ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY, Va. – Be nice to everyone – it’s so easy: that’s how one Rockbridge County man wants his legacy to inspire others. He’s an entertainer with a larger-than-life personality, and he demonstrates that through his gigantic art pieces.
Mark Cline, 61, is the co-owner of Cline Entertainment Enterprises with his wife, Sherry Cline. After four decades of prop building and entertainment, he is hoping to open a school for people who share this same passion for creativity one day.
“We entertain a lot of people with sculptures and theme parks and antics around the county and country,” Cline said.
If you see any of Cline’s art, you will notice all of his pieces have one thing in common and that is being very large.
“None of my stuff is really small,” he said. “Everything is big big big. Everyone wants the big stuff. One of the largest pieces I made was for this billionaire down in Alabama called, ‘The Lady of the Lake.’ I also built full-size replicas of Stonehenge. I called it Foamhenge. I am the only man in history that built two full replicas of Stone Hinge. It took the neolithic people 1500 years just to build just one. That should go in some kind of book don’t you think,” he joked.
Cline builds these massive replicas to be sent all around the world.
“I put the stamp on it and send it out and sometimes I don’t even remember what state we were sending it to. I got stuff as far away as Austria and Lebanon and I am not talking about Pennsylvania,” Cline said.
And as far as his clientele goes, Cline said he pretty much does it all.
“From Mini Golf clubs to private collectors. Millionaires. I do things for theme parks and TV commercials. I did some stuff for a Broadway play. I do anything for anyone with a need for this kind of entertainment,” he said.
But making these pieces of entertainment is no small task.
“Everything that comes out of here is made of fiberglass,” Cline said. “There is no one else in the country that does it the way I do it. There are other prop builders and fiberglass people, but I take it to another level. I try to give character and life to all of my pieces and so that it is an extension of me being out there as an entertainer. So far, I haven’t figured out how to be everywhere at one time, so this is the next best thing,” he laughed.
Not only are he and his wife constantly working out of the workshop at Enchanted Castle Studios in Natural Bridge, but they they are also very involved and focused on the community.
“We do this all over the place but we like to focus on the need for the community,” Cline said. “We go out and do local parades or things to better the quality of life here. We help a lot of charities, especially with children and we volunteer at nursing homes. We try to do it all. We also do the Lexington Ghost tour which has been going strong for 26 years. It is like a street theater. Then we do portable stage shows or I’ll do different kinds of characters like Willy Wonka, Barney Fife, and sometimes illusions like recreating Harry Houdini’s escapes.”
Cline said, more importantly, it’s about showing his authentic self to those he entertains.
“That is the real me,” he said. “People see the artwork everywhere and they are fascinated but that is secondary to the real work that we do and that is to help with the healing, help with helping folks, and help inspire folks and that is what It is really all about. Making this stuff is dirty and nasty and not as glamorous as people think. It is not really about the artwork. People look at me as an artist, but I am more of an entertainer who knows how to create props.”
As a child, Cline said he struggled in academics, but he taught himself how to draw really well.
“I just put the pen to the paper and after a while, people started noticing,” he said. “And then the progression from drawings to sculptures. You want to take it off the page to something more 3D. Then you go from 3D to animated and then I had to build my own theme park.”
In fact, Cline did end up builing his own theme park. It’s called Dinosaur Kingdom Two in Natural Bridge.
Despite being very talented, Cline had a major insecurity that lived with him for decades.
“In the 4th grade, I was put in a slow learning class called Guidance,” Cline said. “In this class, the teacher showed me how to do things like work with paper mâché and wood, and what she was doing was setting me up for the future. She was doing what a good teacher was supposed to do.”
He said he was embarrassed.
“I was embarrassed to be in that class, so I wanted to divert the attention, so I became the class clown,” he smiled. “And the class clown needed props so I started learning how to make the props. So, the entertainment aspect with the props started to come together. I would come to school, and I would do different imitations of different characters like Deputy Barney Fife,” he said in the character’s voice. “And I would do Gilligan’s Island. I would come up with these voices and became the characters and the characters needed props and this is how it married up together.”
After high school, Cline said he realized that neither college nor the military was a place for him, so he chose to be a free spirit until he figured his life out.
