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
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.