Artist Profile – S. L. Jones

(detail) S.L. Jones / Untitled (Possum Hunt) / 1995 / Mixed media on paper / 18 x 23 in. / Private Collection

1901–1997, lived and worked in Hinton, West Virginia

Shields Langdon “S. L.” Jones was something of an Appalachian Renaissance man, known for his sculptural and two-dimensional art as well as for his virtuosic musicianship. Born in mountainous Indian Mills, West Virginia, as a young man he hunted, trapped, whittled wood, and aided his father, a tenant farmer and lumberjack. For much of his life, Jones worked for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company, a major employer in the region. He lied about his age in 1918 in order to be hired as a track layer, and he retired in 1967 as a foreman. After his retirement and the death of his first wife, Jones was able to concentrate on his music—he was renowned in the region as a superb fiddler and banjoist—and his boyhood hobby of carving. After encountering Jones’s droll wood sculptures at a Charleston, West Virginia, exhibition in 1972, influential folk art curator and collector Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. helped to promote the artist.

Jones’s early knife carvings of local yellow poplar, walnut, and maple started as small-scale, unadorned animal and human figures. By the late 1960s, these miniatures had morphed into full-size portrait busts and figures depicting real-life neighbors and imagined subjects alike, all executed with chisels. Jones’s stylized heads rank among his most celebrated works, as his knack for capturing personal details transformed deceptively simple pieces into evocative and often humorous sculptural works. In the early 1970s, Jones began to employ various paints, stains, and other surface treatments, which increased the visual range of his busts. After suffering a stroke later in life, Jones turned increasingly to intimate drawings in graphite, ink, and pastels. Portraits, animals (especially horses), and musicians, with some additional landscape elements, recur in his late-period drawings.

Artist’s Work