Calhoun, Georgia Artist “Plays with Clay” for His Master
by Debbonnaire Kovacs
By Debbonnaire Kovacs
Submitted Sept. 10, 2014
It all started because of a game. When DeWitt “Old Dog” Boyd’s children were small, they had a game they played in the back yard. They had a little village with buildings, ships, seas, and “the emperor of China” (Old Dog himself). In all these magical pretend places, you could buy incense, silk, gunpowder, matches…just about everything, says Old Dog. “Everybody had a clay person and a handful of money and things to buy and sell from each little place in the village. It was just a game and a way to be together.”
It became a tradition in his family from as early as 1978. When Old Dog had lived on a hobby farm in Missouri, he taught himself to build miniature buildings out of stone, cement, and wire, and he put this skill to use in the game. He says he started indoors, but it got too big and had to move outside.
I asked, “Was it real money, or play money?”
“Oh, it was real money,” he explained. “Just change. At the end of the game, the money went back in the jar and the treasures went back to their places. We played for years and years, kept building on. It got bigger and bigger.”
When Old Dog moved to Calhoun, Georgia, he wanted a place to play the game with his family and friends. Seven years ago, he asked his church (Calhoun Seventh-day Adventist church) if he could build a garden out behind the church by the creek. They said, “Sure,” and Old Dog went to work.
Or to play.
Boyd was an artist from way back. He went to Pacific Union College after Viet Nam and took nursing, working as a nurse for seven years, but he hated working in a hospital. He asked God what he should do instead. “When you ask the Lord for help, he hears you,” Old Dog says, “and it may take him a few years, but he comes through.” At first, he went back to school to become a doctor. Then he took a class in porcelain ceramics and nothing was ever the same again.
The teacher, who was from Penn State, said he had an aptitude for it. “She showed me I didn’t have to do pottery. I wasn’t good at that at all! She said to stick to the things I made with my hands.”
So he bought a kiln and started out making porcelain nativities. He walked into a shop the day after Thanksgiving and offered one. The proprietor said yes. “I was making $6 an hour as a nurse, so I began by making clay for that price.”
His nativities were a hit. He says he raised eight kids and three step-kids “on clay.” He makes animals, nativities, people, scenes from the life of Christ, a little bit of everything. You can see his work (among other places) at the Turning Leaf Gallery in Blue Ridge, GA. https://www.turningleafwoodart.com/artistdetail.php?artistID=7806&artist=Old%20Dog%20Boyd
So perhaps it’s no surprise that the garden he built behind his church became a village that contained over 50 little buildings, including porcelain people. Certainly it’s no surprise that others caught the excitement and began to work on it, too, making it now the work of a community. Many of the volunteers are members of the Calhoun SDA church, but others, now numbering in the hundreds, include community residents, and even people who live in other areas. (Full disclosure: I, for one, have every intention of traveling down and helping to make something at some point!)
The best part is that the Folk Art Garden, as it is now called, became a must-see destination, featured on Calhoun’s tourism site, www.exploregeorgia.org/city/calhoun, in several travel magazines, and most recently in the Adventist conference paper, Southern Tidings. People come by the busload to see it.
To see some of the buildings in the garden, including a miniature Notre Dame de Paris, go to Poetry & Arts, Visual Arts.
But one question remains to be answered: Why “Old Dog”? “An old dog,” says Boyd,” is faithful to his master. I was chained outside in the freezing rain and nothing could set me free, but I finally turned to the Lord and he broke my chain and took off my collar and set me free. He has done one amazing thing after another. I want to be faithful to him forever!”