His first job in the newspaper business was working as a paperboy in Quanah. But during his off hours apart from the newspaper, Clay painted and sculpted hundreds of original works now in private collections and businesses across America.
“Windmill Country: Llano Estacado and South Plains of Texas,” is a book that contains prints of windmills, abandoned homesteads and the Comanches, a people who Clay holds in great esteem.
His witty, perceptive narrative accompanies and enlarges the context of the paintings.
His narratives describe an early life of hardship, one in which his family of farmers traveled place to place looking for work, like the Joads in “The Grapes of Wrath.”
“We moved from our farm in Oklahoma to Texas to find work in an old Model T truck,” Clay said. “We pulled cotton in the fall and worked in the harvests in the spring and summer.”
Things were so bad that, at one point they lived in a half-dugout, h,e said.
“The Dustbowl ruined any chance of raising crops.” Clay said. “We were moving all over and finally settled in 1938.”
Clay said that his extended family settled in Quanah because all the men found jobs on a ranch.
“A rancher gave my grandfather, my dad and all my uncles work, and that's where I grew up, and I loved living there,” Clay said. “As a boy, I was oblivious to any problems ... and from a kid's point of view, it was heaven.”
During his boyhood, he had heroes who inspired and fueled his incredible drive and passion for life.
“My grandfather, O. Henry (Papa) Henry was born in Indian Territory in 1888,” he said.
His Grandmother Henry, Ollie Etta Henry, raised eight children, and he attributes her influence for instilling his life values and work ethic.
“She watched five sons leave to fight in WWII,” he said. “She watched four of them come back.”
His dad left farming to become a train depot agent for the rail line called the Quanah, Acme and Pacific.
“They shipped everything in those days. Trucks didn't haul anything.” Clay said. “The railroad delivered tractors, farm equipment that was sent off on a spur, where it stopped at a farm supply business,” Clay said.
His father made sure that train cars went to the right business, and it was Christmas each day to see what the trains brought, he said. After high school, Peter Hurd, one of Texas' most famous artists, helped the 20-year-old Clay learn to paint with egg tempera. Hurd's paintings of the Panhandle's landscapes are painted in desolate earth tones whose brightest hue is often the color of clay.
“I met Peter Hurd after World War II when he'd been drafted to be a combat artist. He helped me immensely in egg tempera, I thought the world of him,” Clay said.
Another famous person wanted to buy up all his roadrunner prints, he said. After the woman paid for the 26 prints, she said, “This was my husband's favorite bird.”
Then she introduced herself as Mrs. Frank Dobie and said she planned to give the roadrunner prints as Christmas presents.
Clay began his career as a newspaper man at the age of 14 as a paperboy in Quanah. By the time, he was 20, he could do whatever was needed, easily making the transitions from hot metal typesetting to digital publication.
“I've newspapered almost 40 years and met some of the most fantastic people in world,” Clay said.
He worked in Quanah newspapers twice, Roswell, N.M., and Vernon before he came to Graham. He became the copublisher in 1986 with E.B. Harris and later served as managing editor and head of the press room.
Clay considers country newspapers the stabilizing force in small towns. He believes that “Bissell” (E.B. Harris) as Clay affectionately calls him, to be one of Graham's unsung heroes as well as his own.
“He did everything from sweeping out, cleaning up, setting type, running presses, selling ads, writing, editing and publishing his newspapers,” Clay said. “He had problems getting help, so he sometimes worked, ate and slept at The Graham Leader.”
Clay left the newspaper business in 1998, traveled with his wife, Virginia, for a while and then opened a bronze casting foundry. He created his own sculptures and eventually cast sculptures for other artists from Texas' largest cities, the U.S. and Europe.
“The demand was so great, I was working 16-18 hours a day,” he said. “It fascinated me. I loved every aspect, but it was hard to find help. After I had several heart attacks because of bad diabetes, I had to quit.”
Clay said that he wouldn't want to change anything about his full-time job as a newspaperman, but admits it wasn't easy to combine that career with being an artist.
“I came in at night at 1 or 2 a.m., painted all night until the next morning— I'd get a few hours of sleep before going to work... I didn't realize how long I'd been painting until I saw it was getting light. I was hurting my health, but back then, I didn't know it.”
Clay's next big project is to compile a comprehensive coffee table-style art book of all his paintings.
“I plan to release this in June or July 2014,” Clay said. “I am so lazy since I got to be 77 — it takes so long to do a painting.”
His art time now depends upon family obligations.
“It depends on my schedule. and my wife Virginia has been real ill — plus I have 40 grandkids, lots of great-great and one great-great-great-grandchild,” Clay said.
“If I have a grandchild or child who wants to talk, I stop and talk. If it makes me later on a painting, it's fine. It's family, and it's wonderful.”