A Tale of Family and Slavery in Scrap Art

Detail of 'Aunt Bessie' sculpture by Charlie Lucas i i

hide captionA detail of the Charlie Lucas sculpture titled "Aunt Bessie was a Beautiful Mind Lady. When she died she come back to me as a beautiful angel showing me the things she have learned."

Courtesy Alabama State Council on the Arts
Detail of 'Aunt Bessie' sculpture by Charlie Lucas

A detail of the Charlie Lucas sculpture titled "Aunt Bessie was a Beautiful Mind Lady. When she died she come back to me as a beautiful angel showing me the things she have learned."

Courtesy Alabama State Council on the Arts
Artist Charlie Lucas, pictured with some of his work.

hide captionArtist Charlie Lucas, pictured with some of his work.

Courtesy Alabama State Council on the Arts

In the contemporary art world, he's known as the Tin-Man. For years, folk artist Charlie Lucas has walked through his native Alabama, collecting items others have discarded and using them in his work to tell his family's history.

More from Lucas

Hear Lucas discuss the ideas and themes behind his exhibit "In the Belly of the Ship."

Listen: Lucas on His Work

Now, Lucas' work is on display at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery in a new exhibit called "In the Belly of the Ship." The show explores the story of the Lucas family, beginning with their journey on slave ships from Africa. It follows the family's years as sugar cane and cotton field workers, their struggle for civil rights and on to the future when — as Lucas puts it — God might call them home.

The 28 pieces in the show — paintings and sculptures, and combinations of the two — are welded and nailed together from Lucas' collection of scraps: bicycle wheels, broomsticks, hosepipe, card doors and other recycled items.

Such discarded bits and pieces are a reminder of the many little things that go into defining individuals, Lucas says.

"I want people to see the beauty that lies inside a person's heart with colors, with scraps things — that all he had his whole was things that was broken and discarded," Lucas says. "This is what's left of my great, great, great, great grandfather. I'm what's left."

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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