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Tin Man

By Charlie Lucas; Interviews by Ben Windham; Photographs by Chip Cooper
University of Alabama Press, 2009
$49.99, Hardcover

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

This Art-with-a-capital-A book is an astutely synchronized compilation of as-told-to autobiography that often reads like music sounds, and brilliant images that look as if they might leap off the pages. In fifteen triumphant chapters, Ben Windham has corralled the essence of wit and wisdom, creative energy, and life-experience of internationally known folk artist Charlie Lucas.

Born in Birmingham in 1951, Lucas lives in Pink Lilly and Selma, Alabama. He had been making art, which he also calls "toys," since he was a child. It became a way of life for him in 1984, after an accident that caused a bad injury to his back.

Windham, the retired editorial page editor of The Tuscaloosa News, is the son of Charlie’s close friend and neighbor, renowned author and storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham. Chip Cooper, Artist-in-Residence of Honors College at the University of Alabama, has provided the 150-plus full-color photographs. These pictures are displayed throughout the narrative, as well as in an extensive, formalized "Art Gallery" section.

The sophisticated design of the book and its jacket by Michele Wyatt Quinn complement the exuberant content, and Forewords by Yale University professor Robert Farris Thompson and Georgine Clarke, Visual Arts Program Manager at the Alabama State Council on the Arts and founding director of the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport, Alabama, set the stage for what’s to come. A preface page notes that publication of Tin Man is made possible by the generous support of several patrons.

The self-styled "Tin Man" appellation came about after the incapacitating accident. "I had to re-invent myself,” says Lucas. “And I asked God how to do it...And the next morning I woke up, I had $10 in my pocket, five dogs, 12 ducks, seven kids and a wife, and I knowed God had blessed me." So he "invested" the ten dollars by buying welding rods to create sculptures from found and discarded materials. He developed methods and also ideals: "To take something a little bit further than you could see" and "I write another language with my art." In the twenty-five years since, Charlie Lucas has been invited to speak and give demonstrations at schools and universities, and he has represented Alabama on cultural tours in France and Italy.

The only dilemma here (if there is one) is whether to buy this book to give to yourself for Christmas or to someone else high on your list. Nov 2009

Julia Oliver is a novelist and journalist.

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