How Western New York man turned small Allegany County community into Bills tourist hotspot
West Clarksville artist's Bills tributes go viral, inspire pilgrimages from fans
WEST CLARKSVILLE — The hamlet of West Clarksville, with a population of a few hundred in the southwestern corner of Allegany County, isn’t exactly known as a tourist hotbed.
Until Eric Jones.
The family's front yard turned into a pilgrimage site for Buffalo Bills fans over the last month as Jones created a series of Bills-themed snow carvings. The snow art, which has ranged from a Bills helmet to a towering eight-foot carving of quarterback Josh Allen, went viral on social media this winter. The Bills even shared his photos to the team's official accounts, generating tens of thousands of likes and loves.
The viral posts inspired an army of Bills fans to seek out the art for themselves. Jones estimated "thousands" of people have stopped by to take selfies and group photos with his creations.
“I didn’t do it for the notoriety. It has been a tough year on everybody. That run the Bills made brought people in the area together,” Jones said. “It just created a lot of hype and a nice distraction at times. I was happy to be a part of it. I love the Bills.”
Jones is no stranger to the spotlight. A caricature artist who offers custom work via his website, last fall Jones appeared on Halloween Wars, a popular reality TV program on the Food Network. Whether it’s caricatures, carving pumpkins or snow sculptures, Jones never stops creating.
His final Bills piece for the year thanks the Bills for providing a great season, featuring Allen embracing wide receiver Stefan Diggs. It’s located in a new venue at 4783 Rt. 305 in front of the historic Block Barn in Cuba, just up the road from West Clarksville. Bonnie Blair, who owns the McKinney Stables, offered up the site.
Cuba, which is located along I-86, provided an easier destination for Bills fans from near and far. Congressman Tom Reed is among the visitors, making the drive down from Corning over the weekend.
“It’s a nice spot,” Jones said. “I teamed up with White Imprints. We’re going to be taking donations for the Patricia Allen Fund through Oishei Children’s Hospital. That’s one of the reasons we had it in Cuba and prominently displayed.”
Jones spent close to 10 hours working on the carving in Cuba. Some of the others were smaller lifts and took around three or four hours. Jones starts each process with big blocks of snow encased in plywood. Rather than pile up the snow like a snowman, he starts with the snow pile and carves from there.
“I’m not actually building with snow, I’m carving it out,” he explained. “It’s a lot easier to carve the snow out than it is to try to build it up. That way if it’s real cold and the snow isn’t packy like it has been the last couple days as it's been really cold, you can still work on it.”
Most of the color work is a product of spray paint, though he has experimented with food coloring and done some airbrushing.
His creations hit a sweet spot in the fan base as the Bills advanced to their first AFC Championship game since 1994; a photo of the Cuba carving shared by the Bills has over 70,000 likes on Instagram and another 25,000 on Facebook.
Between the TV show and the love from Bills Mafia, it has been quite a few months for Jones, who studied in Alfred University’s School of Art and Design in the 1990s just after the Bills had concluded their run to four straight Super Bowls.
“It has been a little bit crazy but it has been fun,” Jones said. “I’m happy to be able to showcase my talents and use them locally. There’s been a lot of requests for other types of carvings and things. It is my livelihood, but this was just kind of my gesture as a tribute to the Bills. They had a great season and it was a lot of fun.”
Jones is finished with the Buffalo Bills theme until next season, but plans to keep creating outdoor works as long as the snow lasts. He’s not done appearing on TV, either.
“I’ll be doing probably a few more TV shows. I can’t really say what they are but I do have some things planned,” Jones said. “As far as the carving, we’re mostly going to be doing stuff in my yard, or if businesses or people are interested in hiring me to do that. Most of it will take place in my yard.”
West Clarksville, heating up with tourists this winter.