Charlie Lucas turns ‘scrap’ into art

Published 11:00 pm Friday, October 5, 2012

“The Art of Charlie Lucas” is on display at The Johnson Center for the Arts in Troy through November 15. Lucas is a folk artist that focuses on bringing “scrap” metal to life in his artwork, earning him the nickname “Tin Man.”

If you get lost and happen upon Pink Lily, Alabama – and you almost have to be lost to happen upon Pink Lily — then you could find yourself in a folk-art wonderland.

But, then you might miss it all together.

What could mistakenly be thought a junkyard is actually the outdoor wonderland of the art of the Tin Man, Charlie Lucas, an internationally acclaimed folk artist who gives “scrap” new life.

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“Everything in life doesn’t have to be shiny and new,” Lucas said. “That’s not natural.”

Lucas has found a way to take shiny and new pieces that have turned useless and turn them into sculptures that turn the heads of motorists streaking through Pink Lily and totally blow away folk art connoisseurs around the world.

Those who visit the Johnson Center for the Arts in Troy through Nov. 15 will have the opportunity to see the genius of Charlie Lucas on exhibit. Not just the metal sculptures that earned Lucas the nickname “Tin Man” but also his paintings.

“The Johnson Center is proud and honored to bring the ‘The Art of Charlie Lucas’ to Troy,” said Morgan Drinkard, Center director. “We have 85 pieces of Charlie Lucas’ work, sculptures and paintings. It is an amazing exhibition that fills all eight galleries of the Center.”

Morgan said she does not remember any exhibition at the Johnson Center that has filled all galleries.

“We are very excited about this exhibition,” she said. “It’s a fun show. It’s colorful and I think that everybody who visits the Charlie Lucas’ exhibit will find something they want to take home. He reaches everybody in some way.”

The Charlie Lucas story is not one of rags to riches. While he might admit to the rags part of the story, he shuns any idea of material riches.

He considers himself richly blessed to have hit rock bottom and climbed back to the top of the heap.

Drinkard said that Lucas, one of 14 children, came from a family of creative people. His great-grandfather was a blacksmith. His grandfather was gunsmith and a chair caner. His grandmother was a weaver and his dad was an auto mechanic in Jefferson County where Lucas was born.

“Charlie said that he was a creative child,” Drinkard said. “He would go off by himself and make his own toys out of scrap materials and junk. When he was 14 years old, he went from town to town with a paintbrush and bucket knocking on doors asking for work.”

Lucas was married with six children and living in Autauga County when a severe back injury knocked him flat. Unable to work and support his family,




he prayed and asked God to help him find something to do that no one else was doing.

His prayers were answered.

As a young boy, Lucas, with his dad’s guidance, had learned to take a car apart and put it back together. He had developed a fondness for metal and was fascinated by the many ways that it could be used and reused and how metal could be welded and twisted.

He had also realized that there was beauty in the old and was fascinated by the rusty way metal, wire, wheels and “scrap” could work together to make something greater than themselves.

Knowing all this, Lucas discovered sculpture and the artist in him was released.

Today, Lucas works from his warehouse studio in Selma and is one of the most highly regarded folk artist in the country. He is also in great demand as a lecturer. He lectures on his art at Yale University and in schoolrooms across the country.

Lucas will be in Troy Oct. 11-14 and will conduct workshops at county, city and private schools along with Tara Sartorius, retired curator of education at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.

Lucas will discuss his art with the students at Banks Primary, Pike County, Troy Elementary and Goshen Elementary schools and Charles Henderson Middle School and Pike Liberal Arts. Following his presentations, Sartorius will work with students to complete an art project designed by Lucas.

Lucas will take the stage of the We Piddle Around Theater on Friday night, Oct.13 to share stories of his friendship with legendary Alabama storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham.

Their friendship spanned the barriers of age, education, social status and race. Lucas will stir memories of the beloved legendary lady that will bring laughter and tears.

A reception will be held in Lucas’s honor from 2 until 4 p.m. Oct. 14, at the Johnson Center for the Arts.

“The public is invited to attend the reception and hear Charlie Lucas talk about his art and tell the stories behind the pieces,” Drinkard said. “The stories are as interesting as the pieces are fascinating.”

Drinkard expressed appreciation to the Alabama State Council on the Arts for sponsoring the Charlie Lucas programs — the school workshops, the storytelling event and the exhibition. The school workshops are a part of the Tony Scott Art Bridges Program.

“The support of the Alabama State Council on the Arts makes it possible for us to bring many outstanding art programs and events to Pike County,” she said. “Without the art council’s support, we would not have been able to bring Charlie Lucas to Pike County to the benefit of hundreds of school children, theater goers and visitors to the Johnson Center.