“When I graduated from high school, I was a bomb,” he laughed. “I was still trying to find my niche in life. In my early 20s, I hitchhiked around the country. I would get on trains and ride them around. I hoboed. In 1986, I built this raft and floated down the Missouri River 125 miles but in my travel, I would keep this journal. I wrote in a journal what I was looking for and you know we are all looking for happiness. I wrote, ‘What is going to bring me happening that I am looking for?’ It came down to helping people so I folded up my journal hitchhiked down the road and got the first job I could get.”
That experience was also a key player in making Cline the man he is today.
“I walked into the employment agency and I had my hand on the doorknob about to leave because they said they didn’t have anything and then the lady on the phone said, ‘Hold up, we got something.’ I said I would take it! It was Red Mill Manufacturing where they mix resins and fiberglass pieces. After about a month, the owner told me to stay and work with this stuff. He showed me how to make a mold of my hand and then I poured resin into it and made a duplicate. I said, ‘I can make all kinds of stuff out of this,’ and he said, ‘Yes you can. Here’s a 5-gallon bucket. Go home and play with.’ You might say I Forest Gumped my way into so many things. Had I not been at the employment office at that moment. If was five minus late or earlier, the phone call wouldn’t have come in and I would not be doing what I am doing now.”
Cline then got the motivation to open his own monster museum.
“I wanted to go to Virginia Beach to open up my own Monster Museum,” Cline said. “At this point, I got kicked out of Natural Bridge and I was heartbroken because I felt like a failure. My car had broken down and I ended up walking around this town until I saw this palm reader. I don’t believe in that stuff but I had five bucks in my pocket and this lady looked at my palm and predicted everything. She said, ‘Stick to your dream and work hard and it will come true bigger than ever.’ I knew I shouldn’t give up so I got my car fixed and I stopped at this restaurant to get water which was all I could afford. I saw this map and I circled Front Royal and Natural Bridge. I flipped a coin, and it landed on Natural Bridge. I came out here, found this building that was available, and made a deal with the owners. The rest is history! That was in 1981.”
Now Cline is successful with a beautiful wife and two children. He is currently working on his seventh statue to go on Route 66.
“For a kid to grow up in little Waynesboro and to know that I am currently preserving a highway,” Cline said. “When I step back, I think, ‘This is really cool.’”
Cline said he wants people to know that life isn’t always perfect, but to never give up.
“There were a lot of struggles,” Cline said “I first got into this, I was married before to a young woman and we loved each other a lot. I put her through a lot and I lost her over this dream. Her parents were in her ear about how much I would never amount to anything and that was hard on me. I look back and understand why they were the way they were now because I have children of my own. Then I had two major fires where I lost my whole studio in 2001 so that was painful.”
The biggest rock bottom moment for Cline was during his depression.
“That was so horrible that I found myself on the edge of a mountain getting ready to walk off of it,” Cline said. “That was one of the only things I was really a failure at because I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I thought about my parents and when you are faced with oblivion, you can go either way. I was a changed man when I walked back down that mountain. When I hit my lowest, the only place you can go is up. I was thankful for my depression. It was a gift. Anybody going through this, don’t take the dark path. That is the valley of the shadow of death. You can get out if it.”
Staying true to his dreams and passion, Cline found how to be happy again and in fact, his biggest insecurity about being placed in a special education class has been put to bed.
“I was doing a show at the Taubman and I actually saw my fourth-grade teacher,” he said. “I actually met up with her later and I asked her, ‘You remember putting me in Guidance.’ I asked, ‘Was I really that slow?’ She said, ‘Mark, I didn’t put you in that class because you were dumb or stupid or slow. I put you in that class because you were so advanced above everyone artistically that I had to find a place for you.’ I guess I was the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. ‘No Dorothy I don’t have a brain but if you cut that rope that chandelier would fall on those guards over there and we can get out of here.’ Well, that just goes to show you, you can live your whole life believing an allusion and sometimes you have to rise above that and step out of that circle and look at things from a different light and realize it is all about helping people.”
Cline now wants to open a school teaching the skills he learned on his own throughout life to people so that his legacy can live on.
“We only have one life,” Cline said. “Be the hero of your own adventure. Nobody is going to do it for you. There is all this opportunity out there. Every day there is a new opportunity to do something good, and if anyone gets to the end of their day and they didn’t use that opportunity to help someone, they lived a wasted day. Everybody has the power to take a few moments to say a few words to someone. Give them a flower, make them a sandwich, open the door, do something kind. It is so easy!”
Cline and his wife won the People’s Choice Award 2022 Citizen of the Year award in Rockbridge County because of the work they’ve done.