Alabama artist Charlie “Tin Man” Lucas was recently the guest of Auburn’s Jan Dempsey Center for the Arts and the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art.
Charlie has been creating art from scraps since he was a small child and shared some of his stories with those of us lucky enough to hear them. As a young man, following the advice of a mentor that “a crow learns how to build its own nest,” he built his own house. Even before that, he remembers his grandma lowering him on a rope into a gully where people dumped trash. He’d treasure hunt in the ravine and bring back up all sorts of “found objects” that he and his granny would “re-purpose,” as we say today.
Another memory Charlie shared is how his grandmother would get the other children to sweep the yard with a brush broom, and then tell Charlie to go sweep behind them. Instead of sweeping it, he’d draw fanciful animals in the dirt. He thought she’d be angry with him for doing that, and was surprised when she took a look at his creations and said, “That’s just what I wanted to see,” encouraging his creativity and talent. To this day, Charlie draws and welds fantastical creatures from tin and other findings.
Bedridden after a serious injury, Lucas had a revelation that he was to become “Tin Man” and was told that people would some day seek out his art and write books about him. That prophecy has been fulfilled.
One of his most popular designs is his “do-rag” women, faces made of tin and adorned with cloth head kerchiefs. While working with fifth graders from every elementary school in Auburn, Charlie encouraged the students to choose a favorite do-rag lady from his exhibit and give her a name and story.
After hearing Charlie speak at the museum and then being included in a small group that shared dinner with him, I realized that “Tin Man” is more than a visual artist; he is also an excellent storyteller. Alabama’s public education system catches a lot of flack, but the fifth-graders in Auburn City Schools had an experience this week that can’t be taught from a textbook. It will surely change some of their lives for the better.
Marian Carcache welcomes
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