Artist on a wild adventure

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 7, 2001

Features Editor

Much has been said about what the Alabama art movement would mean to Alabama and, more specifically to Troy and Pike County.

However, not much has been said about what it would mean to the artists, but Charlie Lucas has a lot to say about that.

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Lucas settled back in a rocking chair on the porch of the Pioneer Museum of Alabama Tuesday night.

He chose to talk in a quiet place, away from the hustle and bustle of the "Celebration of Alabama Art" that was going on inside the museum.

"The Alabama Art movement is bringing the national and international art community into our backyard," he said with a big smile. "The backyard of Alabama – isn’t that something!"

And, isn’t is something that an Alabama "toymaker" would be a part of that movement.

"Oh, yes," Lucas said. "But, it’s not a big surprise to me. I always wanted to teach and travel. I told my family that, one day, there would be a book written about me and they

laughed and said, ‘Oh, Charlie’s off on another one of his wild adventures.’ But, I knew one day it would happen."

For Charlie Lucas, his wildest dreams have come true and they are "wild adventures."

Lucas is a self-taught artist and he gives his daddy and granddaddy credit for giving him the heart and soul of an artist, although he does not consider himself an artist.

"I’m just a toymaker," he said. "I use things that other people throw away to make ‘toys’ and while I’m making them, I play with them. Then, I’m ready for someone else to enjoy them. The fun for me is creating them."

For a while, Lucas was content to piddle around in his studio in Pink Lily and let the world beat a path to his studio that, at a glance, resembles a junk yard.

Then, one day Lucas decided there was a great big world out there and he believed his sculptures had a place in it. He wanted to introduce the world to Charlie Lucas.

And, he likes being out in the world and he appreciates the reception that a "toymaker" from Alabama receives wherever he goes.

Lucas had just

"gotten of the airplane" when he made his way down to Troy from Prattville for the "Celebration of Alabama Art with Pike County."

He had been in Seattle for six days participating in the Bumpershoots Festival as a featured artist.

He was overwhelmed by the beauty of area and doubly overwhelmed by the response of the people to his art and to him.

Lucas demonstrated his technique with torch and metal at the festival and security had to literally put a fence around him to keep people away.

"I felt like a big king in a courtyard," Lucas said, laughing. "They had to put up a fence to keep people off me. The whole time I was there, people crowded around me. They wanted to watch me work. They wanted to talk to me. And, they didn’t want to leave."

Lucas said the people of the Western Pacific states were fascinated by his work.

"They talked to me about my work and about Alabama," he said. "I kind of felt like I had all the Alabama artists on my shoulders. The festival wasn’t just about Charlie Lucas. It was about Alabama artists and I believe we are ready for the world to know about us."

Lucas said his dream is to introduce Alabama art to the world, but he has another dream, too.

"It will be good for the world to know about Alabama art, but it will be even better for our children to know about it," he said. "I want to see school children have opportunities to express themselves through art. I know what it meant to me as a child to sit and watch my grandfather weave baskets. And, the best thing – the thing that touched my heart when I was in Seattle – was a child who stood and watched me."

Lucas said he noticed a little boy who had been watching him wide-eyed and motionless for a long time.

"I let him come inside the fence and squirt air from my torch," he said. "I could see what a thrill it was for him and it touched my heart."

The little boy returned time and again with his friends, wanting them to see the "tin man."

"His mother came up to me and thanked me for taking a few minutes with him," Lucas said. "She said, ‘He needed that.’ And, maybe I needed it, too. A lot of our children need art to express themselves. They need to see it and they need to experience it. The Alabama Art movement will give them many chances to do just that."

So, Charlie Lucas has dreams for Alabama artists and dreams for Alabama’s school children, but what about his own dreams?

"When somebody looks at my work and says,

‘Now, this is art, Charlie!’ And, I think, ‘Naw, it’s just a toy I’ve made,’ but it makes me happy, real happy. And, you know my name’s in a book now with a lot of other artists and that’s a wild adventure – one of Charlie’s wild adventures."