Metal artist finds inspiration in Pink Lily

Published 11:02 pm Friday, April 30, 2010

Not many people have a “change of life experience” in Pink Lily, Alabama.

Chris Beck didn’t realize that he was on the “road to Damascus” when he ventured down the road in rural Autauga County.

He knew that the visit with folk artist Charlie Lucas would be special but he had no idea that it would have such an impact on his life.

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“Charlie Lucas is an incredible artist,” said Beck, formerly of Troy.

“I mean he is for real. He collects junk and turns it into art and, when you look at his work, you get this happy feeling – a sweet feeling that I just can’t explain.”

As Beck stood admiring the work of Lucas, called the ‘Tin Man’ because of his work with metal, he was in awe of the art but it was the spirit of the man that captured him.

“I’d never known anyone like Charlie Lucas,” Beck said.

“His work has been in many exhibitions all across the country and it’s in museum collections. He has lectured at Yale University and been an artist-in-residence in France. But he is so genuine. So real. Such an inspiration.”

Lucas talked and Beck listened to the collector of junk.

“He talked about his sculptures and each one was a thing of beauty,” Beck said.

“Each specific part had a purpose and he told the story of the sculpture and it all made perfect sense. Charlie Lucas’ art is intellectual. It’s insightful. It’s spiritual.

“And what he does is not for monetary gain or political power or for glory. What he does comes from the need to produce. I stood there knowing that I was in the presence of greatness. Charlie Lucas is fabulous. He’s like no one I’ve ever known.”

Beck left Pink Lily that day with a deep desire to know what it’s like to be creative to the point that “it just flows out of you.”

“I wanted to know what it’s like to make something so beautiful and so meaningful out of scrap materials,” he said.

“I wanted to do work that makes people happy just to look at it. I wanted to create something that has a story, meaning. Something lasting.”

Beck has always had a great interest in metals. He’s not sure where that interest is rooted. He just knows it’s there.

One day his mom, Terri Beck, took him a metal ironing board.

“A regular ol’ metal ironing board.”

“See what you can do with this,” she said.

“I looked at the metal ironing board and thought there was nothing I could do with it,” Beck said, with a smile.

“Then, I had the idea of putting something on it – something to be ironed. Something like a shirt or a pair of pants – something made of metal.”

From that day forward, creativity began to flow out of Beck like water over a dam – well, maybe, more like molasses from a bottle at first.

But once Beck found his niche in the world of metal art, there was no doubt that he was in the right place.

From the shirt across the ironing board, he has created a “wardrobe” of clothes made from roofing tin — art that makes people happy as soon as they look at it. The whimsical folk art creations are showstoppers at art shows.

“When people first see the pieces, they aren’t exactly sure what they are,” Beck said.

“They have no idea that they are made from tin that is scavenged from roadsides and from dilapidated or collapsed buildings. People can’t believe that I actually want the tin from a building that has fallen in. They are just glad that I’ll haul it off for them and they’ll let me have it for free. You can’t beat free.”

Back home in Dalton, Ga., Beck cuts the tin, beats it with a rubber mallet into the shape that it lends itself and paints it.

But he doesn’t take credit for his art. Every time something takes “shape,” Beck gives credit where, he said, credit is due.

“I say, ‘Thank you, Jesus. I didn’t mean for that to happen.’ It’s Him, not me.”

Beck has a great love for God’s creations and, through his art, he is helping to preserve God’s creations and the things that man has wrought that are worth holding onto.

Beck’s wall sculptures are mounted on boards from old bridges and barns– some that were built in the late 1800s but have fallen into decay – and other structures. He sometimes uses nails and other scrap metal parts to make a whole.

Behind each piece that Beck creates, there is a story.

But the story is shared only with the purchaser of the piece.

“The story in part of the piece,” he said. “When someone buys a piece, I share its story. It’s history, as I know it and that makes the piece special and personal.

“It’s interesting to look at a piece as a whole and then to see that it is made up of many individual pieces. I like the idea of saving something – something that will never be again. To save something forever – that’s awesome.”

Beck recently received validation of his artwork from the one he admires most – Charlie Lucas, the Tin Man.

“I was at Kentuck and Charlie came over and said, ‘You’re doing it, man. I’m so proud of you.”

“That was a very humbling experience,” Beck said. “It was a big thing for me. I don’t know the words to say what it meant to have someone whose work you treasure and who you admire say they are proud of you. That means a lot.

“But I just beat and paint. God does the rest and it’s awesome what He does.”