiser for the new folk art museum will be held on Friday, March 27 from 5-9:30 p.m. at Small with a pig roast, live music, beer, and art raffles. Get tickets here.