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Today would be the 90th birthday of the creator of the lovable green guy Gumby and his pal Pokey that many of us grew up around. The animator, Art Clokey would have turned 90 today.


Gumby made his appearance on the Howdy Doody Show. He was named after Gumbo the clay found on Clokey’s grandparents farm in Michigan. Locals would always refer to the mud that formed from the clay as “gumbo”.  Clokey had a long history of an interest in manipulating clay and from that Gumby and his pals developed. The original clay animation film that Clokey created was called Gumbasia, a combination of Gumbo (his name for the clay) and Fantasia. When he was asked to create a children’s series, he put his seven years of Latin studies to good use by playing around with Gumbo to create the name that we all know so well today — Gumby. Gumbo was his father’s name; Gumbino shortened to “Gumby”. Gumba was his mother’s name.

The type of filming that Clokey learned was kinesthetic film making and clay animation.

According to Gumbyworld:

According to Art, kinesthetic film principles enabled him to show film forces through moving objects. “The movements exert a force on your nervous system. They pinch on your nervous system through your eye cells. When you organize the images in the movement from cut to cut, it stimulates the autonomic nervous system. It gives you added excitement and it can start a feeling of movement.” Vorkapich taught him how to organize the visual so as to stimulate this feeling of movement in the mind and make the film much more exciting than it would be otherwise.

Art explained that filming clay animation is similar to music. “In music you build a climax through the use of timing and intensity of the stimuli—the duration, syncopation and so on.” Vorkapich taught Art that film is “more like poetry and music.” He would refer to the shots and define the cuts as notes: visual notes to combine and use in various ways, to get across your feelings, to delight and create new ideas and things—a new slant on life. You can do amazing things to the autonomic nervous system if you know how to organize these forces. It’s the balancing of repetition, variety, tempo, and just a split-second of rest. It’s all a mysterious combination.”

Clokey studied at an Episcopal Seminary. He and his wife were very religious and desired to create a children’s show with an underlying message. Gumby always followed his heart and did what was right. He found his sidekick Pokey pretty early on. The duo is pretty famous and an important part of a lot of childhoods, mine included.

Interestingly, Clokey would not allow merchandising of Gumby and Pokey early on because he believed that their message to follow their heart would be lost through commercialism. When he began to realize the impact that his clay characters were having on children he created Prema Toy Company years later. Prema is the Sanskrit word for heart. Gumby’s heart and Gumby’s ability to follow his heart were important parts of Clokey’s work.

According to Clokey:

“Well, I would like to see Gumby help teach children human values, so that they can respect each other as human beings and as a big family. They need to know we are all a big family.”

That’s an admirable goal. Together with his later clay animation venture Davey and Goliath which was the longest running children’s show produced by a church, I think he instilled in all of us a lot of good lessons.

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