COLUMBUS "DUDE" MCGRIFF Columbus "Dude" McGriff Main < BACK

Columbus "Dude" McGriff, recently deceased, unsigned, unsung, nobody knew him for years; he's what we call the Lost Wireman--you've heard of the Philadelphia Wireman--well, Columbus was 'the lost wireman.' He was in some shows in '76-- before that people had seen the work in NYC; Robert Goulet bought some of the work, Mel Torme bought some of the work--they were at the hotel where Columbus--he was almost blind in one eye and the other one was glass--worked as a shoe shine man. When we started this show, Columbus was in perfect health. He was born dirt-poor, near a large plantation, dependent on that for work. Many families are not unhappy about that way of life, and Columbus was that way. Came from a family in Gadsden County, Florida, but right off from the beginning, they were working in the fields; he would go off, play with the other guys, but when he was five years old, his eye was punctured with a piece of wire. He cut his other eye, too, later on, but first he started with one good eye, and he had these huge hands and you can tell his work because of the tightness of the wire, then he had a few shows, nobody much heard of him, but he stayed in Cairo, Georgia, until his death very recently, the last day of last year...he was supposed to leave the hospital, but died that night. Blind completely in one eye and punctured in the other eye. He just couldn't see, so he would go around picking up scrap pieces of wire from the baling machine so that people wouldn't step on it with their feet--that was his job. How'd he find the wire?--he'd step on it: pick it up, to keep people from steppin' on it. But at the end of the day he'd come back with the wire and start building stuff, and he really built with wire all of his life.

Columbus started making toys. He made little cars and airplanes and trucks every way, he made them his whole life. He died at sixty years of age. To me, he is the best wire bender that we've seen. No one bends wires the way Columbus McGriff did. And I'll tell you why. He was known in Cairo Georgia as "Dude" McGriff. But I also came to find out that he was known to some as "Mr. Grip." Now, what does "Mr. Grip" mean? "Mr. Grip" means that Columbus had seriously strong hands and could take this steel bailing wire (like you and I could take a piece of kite string and wrap it around our finger), and curl it and pull it and curl it and pull it--any way he wanted to. Mostly, because his hands were twice the size around as mine. It's easy for me to spot a piece by Columbus McGriff because no one wound wire as tightly as he did. All steel. He's dead, he's gone, but what a wonderful legend: toys, animals, and the joy that he gave to children. I never saw a child that wouldn't immediately love and want to come over and pick up a Columbus McGriff toy, or sculpture. I call them toys because they were childlike, he was like a child.

A lot of these guys go quickly, know what I mean? In bad health, bad situations. Columbus choked to death, no excuse at all. He was in a little hospital.

-Jim Roche

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