“God give me the vision. Let me come out of this shell and recycle myself.” – Charlie Lucas

Tin-Man Sculpture Garden – Charlie Lucas

October 12, 1951 –
Selma, AL

“I want my soul to be a good soul when I show people what I do.  I’m not doing it for the money.  If I never sold a piece, I’d do it just to keep my soul straight.  I don’t want to see myself printed out like a machine.”

— Grassroots Art Center exhibit in Lucas, Kansas

Lucas’s prayer: “God give me the vision.  Let me come out of this shell and recycle myself.”

(“Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists” by  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, New York, 1990)

If one believes in nature versus nurture, or genetics over environment, then a case can be made for the overflowing creative and mechanical ability of Charlie Lucas.

Charlie’s father was a chauffeur in Jefferson County when Charlie was born, but he was also an ace auto mechanic. He taught his son how to take an engine apart and put it back together, and explained to him the intricacies of the working parts of an automobile.

Charlie was one of fourteen children, and perhaps because he was such a creative child, his brothers and sisters had a hard time understanding him. “They did not understand why I was always building stuff. It made me play a lot by myself. I tried to fit in, but I was the black sheep….I’ve been making toys since I was a kid. It is toys to me, if I called them anything else I wouldn’t know what I was talking about.”

Charlie’s grandfather, Melvin Jordan, was a gun smith and chair caner, and his great-grandfather, Cane Jackson was a blacksmith. “My great-grandfather Jackson was the gentlest man I ever knew,’ Charlie related, “I would go and watch him work. He never did anything too fast or too slow. He would say, ‘I’m going to do this today,’ and he would do it. He always put God in his work and through him, I put God in my work.”

At fourteen, Charlie left home and took to the streets. ‘I stayed with friends and worked construction. I always found a job. All I needed was a bucket and a painting brush, that’s all I needed. I would go to different towns, knock on doors and ask people if they needed work done. People would give me jobs to do. I would do a good job and they would recommend me to somebody else. I didn’t get tired of traveling. I went to Florida because I wanted to see new things. I worked on a dock there.

In 1971, Charlie came back home to Autauga County. Charlie’s inspiration for coming back was his love for Annie (Lykes). “I grew up with Annie. I always told her that I would come back and get her when I got an apartment. In 1971 I came home and got her. Here we are twenty years later.”

Charlie and Annie made their home in Autauga County and had six children, but a serious back injury put Charlie in bed for almost a year. “That’s when I started working in metal.” Charlie remembers, “I asked God to let me do something that nobody else can do. I called myself the Tin Man because I only had ten dollars in my pocket.”

”My career is at the point that I want it to be. I don’t care if my name is in lights. My art is my family and friends. Through the Kind Spirit the pieces that I don’t sell talk to me and teach me. I’m real happy about myself. I’m teaching myself to read. In school I just wanted to study art. My teacher said `No! You need to learn a trade. Art is for white people. Now I can do anything I want to do…Now people recognize me and say `there goes Charlie Lucas.”

(Excerpted from Miriam Fowler – Interview/September 1991 Photos © Copyright 2006-2013 Kelly Ludwig, all rights reserved)

Bibliography & Links:

“20th Century American Folk, Self Taught, and Outsider Art” by Betty-Carol Sellen, Cynthia J. Johnson, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, 1993.

“American Folk Art, A Regional Reference” by Kristin G. Congdon and Kara Kelley Hallmark, ABC-CLIO Publishers, California, 2012.

“American Self-Taught Art: An Illustrated Analysis of 20th Century Artists and Trends with 1,319 Capsule Biographies” by Florence Laffal and Julius Laffal, 2003.

“Contemporary American Folk Art  – A Collector’s Guide”  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, 1996.

“Let it Shine: Self-Taught Art from the T. Marshall Hahn Collection”  by Lynne E. Spriggs, Joanne Cubbs, Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Susan Mitchell Crawley, Michael E. Shapiro and Peter Harholdt, organized by the High Museum of Art, 2001.

“Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists” by  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, New York, 1990.

“O Appalachia: Artists of the Southern Mountain” by Ramona Lampell and Millard Lampell with David Larkin, 1989.

“Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South”, Vol 2, Arnett, et al, 2001.

“Testimony: Vernacular Art of the African-American South: the Ronald and June Shelp Collection”, Cronwill, Danto, Gaither, Gundaker and McWillie, 2001.

Self-Taught Folk Art: “Charlie Lucas”

Youtube links

Marsha Weber / Art Objects

NPR—A Tale of Family and Slavery in Scrap Art

Anton Haardt Gallery (under Artists): “Charlie Lucas”