- Written by Todd Moning
How do you make a clown?
Find out at Ron Lee's World of Clowns in Henderson, Nev., about 20 minutes east of the Las Vegas Strip.
Ron Lee is known for creating limited edition collectible clown sculptures. You've seen them — hand-painted figurines on an onyx base. At Ron Lee's 30,000-square-foot factory in Henderson, see how they're made.
Not much of a clown fan? Will a free tour, ample motorhome parking and homemade-style food put a smile on your face?
Ron Lee has created more than 750 different sculptures. They include his signature character, Hobo Joe the clown, and the Emmett Kelly Jr. clown series. He's also produced hundreds of Looney Tunes figurines and Walt Disney characters.
Over three decades, Ron Lee has sold more than one million sculptures, according to marketing director Ron Honings. "Ron is always creating more pieces," Honings said. "It's such a variety of characters that he captures what different people want to collect."
Clown and animation character figurines aren't the only attractions at Ron Lee's. Honings' voice perks up when he talks about the facility's restaurant, the Carousel Cafe.
"The food is absolutely incredible," he said. "That's not chamber of commerce chatter. That’s the truth."
Ron Lee's wife, Jill, runs the eatery. "Ron's passion is art — the sculptures," Honings said. "Jill's passion is cooking. She's a gourmet cook.
Jill makes soups, pasta salads and potato salads. Her homemade dishes are appreciated by locals and tourists alike, Honings said. "We have the Henderson fire department in here three days a week. And the mayor and the water department. It’s a wonderful restaurant."
Honings said Jill also handles the financial side of the business, leaving Ron to concentrate on his art.
Clown and circus memorabilia adorn the building, starting with the life-size clown figures in the front room.
Hobo Joe abounds in display rooms in various themes and poses: firemen, sports, doctors, dentists, Americana. Galleries showcase other clowns and Ron Lee's licensed Disney and Warner Bros. characters, as well.
"Through an agreement, we have the right to sell off a portion of Warner Bros. collections," Honings said. "We are the only place in the country where you can buy Ron Lee Warner Bros. sculptures."
Tours are free and self-guided. The route leads along a 300-foot-long hallway. Clown paintings, outfits and shoes run along outer wall. Visitors also can view sculptures that Ron Lee has created through the years.
Each step of the manufacturing process — including mold making, soldering, painting and finishing — is visible through glass windows. Video presentations explaining each step of the process play overhead.
Parking and more info
Ron Lee's World of Clowns lies amid undeveloped nearby tracts of land. Tour buses used to bring visitors on a Henderson loop that would include stops at Ron Lee's and several other factories. Those facilities have since closed or ceased offering tours, Honings said.
Ron Lee's is free of the Las Vegas hubbub, and is a non-smoking facility. "It's a lovely, very friendly facility," Honings said. "It's just a pleasant place to be."
To reach Ron Lee’s World of Clowns from the Vegas strip, Honings suggests heading south to Warm Springs street. Turn east on Warm Springs. The facility is on Warm Springs street between Stephanie and Gibson, just past Sunset Station casino. The address is at 330 Carousel Pkwy; Carousel Parkway is the entry drive.
"We have a big parking lot and have lots of turnaround area for RVs," Honings said. "Carousel Parkway circumnavigates our facility, providing easy access for motorhomes."
More information: www.ronlee.com