The carver, Shields Landon
Jones, known as S.L. Jones, was born in Franklin County, Virginia, the son
of a sharecropper and one of thirteen children. Before he was a teenager,
the family bought a small farm in Summers County, West Virginia. In 1918,
at the age of seventeen, Jones left school and the farm to go to work on
the railroad. Life in the West Virginia mountains was hard, and railroad
work was often dangerous, but life had its compensations: hunting and music.
It was while watching for deer and treeing possum that Jones started to
pass the time by carving small figures; and there was music everywhere-
in the church, in the grange hall, and in the home. By the time he was ten,
Jones was an accomplished fiddler and banjo player.
Hunting, forest animals, fiddling contests, and the railroad are common themes in Jones' work, but he is best known for his portrait heads. Using native hardwoods such as maple or walnut or the softer poplar and working with professional wood chisels rather than the pocketknife of years past, Jones sculpted massive heads that reflect the abstracted faces and personalities of people he has known or visions that have come to him in dreams. He worked in a studio he built himself on the rise behind his small house at Pine Hill, West Virginia, on the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Jones' work is sometimes compared to that of the contemporary academic sculptors such as Ellie Nadelman and Alexander Calder, but he was entirely self-trained, and his use of frontal positioning, broad flat surfaces, and foreshortened torsos reflects his own solutions to artistic problems rather than reliance on the advice or experience of other. His themes, such as the fiddler and the hunter with his dog, express a life experience alien to almost all academic artists.
The work of S.L. Jones has been widely exhibited during the past decade (he began to carve seriously in the early 1970s). His sculpture and the drawings he also did can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; and the Museum of American Folk art, New York City. His works have been shown throughout the United States and in Europe and Japan.
Hinton, West Virginia
|Folk Outsider Portrait
Pen and coloured pencils on paper (8" x 10")