Robert Cargo
FOLK ART GALLERY

Self-taught, visionary, and outsider artists of the South
African-American quilts · Haitian spirit flags

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After 30 years of continuous operation, the Robert Cargo Folk Art Gallery has closed.

I am pleased to announce the December 2013 gift of the Robert Cargo Folk Art Collection and the Robert and Helen Cargo African American Quilt Collection to the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama. It is my hope that this gift honors the life-long passion of my parents as well as the creative spirits of these artists. May their shared legacy be enjoyed and celebrated for generations to come.  Please see the HOME PAGE for additional details.

Caroline Cargo
 
Charlie Lucas (b. 1951)

 

Charlie Lucas has attracted a large following and his work has been included in numerous exhibitions and museum collections.  In recent years, he has traveled widely, lecturing at Yale University at the invitation of an African-American studies scholar and spending time as an artist-in-residence in France.  But Charlie still lives and works in a remote community in Autauga County, Alabama, where he and his wife Annie raised their six children in a house built by Charlie himself.   

A job-related accident in 1984 resulted in back injuries that forced Charlie Lucas to give up his employment as a building maintenance man at a healthcare facility.  While recovering from back surgery, he asked God to help him find something to do that no one else could do.  That is when he began working in metal.  As an adolescent, he had worked as a farm machinery operator and had learned repair and welding skills on that heavy equipment.  When he became tired of constantly receiving misdirected mail at his address, Charlie conceived the idea of creating a distinctive, whimsical mailbox from the scrap metal parts that were plentiful around his home.  The resulting iron man with a mail receptacle tucked under his arm solved the problem and the postman had no more trouble identifying the Lucas’ home. 

Charlie's success encouraged him to make other such figures.  Gradually the creations moved in both directions from this first work:  upward, to towering gigantic men made entirely of spot-welded steel ribbons or twelve- to fifteen-foot dinosaurs of the same materials, and downward, to ten- to fifteen-inch men and animals made of railroad spikes, bent wire, and other pieces of scrap metals.  Although he has no formal art training, Charlie’s sculptural work clearly combines skills he learned from observing  his grandfather's mechanical and automotive repair techniques, his grandmother's basket-weaving, and his great-grandfather's blacksmithing.

In addition to creating three-dimensional sculpture, Charlie also paints.  Indeed, painting was his first artistic endeavor after his back injury, but he found that painting did not bring in enough money to support his family while he was out of work.  As in his sculpture, humor is frequently the underlying theme of his colorful paintings which combine realistic and quasi-abstract elements.   The paintings we offer here are all among his earliest works from the mid-1980’s.