Art Clokey: How Gumby got his name

Art Clokey, whose clay creations earned him a Google Doodle, named Gumby after memories of his childhood.

Google Doodle
Art Clokey and his stable of clay creations took center stage Wednesday on Google.

Google celebrates Gumby creator Art Clokey on Wednesday with a clay-inspired Google Doodle.

The home page banner shows Mr. Clokey's most famous animated hero, Gumby, urging users to abandon their Google searches for the moment and poke at four colorful clay balls. If Gumby successfully coaxes you away from productivity, you're rewarded with a bouncing, shape-shifting surprise. The clay blobs morph into some familiar faces: Blockheads, Prickle, Goo, Gumby, and Pokey – all characters from the Gumby TV show.

The search engine pulled together this transforming tribute in honor of what would have been Clokey's 90th birthday.

While millions of people around the world know Gumby's angled green head and yellow smile, few know the story behind his name.

Art Clokey was born Arthur Farrington. He had a rocky childhood. After his parents divorced, 9-year-old Art lived with his father. But when his dad died in a car crash, Art's mother and stepfather abandoned the boy and placed him in an orphanage. A classical music composer named Joseph Clokey later adopted Art and gave the 12-year-old his last name.

As Clokey got older and grew interested in animation, he often thought back to his childhood. Despite the rough upbringing, or perhaps because of it, his "stop motion animation characters reflect the message of love that Art and his wife Ruth wanted to give the world," according to the official GumbyWorld website.

Clokey's work still incorporated memories of his youth. For example: Gumby.

He named the jolly green humanoid after thoughts of his grandparents' farm in the Midwest. According to GumbyWorld, little Art used to play in the farm's muddy clay, a mixture they called "gumbo."

The name stuck – and not just to Gumby. Clokey called his very first clay animation "Gumbasia," a play on Disney's "Fantasia." "A clay-animated art film done to the beat of jazz music, Gumbasia was made on a ping-pong table in Clokey's dad's garage and demonstrates the moving power of Kinesthetic film principles," writes KQED in its introduction to the film. You can watch the three-minute piece below.

Google has honored several animators before Wednesday. Two of the best were its Doodle to Popeye creator E.C. Segar and to Wallace and Gromit, which actually didn't make it to Google's home page in the US. You can still check it out online in case you missed it the first time.

For more on how technology intersects daily life, follow Chris on Twitter @venturenaut.

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