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Meet the artist who has perfected the art of social distancing

Posted at 12:04 AM, Mar 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-28 00:06:51-04

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- Clifford Earl spends his days working alone, out "in the middle of nowhere" in Hanover County.

“This is no gallery. No. People don’t even come here," Earl said.

And that's just the way he likes it.

It's not that the 74-year-old self-described loner avoids people - he's just too busy to socialize.

“This is my safe place. I come out here all of the time," says Cliff.

Earl is part sculpturist and part mad scientist.

“When I thought this up I didn’t just look at that sketch. I look at from above and below and this end and that end. It is magic," Cliff said.

The northern Virginia native has been building his one of a kind blimps, balloons and biplanes for half a century. His audience of carved wooden figures watches the master carver and welder in rapt attention.

“I don’t think I could ever have a job," Cliff said. "If it was ever a job I don’t think I could do it.”

While the artist largely stands stationary, his subjects evoke motion.

“I literally see a movie inside my head," he explained.

Cliff's inspiration is the 1965 film "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines."

Some pieces pass from one generation to the next as heirlooms.

“I think that is one of those rewarding things. It means right much," says Cliff.

“I think I was born in the wrong age truly," he said. “I was better suited to be from the teens or early first part of the 20th century.”

The renaissance man went green a long time ago recycling junk is his trademark.

“I reuse everything. I keep everything. Look. You can see," Cliff said. “Here is an oil can that’s going to be a birdhouse. It is not finished.”

His artwork prompts grin from ear to ear.

“They get closer and you can see their smiles brighten. They get entranced by it," Cliff said. “They look at it like a child would almost.”

But there are fewer smiles these days from the artist himself.

The man who has perfected social distancing for fifty years, laments what impact the coronavirus is having on business.

“There is no feeling," says Cliff. “I’m sad about it."

Arts In the Park, a springtime tradition where Cliff has been showcasing his work since the early 70's was canceled.

“I’m sad about it personally because of the artists I know," says Cliff.

Till next year Cliff Earl will build his inventory in the comfort of quarantining while hoping for brighter days ahead.

“Nostalgic. Whimsical. They’re fun," says Cliff. "I like doing them. People like them. I like doing them.”

Surrounded by artwork that's one of a kind just like the man who created it.

“I am very lucky to have found something I can do to make a living at that is fun for me to do.”

Cliff's pieces sell between $700 and $1,500.

If you know of someone with an interesting story email me at gmcquade@wtvr.com

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