Art Clokey was born Arthur Farrington in Detroit, Michigan, October 12, 1921. During summer visits to his grandfather's farm, he enjoyed playing and making miniature soldiers and cities with the clay-like mud called "Gumbo." Arthur also showed great skill in art by drawing amazing renderings of what he saw around him in his small drawing book. When he was nine, his parents divorced and he stayed with his father. Then his father died in a car accident and Arthur was sent to live with his mother in California. After one year, he was placed in a half-way house orphanage because his stepfather refused to have Arthur as a reminder of his real father.
The big break in Art's life then happened. A wonderful renaissance man named Joseph Clokey adopted Arthur at age 12. Joseph was a noted classic composer and organist who taught music at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Joe and Art spent each summer on great adventures. One year they would take a voyage to Alaska and Siberia, the next they would take the voyage through the locks and channels of Canada. Arthur would film these trips and paint watercolors with his dad in the deserts of Mexico.
Webb School was Art's next big break: a prep school for boys with the most amazing geology teacher ever. Ray Alf would take Art and his friends to the Nebraska Badlands and beyond digging for fossils and learning about the world around them. In WWII Art did photo reconnaissance throughout Europe, and later studied geology and the Liberal Arts at Pomona College, the University of Arizona and Miami University of Ohio. He went to Hartford Seminary to become an Episcopal Priest and met Ruth Parkander. The two married and fled to Hollywood to make religious films. They taught school for a few years, while Art went to USC and studied Kinesthetic Film Principles under the legendary Yugoslav filmmaker Slavko Vorkapich. Turned on by this "massaging of the eye cells" technique that brought excitement to film, Art made a three-minute gem for his teacher that would again change the direction of his life.
Gumbasia was made on a ping-pong table in his dad's garage. A clay-animated art film done to the beat of jazz music, Gumbasia shows the moving power of Kinesthetic film principles. Art showed it to Sam Engel, a big film producer of the day who was making a film with Sophia Loren. After seeing it he told Art to rewind it and show it again. He paced back and forth and said: "Art, that's the most amazing film I've ever seen!" Art thought "wow, now I can direct and mingle with Sophia Loren," then Sam said: "Can you make figures out of that clay? I'd like to improve the quality of TV for children." Art said he could, and he and his wife came up with Gumby.
Art and Ruth wanted their daughter Ann to have a show with more wholesome and imaginative adventures than what was around. Art made a pilot and showed it to Tom Sarnoff of NBC who liked it and gave it a test on the Howdy Doody show. It was a hit, so Tom gave Gumby his own show. In 1956 and 1957, 22 eleven-minute Gumby shows aired on NBC. These shows were then turned into 44 six-minute shorts in the early '60s and mixed with 82 more episodes that were produced and shown in the '60s. Art and Ruth also created and produced all of the Davey and Goliath stop-motion episodes.
From 1967 though the mid '70s, Ruth ran the studio without Art. In the mid '80s, Art and his second wife Gloria joined in on the resurgent interest the country was having in Gumby. They toured the country, showing Art's clay animation art films mixed with classic Gumby episodes. They made 100 new episodes in the late '80s and a feature film in the early '90s. Now Art's son Joe is bringing Gumby to another generation. The classic episodes are getting restored and a fantastic new movie is being made, with a new series to follow. Art and Ruth's original intent was to give a gift of love to all children. That is what Gumby is and will continue to be. If you've got a heart, then Gumby's a part of you.
Also on KQED.org this week ...
Drought Watch 2015: Record-Low Sierra Snowpack
The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which typically supplies nearly a third of California's water, is showing the lowest water content on record: 6 percent of the long-term average for April 1. That shatters last year's low-water mark of 25 percent (tied with 1977).
"Boomtown" History of the San Francisco Bay Area
KQED's "Boomtown" series will seek to identify what is happening in real time in the current boom, and also draw out the causes and possible solutions to the conflicts and pressures between the old and the new.