HICKORY FLAT — When Caroll Spinney, the man who brought Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life retired earlier this year, his work was widely celebrated. One gift he received was created by a Cherokee County artist.
In Jodie Davis’ house, whistles and hoots can be heard at all times during the day. Her cuckoo clocks need to be tested until they work perfectly to be sold at her business, The American Cuckoo Clock Co.
One of her first commissions was a custom Sesame Street clock for the retirement of Spinney.
The Sesame Street clock features the show’s classic stoop. When the cuckoo clock sounds off, Oscar the Grouch pokes his head out of his trash can and Big Bird moves from side to side.
Davis recalled that the Sesame Street clock was the first one she and her husband Mark Rowell made together from start to finish.
“One night we put everything on it. And I was so nervous we’re going to break something, because we’re putting it on permanently,” Davis said. “We went out and did something, and came in that night and the lights were on low, and I walked in, and I looked and said, ‘oh my God, I’m on Sesame Street.’ It felt like Sesame Street. That was amazing.”
Though the design staff at Sesame Street were involved in the early stages of the process, they were still impressed with the clock when they saw it in person, the artist said. She wasn’t at the retirement reception where it was presented, but she saw a video in which the clock was unveiled to great applause.
“It was really positive; it was like, ‘oh wow.’ They were all really, really happy with it,” Davis said.
In addition to the Sesame Street clock, Davis is making a large clock with braille for The Seeing Eye guide dog school in New Jersey.
The artist says she’s always loved traditional cuckoo clocks. For many customers, the cuckoo birds, the pendulum weights and the simple movements are a nostalgic reminder of childhood.
“People have such amazing memories of clocks,” Davis said.
Davis is best known from a successful career in quilting. She’s been a top host of QNNTV.com, a quilting television network, and produced and hosted two quilting series, “Quilting Out Loud” and “Quilt It.” She is the author of 35 books, mostly about quilting, but her bestseller, “Rubber Duckie,” is a history of rubber ducks.
When she visited a cuckoo clock factory for one of her shows, Davis had to find out if a clock could be made for quilters. So her first design was born, a quilting shop cuckoo clock from Schneider Cuckoo Clocks in the Black Forest, the area from where the clocks are said to originate.
Years later, when she left quilting, she decided to continue the cuckoo clocks and start a business. She designed a small clock that was also built at Schneider, but she carved and attached wooden American birds: a cardinal, goldfinch, bluebird and red-bellied woodpecker.
Over the past two and a half years, Davis has created several designs, and she said she is making more and more of the clocks herself.
Davis designs the clocks and oversees the full process to the final product. The clockworks, including the chains for the weights, are imported from the Schneider company in Germany. She works with her husband and one other employee, Emily Hershberger, and with Georgia contractors for 3-D printing, laser cutting and other jobs.
One clock is inspired by the artist’s own neighborhood: the Hickory Flat Owl clock, which features locally sourced birch bark, hickory and a barred owl that hoots.
The American Cuckoo Clock Co. was recently selected to participate in Cherokee Office of Economic Development’s North Atlanta Venture Mentoring Service, which pairs entrepreneurs of new and small businesses with a group of mentors to guide them.
While she’s currently working to keep up with demand, Davis said her dream is to open a factory to the public where families can see cuckoo clocks up-close. She’s confident as she talks about her company’s growth.
“I want to have something that’s like this Disney-esque experience, you walk into this fabulous building and the kids can play on these big bellows and make music. You can see how a cuckoo clock works. You go through a museum of all these cool old clocks, and then you can actually tour the factory ... more multi-media, you have videos of that and you can be part of it,” she said. “That’s what I want to do in Cherokee County.”
For more information, visit www.theamericancuckooclockcompany.com.