Art Clokey – Clay Animation Master
In man kinds history there are moments in time that standout far beyond any other time. The invention of fire, the wheel, the invention of flight, all the revolutionary art movements, and the birth of film, are all such moments in time that will be looked back upon with pride in the eyes of many. The birth of Gumby and the life of his creator will most likely be one of the most crowning moments in Animation and Film history. The very kind and generous being who started a movement that has influence so many and has kick started the careers of animation legends is none other then the Grand Father of Clay Animation, Art Clokey.
Art was born Arthur Farrington in Detroit, October 1921. When Art was a very young boy he used to play in the mud of his grandfathers farm. The adults at the time used to refer to the mud as Gumbo and would often reference it when talking about their trucks being stuck in the mud. Art’s parents divorced when he was a child and his father died shortly after in a tragic car accident. He moved to Southern California to live with his mother who had remarried a policeman. Arts new stepfather didn’t want Arthur around and so his mother was forced to place him into a home for boys.
At age 11 Art was adopted by a Dr. Joseph W. Clokey. His new father was a renaissance man who wrote over 200 pieces of secular and sacred classical music. He took Art painting in the deserts of Mexico, exploring and filming all over the American West, and even venturing as far as the Arctic Circle.
After serving in photo reconnaissance during WWII Art attended the Harford Seminary and was studying to become an Episcopal Priest. This is when he met his first wife Ruth. They both decided to leave college and move to California. He wanted to make religious films and become an expert in religious filmmaking. While attending night school at USC he was under the training of Slavko Vorkapich. At the time Art created a short film called “Gumbasia” using Vorkapich’s principles of filmmaking and animating plasticine clay.
Sam Engel, whom at the time was a Producer at 20th Century Fox saw the film and told Art that it was the most amazing thing he had ever seen. Sam asked Art to create a children’s show using the same method. So Art and his Wife created Gumby. The little green character was first seen on the very popular show Howdy Doody. Soon after Gumby had his own television series on NBC. Clokey Films produced twenty 12 minute shows in 1956-57 and then later edited them into forty four 6 minute episodes.
In 1959 the Lutheran Church approached Art Clokey to make a children’s show. They loved the look and feel of Gumby and wanted something similar. Art and his wife Ruth collaborated with the church and produced the Davey and Goliath series. This new television series would be in production from 1961 to 1975, Clokey Productions would make a total of 65 fifteen minute episodes and 6 half hour specials during this time. Also, 85 six minute Gumby Adventures episodes were made in the 60’s.
Art and Ruth divorced in 1966. Ruth took on the task of running the studio by herself and Art explored more of his artistic and spiritual side. He still had an influence at Clokey Productions but most of the scripts for the new productions were not written by Art.
In the 70’s Art married his new wife Gloria. Art created a new clay animated short film titled “Mandala”. The film was produced in Art and Gloria’s basement and used the help of Art’s daughter Ann Clokey, his step daughter Holly Harman, and his son Joe Clokey. During the time of the production his daughter Ann passed away and this event most likely shaped the message in the final edit of the film.
Art and Gloria went on to create a toy by the name of “Moody Rudy”. They invested a lot of money and didn’t see much return in their efforts. Down on their luck and with their finances thinned they decided to go to India to meet the famed Holy Man Sathya Sai Baba. Art took with him a miniature Gumby toy and Sai Baba blessed Gumby. Art attributed this in an interview in the Film “Gumby Dharma” as a turning point.
Once back in the United States the world seemed to notice the little green ball of clay in a cult like fashion. Art and Gloria traveled to Colleges and Movie theaters giving Gumby shows and selling out performances. Little Gumby action figures and stickers started to appear everywhere and even Eddie Murphy parodied Gumby on the TV show Saturday Night Live. Gumby was back!!!
From 1987 to 1988 the New Adventures of Gumby were made at Arts new studio Premavision. The name Premavision is derived from the Sanscrit word Prema which means “Universal Love”. This really reflected Arts philosophy of life and all his artistic works. The New Gumby Adventures would consist of 99 new episodes and be syndicated all around the world. It would air on Nickelodeon for three years and was one of its Top Rated shows. After the production of the television series, Art set out to make and release in the 90’s the Gumby Movie which has been seen and loved by millions of fans.
In 2004 Art’s son Joe produced the movie Davey and Goliath’s Snowboard Christmas. Every day, Joe would go over the production with his dad and show him the progress. This would be Art Clokey’s last film. This film was very successful in the eyes of his fans and is now officially a classic in the Stop Motion world.
Time it seemed had caught up with Art Clokey and he turned over the studio and the production to his son Joe Clokey. With all great things that burn bright, at sometime they must dim and fade away. The world lost Art Clokey January 8th 2010. He passed away in his sleep at the age of 88. But in truth Art Clokey’s influence, love, and imagination shines brighter with each generation that discovers his work. His generosity in giving beginning animators their first jobs in the industry has produced some of the best and most recognized professionals in the business. What makes him truly great is that he shall never be forgotten due to this little green character that has one of the biggest hearts in the world. We will miss you Art but you will never be forgotten.