Tin Man brings his works to performing arts center

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 21, 2003

They call him the Tin Man.

He is famous for taking bits of metal and wood, considered to be scrap junk to most of the world, and turning it into art.

His work-roughened hands are never still. Even as he discussed his life and art on Thursday at the Striplin Performing Arts Center, he used a pair of clippers to twist and turn pieces of discarded electrical wire into a tyrannosaurus rex.

He is surrounded by dozens of his works, on display through March at the performing arts center.

Charlie Lucas, his real name, was born in 1951. He’s grown up among a family of artisans &045;&045; quiltmakers, blacksmiths, gunsmiths and basketmakers.

He grew up in a time when he built houses and white men did not allow him to read the blueprints. He was told by a teacher that art was for &uot;white folks&uot; and he needed to learn a trade.

Lucas left school instead.

He worked until he fell from the back of a truck in 1984 and was permanently disabled. Then, he focused on his art.

He’s been creating things ever since he was a child.

While many children received shiny new toys wrapped in cardboard boxes and shiny plastic, Lucas, one of 14 children, made his own.

He made all sorts of toys &045;&045; wagons, weapons, bicycles and all sorts of things. He made them out of things that people threw away: bits of metal, plastic and boards. Some called it crawling through the garbage. But Lucas thought it was the &uot;coolest thing you could do.&uot;

As he grew, his work grew to encompass much more. The pieces of art told the story of Lucas’ childhood, of his great-granddaddy who taught him how to weave baskets and all sorts of things.

Lucas, as a child, watched as his &uot;Granddaddy&uot; and his friends made jewelry and other crafts in his home. At his granddaddy’s house, every day was like the Fourth of July for the young boy as he drank in the sights of the older men making jewelry, whittling and creating all sorts of country crafts.

It was the best education possible for a budding young artist, and Lucas stood in awe of their talents. But, he adds, if you wrote their names on the side of the wall, those older men would have no idea what the scribbling said.

Now, not only is Lucas teaching others how to recycle trash into art, but he is also showing how man can recycle himself through things such as education.

His art has brought Lucas back to the education he walked away from so long ago as a child. He attends classes at the Selma-Dallas Public Library, not to get a GED he says, but to know how to read better. It has opened new worlds for him.

Instead of a regular education, Lucas grew up with a street one. He knew many, many things, he says, but just could not write them down.

Said Lucas, &uot;I’m a plumber, I’m a electrician. I can build a car engine and I can even build a house. But, I can’t read the blueprints.&uot;

This type of education was common more than a century ago. Lucas can walk outside and do any type of work with his hands and it makes him feel comfortable. But when he is asked to deal with the paper side of things, he admits that he gets somewhat lost.

But when he talks about his different trades to friends and acquaintances, they reply that even with a fancy college education, they still don’t know how to do all the things that Charlie Lucas can.