A Chatham County village is asking for donations to help a folk artist famous for his whimsical animal carvings pay his expenses after several falls.
The Bynum community has raised over $12,000 for Clyde Jones after he fell a few times last month. Jones has Medicare, so the fundraiser will help pay for food and a new ramp to his doorway, among other needs.
Jones, who thinks he was born in 1938 but isn’t sure, is one of North Carolina’s best-known folk artists. He makes playful wooden critters that sit in almost every yard in the village on the Haw River, between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro.
“The Bynum community is coming together to aid our beloved neighbor and national folk art treasure after everything he’s given to us,” said Stephan Meyers, one of Jones’ friends.
Jones, a former mill worker, spent a week in the hospital before he was released from a rehabilitation facility June 12. He is recovering at a neighbor’s home, where friends say he is improving, according to the GoFundMe fundraiser.
People from Bynum and beyond flock to Jones’ modest home on a hill to see his critters displayed in his front yard. The sculptures are made out of recycled wood that he carves with a chainsaw and decorates with items like shower heads and flowers. His creations, his friends said, revitalized the former mill town and made it a destination for artists.
“He really did keep the town from collapsing in on itself. Gave them a reason to be,” said Roger Manley, the director and curator of the Gregg Museum of Arts & Design at N.C. State.
No one but Jones knows why he started making the critters, which he began carving in the 1980s after he was stuck at home because of a logging accident. He hasn’t made as many since his eyesight started failing a few years ago, but he still makes a few to auction at Bynum’s annual ClydeFEST art festival for children.
“He refused to sell (the critters). He would only give things away. He would mostly give things to children. If he took a liking to them, he would give them a piece,” said Tom Patterson, a writer and art curator from Winston-Salem who knew Jones in the 1980s and ‘90s.
“He’s a man who lived his entire life alone,” Patterson said. “He’s creating these other beings to share his life with him.”
Cheryl Chamblee, the executive director of the Chatham Arts Council, said Jones is synonymous with the village of Bynum. His critters bring color to the community, Chamblee said. Jones never had children, but his motto is, “It’s all about the kids.”
Jones’ critters have been displayed at local museums, including Pittsboro’s Small Museum of Folk Art and the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, and national museums like the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Jones never gave his critters to the museums willingly. Mark Brown, a former art curator, remembers visiting Jones’ colorful house several times in the 1990s before Jones agreed to lend a few of his pieces for an exhibition.
“I had to give him reports on how (the critters) were doing,” said Brown, who’s now an art professor at High Point University. “I remember one event, he had this blue dog with giant pink flowers for eyes. He called it Becky. When I pulled Becky of the truck, he said, ‘There’s Becky.’”
Friends describe Jones as an endearing, playful artist. Country folk singer Tift Merritt met Jones when he used to drive his tractor near her old home in Bynum. She brings her daughter to visit him about once a year.
As Jones recovers from his falls, Merritt said she is glad to see the Bynum community rallying around him.
“If the world doesn’t know Clyde, they’re really missing a magical corner of the world,” Merritt said. “His house is a work of art and an expression of himself, and I think that we can all look to him for how to do that for ourselves and have more magic in our life.”
Anyone who wants to donate to Jones’ fundraiser can contribute through GoFundMe or mail a check to his friend Stephan Meyers at 476 Singing Hills Drive Pittsboro, NC 27312, with the memo line “Community Aid/Clyde Jones.”
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