By SASHA JOHNS / Community Columnist
The EBSCO Gallery of Fine Arts, housed in the Shelby County Arts building in Columbiana, is currently presenting a powerful exhibition by artists Yvonne Wells and Charlie Lucas. Wells and Lucas are self-taught African American folk artists who use found materials not only to create art, but to tell stories about their lived perspectives of faith and living through the changes brought about by the civil rights movement. .
Paul Barrett, the curator of the exhibition, has associated these two artists for this exhibition because aesthetically, the two have created works that have so much to say through the stories they tell, but juxtaposed together, the impact of these stories is expanded.
The two artists started creating their art in the 1980s for different reasons. Wells, in her eighties and originally from Tuscaloosa, worked in education through the turmoil of desegregation during which she earned a master’s degree in physical education. She started making “story” quilts in the 1980s and has received numerous awards for her work. As you browse the exhibit, you can see much of Alabama’s struggle for racial equality as well as other events in his life. Each quilt not only shows her perspective through each stitch, but also pays homage to her faith. Daughter of a minister, you can find a tribute to the Trinity in every work of art she has made.
Lucas, who grew up with a rich family history of arts and crafts, put the skills he learned as a child from family members, to work as an art, after a workplace accident. that changed the course of his life. Sculptor, Lucas welds and creates with all kinds of found objects. His job, too, is to tell the story of his life and the perspective of the world he has known. He lives in Selma and organizes camps for local children who want to create.
âAlabama has the richest history of self-taught union artists,â Barrett said. He explained that these two artists, as well as others with whom he worked, exhibited their work across the country and even abroad, but often, for these creators, “familiarity ends up breeding contempt in some respects. They are accomplished artists, but often they don’t get the recognition they get in other places here at home in Alabama.
Barrett, as an accomplished curator, recognizes that bringing this level and type of art to small towns across the state celebrates not only the art, but the communities that host it.
âThese artists have all this fantastic talent that comes from wanting to tell a story using what they had on hand. Hopefully this will inspire people to be creative, celebrate tradition and lead them to their own inspiration, âBarrett said.
The exhibition “What I knew how to do” can be seen from Monday to Thursday from 10 am to 5 pm (Wednesday from 11 am) until July 22. The tour is free and more information about it can be found at the Shelby County Arts Council‘s website at Shelbycountyartscouncil.com.