As a graduate student at Middle Tennessee State University, Elder Jones lived in a cabin in the woods without electricity, running water or a phone.
When noted Tennessee sculptor Jack Hastings – who lived nearby and worked out of his Sewanee Deepwoods art studio – needed help working on a big commission for the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Jones jumped at the opportunity, which offered the promise of company and $4 an hour.
Jones would mix cement in the mornings and Hastings would begin carving after it set. When Hastings had some concrete left over, he would ask Jones if he wanted to make something. Hastings offered no instruction; just the tools.
“Jack never taught me anything,” Jones said. “I saw his tools and his work, and he just turned me loose.”
Jones “piddled” with this newfound hobby for a while, but got serious about wet-carved concrete sculpting after a stint in California, where a woman took an interest in his work and pushed him to make more. His work began to take off and some of it wound up in a Berkley art gallery.
The Chattanooga native eventually returned to his home state and joined the Tennessee Association of Craft Artists. He had a great studio space, sold his work, and got the occasional commission, he said, adding that creating art was “much better than hanging wallpaper.”
In the years since, his work has been featured on HGTV’s “Our Place,” in Southern Living Magazine, and in the San Francisco Examiner, as well as in two books by Sherri Warner Hunter.
Sharing the Knowledge
Jones began offering workshops to teach others the art of wet-carved concrete sculpting. They have great appeal for him.
“It’s just fun,” Jones said. “After an hour or so, you look around and see everyone carving away and no one is saying anything.”
Then out of the blue someone invariably breaks the ice by announcing, “This is so much fun.”
“It’s very engrossing,” Jones said. “You get to watch yourself make something.”
Jones is “totally amazed all the time” by the sculptures and planters students make in his classes. Every student is different. Some want guidance. Some never ask Jones anything and suddenly he looks over and wonders to himself whether he’s teaching them anything or he should be learning something from them.
Dr. Seuss versus The Soup Nazi
Here’s what you can expect from Jones when you take his upcoming wet-carved concrete sculpting class at the Polk Museum of Art: A delicate blend of gentle instruction and stern pushing to get it done.
It begins with a lot of “Cat in the Hat,” where Jones gently encourages everyone, he said. But as the concrete begins to harden, Jones admits that he channels his inner Soup Nazi and pushes students “to get done because if you miss a spot, it’s permanent.”
Join us March 23-25
The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College is excited to offer a three-day Wet-Carved Concrete Sculpture Workshop with Jones March 23-25, and we hope you’ll join us for this hands-on experience.
The deadline to register is March 4 and can be completed here. Call for more information: (863) 688-5423.