S.L. (Shields Landon) Jones was born in Franklin County, West Virginia in 1901, one of thirteen children of sharecropper parents who went on to acquire their own farm. As a boy he would fill idle hours hunting, carving and making music. He dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, a lofty ambition for an individual of limited means, so he turned to carving animals in order to express his love of the natural world. Using his pocket-knife, he would carve rabbits, chickens, dogs, horses and pigs in wood while out hunting. He was also an accomplished self-taught banjo and fiddle player, winning his first fiddle contest as a pre-teen.
“A person has to have some work to do, so I carve some and play the fiddle.” This became his philosophy when he turned to his youthful hobby of whittling upon his retirement in 1967 from the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Jones began to take his small wood-carvings of various animals to West Virginia county fairs and social gatherings when he was in his early seventies. In 1972 Herbert Waide Hemphill, the legendary art collector and a founder of the Museum of Folk Art in New York City, discovered the artist at one of those gatherings. More concerned with expression than with form, Jones’s work was not easily mistaken as traditional, each piece having its own distinct personality and flavor. In his later years, when he was unable to carve any more, S. L. made pastel and pen drawings of faces, cats, pigs and horses in the same style of his carvings. Jones went on to enjoy a long and fruitful career in the visual arts, creating work well into his nineties. He passed away in 1997 at the age of 96.1
1. Roots Up Gallery