Claude Bell, sculptor and artist at Knott's Berry Farm, 1947–1986. He was born in New Jersey in 1896 and, as a child, was sent to the beach by a doctor at the age of 11 to recuperate from a recent surgery. He passed the time by sculpting Teddy Roosevelt teddy bears in the sand to the appreciation of passerby. His talent paid off in tips and his sand sculptures grew more grand as he took his skills to Atlantic City and then traveled the country with state and county fairs before settling in California. Walter Knott requested a bench statue from Bell, but something more permenant, cement instead of sand. What Walter received in 1947 were the statues of Handsome Brady and Whiskey Bill, who have sat for millions of portraits with guests from around the world. Next came the statues of showgirls Marilyn and Cecelia, the Native American scene "Night Watch" which once looked over Boot Hill Diggins, the miner at the foot of the Boot Hill stream, Native Americans resting near the Calico Saloon, and many variations of Seldom Seen Slim and his pack mule which became an icon of Knott's. Directional signs in the shape of actor Dude Sands, the Minuteman statue in front of Independence Hall, a statue of John Wayne for Knott's John Wayne Theatre, a statue of Jesus near Fiesta Village, and the bench statues of señoritas in Fiesta Village and flappers in the Roaring 20's round out a long list of projects that Bell sculpted for Knott's. Bell's portrait studio at Ghost Town operated from 1951 to 1986 where he sketched guests in many mediums. Even Walter and Cordelia Knott were painted by Bell and their portraits can still be viewed in the lobby of the Chicken Dinner Restaurant. The portrait studio building stands today as the Rock and Geode Shop with an interior fireplace, mantle, and relief of Mark Twain, all sculpted by Bell himself. Upon his 1986 retirement from Knott's, Bell retreated to Cabazon, California, where he had been sculpting a massive Brontosaurus, for fun, since 1964. His work continued on a matching Tyrannosaurus Rex until his passing in 1988.
Dana T. Parker
10/10/2021 11:49:27 am
Excellent article. Thanks for writing it!
Dana T. Parker
10/10/2021 11:53:49 am
Claude Bell also sculpted the bust of Walter Knott that is in Calico, California, and perhaps the one that is on display at at the Knott's replica of Independence Hall. He sculpted the minuteman statue at Independence Hall.
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Growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s/80s we visited Disneyland on a regular basis and often after school, before "Annual Passes".