Monday, February 26, 2007

Outsider Art and My Home Town

I grew up in the country outside of Prattville, Alabama. Back then Prattville was a little town of around 6,000. Today, it’s a fast-growing bedroom community for the white flight from Montgomery. In the past, the town was noted for its founding industrialist father, Daniel Pratt, and his cotton business. These days more people come to play golf on the nationally praised golf courses that are a part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

Prattville, or rather Pink Lily, is also home to outsider artist Charlie Lucas. Lucas, known for his metal sculptures, lives in this little community north of town. It’s just down the road from where I grew up, right near Bridge Creek. As a kid, I rode the school bus through Pink Lily, but no one got off or on since it was before school desegregation and Pink Lily was a “black” community. Who would have thought that this odd mixture of typical rural Southern houses would one day be home to someone famous?

Just driving by the sculptures randomly occupying a field in front of the Lucas home, you’d never know Lucas’s work can go for big bucks or that Prattville named a special day for him. Neither would you think that the house was home to a man who had lectured at Yale and traveled to France as an artist-in-residence but who could not read because of dyslexia.

I thought the nickname Lucas gave himself, the Tin Man, was because he works in metal. However, he says, it was because he only had ten dollars in his pocket. In an interview with Miriam Fowler in 1991, Lucas said of himself,
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.'

If you ever find yourself driving down Interstate 65 from Birmingham to Montgomery, pull off at the Pine Level exit and see Charlie's sculpture garden for yourself. I think it's the exit right after the giant Confederate flag and it would only take a few minutes of your time. E-mail me for directions or else you might get lost and run into Prattville's other roadside attraction, the Cross Garden.

A couple of local galleries feature Charlie's work, and it’s available online at Alabama Live Arts. He’s branching out into painting too. New York Woman featured above goes for $5,000. Not too shabby for Pink Lily’s most famous resident.

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