Clyde Jones' Critter Crossing
Bynum, North Carolina
They're widening the highway that leads from North Carolina's Research Triangle down past tiny Bynum, a community of maybe 300 people joined loosely by a church and a general store. Maybe it's because Bynum is where Clyde Jones chainsaw carves his "critters" out of log remnants and stumps.
Jones, born in 1938, has been creating these rough hewn figures -- big-eared animals like dogs, giraffes and elephants -- since the early 1980s. They have been described by others as "whimsical" and "fanciful," rough aggregations of four or five pieces of found wood, cut quickly and nailed together with or without a coat of paint. Objects like baseballs and plastic flowers are used for eyes and noses.
The works, which used to have the more formal moniker, "Haw Creek Critters," (since The Haw River flows nearby) have been exhibited all over the world, from the Great Wall of China to the Smithsonian Institute to area barbecue restaurants.
Jones, a former mill worker with a maximum of nine fingers, is generous with his time and work. He and his chainsaw are fixtures at local elementary schools, fund raisers and auctions, and at any summertime festival where one would also expect bluegrass bands and face-painting. This summer, he was the guest of honor at ClydeFest, where he was presented with the first "Chatham Country Cultural Treasure Award."
His critters are often sold or raffled off to raise money for charity, but otherwise, Jones prefers to give his creatures away. In fact, when Baryshnikov visited in 1991, Jones politely refused to sell him one.
In contrast to many visionaries whose art ends up piled around their home, Jones seems to be well liked by the locals. Critters adorn most Bynum front yards.
When we visited in early December, reindeer critters were prominently displayed. One home had a full team pulling a log Santa and sleigh. At night, many critters were lit for the holidays.
In the middle of the community is Jones' house. Out front is a yellow highway sign, "Critter Crossing," but it's not like you need a sign to figure out where he lives. Look for the white tin roof painted with sea creatures, and walls painted with large penguins.
What was once a front porch is now boarded over with painted plywood animals. Dozens of critters frolic in both side yards, and out by the front fence. Some seem to have jumped the fence and have taken up in the neighbors yard.
As much as we enjoyed seeing Jones' place and placement of his critters around town, we are really looking forward to visiting ten years from now, when the highway is wide, and thousands of critters are everywhere, overflowing into and out of the piney woods, and causing traffic jams down by The Haw.