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Dr. Thomas Fetzer Clark, or just Tom Clark, a native of Elizabethtown, North Carolina, graduated from Davidson College in 1949 with a degree in English. He continued his education receiving a Bachelor's in Divinity from Union Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Theology from University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
He also trained in sculpture at Roberts School of Art in Aberdeen, the Museum School of Art in Boston Massachusetts, and at City and Guilds of London School of Art. Before becoming a professor at Davidson College, he served briefly as a missionary in the Appalachian Mountains.
Religion played an important role in what he taught and the gnomes which he eventually sculpted to cast a magic spell over the country's collectibles market. Dr. Clark's father went to Davidson, as did other family members. As a matter of fact he was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award at Davidson College in 1989, exactly forty years after his father had received his.
"When Professor Tom Clark '49 began sculpturing more than 40 years ago, he dug clay from the creek in the middle of Patterson Fraternity Court on the north side of Davidson's campus. In 1958 Clark had just come to Davidson as an assistant professor of religion. Clark, who eventually became an associate professor, doesn't have time to dig his own clay anymore because his sculpture has led him from what was 'Nothing but a hobby' to what is now 'a big business,' he said." -Connie McLean '80
Dr. Clark left Davidson College in 1985 to devote his time to the Gnome business with Cairn Studio.
"I am a creative person, and sometimes creative people like me don't fit in well in structured organizations like college. For me, it is very satisfying to have people come into my Davidson shop or into a dealer's and pick out a statue because they like it. They're not just coming to see me because they've run out of the permitted class absences for the quarter," Dr. Clark points out with a wry smile.
What really inspired him to sculpture gnomes were drawings in the 1976 bestselling book Gnomes by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet. He happened to come across the Dutch book during the summer of 1978 where he was a storyteller for a boy's camp.
With their antique look, the Woodspirits became very popular among collectors. Among Clark's fans, some of the most famous were former first lady Barbara Bush, actor Bob Newhart, and best-selling author Stephen King. Some avid collectors were even known to collect multiples of the same gnome, but with different paint schemes.
While in his nineties and no longer making gnomes, Tom Clark's art is still a staple in many homes.
Learn more about Tom Clark at Cairn's Studio official website.