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A Tale of Family and Slavery in Scrap Art

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.

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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NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.