The Tom Clark Museum was located at 131 North Main Street in the college town of Davidson, North Carolina.
The museum was dedicated to the work of Thomas Fetzer Clark, a native of Elizabethtown, North Carolina, who graduated from Davidson College in 1949. A former theology professor at Davidson College Dr. Tom Clark left academia after 27 years to pursue a career as a sculptor.
In his early days at a sculptor, Clark specialized in Christian art, but he is best known for his sculptures of gnomes – smiling, mythical woodland creatures which he named “Woodspirits“.
The inspiration for Clark’s interest in gnomes began in 1978 when he saw the cover art on the popular book “Gnomes,” (1976) illustrated by Rien Poortvliet.
With the help of a friend, Joe Poteat, who admired his gnome creations, Clark received an order for 100 copies of his gnome character to be placed in floral arrangements. This initial sale sparked the beginning of Clark’s career as a master gnome maker.
Tom Clark left Davidson College in 1985 to devote his time to his thriving gnome business.
He creates his gnomes at Cairn Studio, Inc., a workshop/home located on a 300-acre property about 20 minutes outside Davidson.
Known for his exacting details, each of his gnome figurines tells a story, much like the paintings of Norman Rockwell.
Once when a reporter called Clark, “one of the most well known artists in America,” he humbly quipped, “That doesn’t mean I’m the best.”
After Clark sculpts a gnome at his studio, he takes it to his nearby plant, where more than 100 people work at reproducing his work with molds and castings.
The pieces are then assigned to other artists who are contracted to hand-paint, stain and antique each statue for distribution by more than 100 sales representatives across the country.
Three million people from around the world have collected Clark’s figurines. His gnomes are sold in Japan, Great Britain, Europe, and over 5000 stores in the States.
The building that housed the Tom Clark Museum was built in 1914 and operated as White’s Drug Store, then as Parks Rexall Drug Store from 1965 until its purchase by Tom Clark in 1984. Clark used the building as a gnome museum and shop, where he sold figurines made by Cairn Studios.
For a time, thousands of visitors came to his shop each year, some arriving on tour buses. But the business declined in recent years, and the museum and retail shop eventually closed.
For a few years, a sign on the property Museum at 131 N. Main St. read: “Closed for Vacation.” A self-portrait by Dr. Clark on the window is signed “Thanks for everything Davidson.”
In 2009, the building housed a store called “‘Cats on Main” named after Davidson College’s team mascot, the Wildcats. It sold paraphernalia like clothing, books, shirts, and banners. Clark’s gnomes and other figurines were then relegated to the second floor, where the public still had access to browse his works at no charge.
In 2012, the “‘Cats on Main” closed when Davidson college relocated its bookstore to another spot in town. Sadly, the Tom Clark Museum has since closed to the public.
Reportedly, as of 2014, the building will be converted into a restaurant. Adjacent to the old museum is a bicycle shop called “The Spirited Cyclist.”
NOTE: Although Tom “The Gnome Man” Clark is best known for his whimsical Gnomes and Woodspirits, he is equally impressive are his scaled miniatures of historical people, such as Jesus Christ, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Davy Crockett.
According to Cairn Studio’s website, Clark’s artwork has attracted a very notable collector’s base which includes the likes of Charlie Daniels, Jeff Gordon and Arnold Palmer.
During the election season of 2000, Clark created four gnome figurines, among them Al Gore (riding a donkey) and George Bush (riding an elephant).
To find new, used or retired gnome statues for sale, check out the folks at ebay.com.
For an excellent story about the life of Tom Clark and his Cairn Studio, check out the link below entitled, “The World of Tom Clark.”
Tom Clark Museum (now closed)
131 North Main Street
Davidson, NC 28036