Folk Art: The Clay Skulls of James "Son Ford" Thomas

Photo by William Ferris, 'James "Son Ford" Thomas and Clay Skull, Leland, 1971' Collection of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Grave digger, blues musician, and dark, mystic soul of the south, James "Son Ford" Thomas made skulls from clay collected at the banks Mississippi's Yazoo River, often using authentic human teeth. His art mirrored, or was a catharsis, from the constant nearness of death at his job digging graves. "We all end up in the clay" was Thomas' oft quoted philosophy on life. The cemetery was probably a great place to pick up teeth too.  You can find his work at various blues museums throughout the south.

Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper