By, Surabhi Ashok
In the late 1960s, over 100 wooden sculptures were found in an abandoned shack near an old clay mine in Woodbridge, New Jersey.
These figurines, ranging in sizes of 3 to 9 inches, are carved in great detail, from the anatomy to each individual face. Most are armless and have a hole in their head which is plugged in with a cork. While these figures have a resemblance to fertility idols of aboriginal tribes, their personal and defined faces suggest that they were made to represent specific people.
Once discovered, rumors of the origins of the “Woodbridge Figurines” started to circulate. Some locals remember a church-like building on a hill near the clay pits that may have a connection. The church, complete with rows of pews and sparsely decorated, was said to be a place where people went to be cured, despite it not being affiliated with any one religion.
Others say, while the details vary, that there was an in-bred family descended from Hessian mercenaries living in the woods by the clay pits, and people were warned not to go near them. This area that was considered off-limits was known by locals as the “Clay Pits”, “Sand Banks”, or “Dog Patch”.
Even as time passed, the eeriness did not subside. In the 1980s, a New York gallerist, after buying a set of these figures, sent an intern to the original site to investigate their history. When the intern returned, she asked to never be sent there again, completely “spooked” from what she saw.
Standing in the clay pit’s place now is the Woodbridge Center Mall. However, the actual figurines are now a part of Gael and Michael Mendelsohn’s private collection in Westchester, New York, providing an example of popular American folk art. Displayed in various art galleries and even a new-age art exhibit in Paris after being uncovered, the Woodbridge Figurines continue to be an intriguing mystery for this populous town in New Jersey.
By, Surabhi Ashok