The brains and the brawn:Lumbleys’ yard art creations are team effort

Published 12:30 am Sunday, May 9, 2010

Freezing weather killed some of Charlotte Lumbley’s flowers, but others are as bright and pretty as the day she and her husband, Arnold, made them.

That’s right. Made them.

What might look like a pile of scrap iron to most people is a potential work of art to the Lumbleys. They’ve learned not to ever throw away anything because eventually they’ll find a use for it.

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In addition to flowers — and they range in size all the way from little ones in a bed to huge sunflowers — they also create a variety of animals and bugs and toys.

Arnold calls his studio on Stenson Road “Hobo’s Scrap Yard Creations.” The hobby — or obsession — began in 2004 when they saw some items by Hugh Wilkinson at the Old Court House Flea Market.

“I told him I’d like to do something like that, but I just didn’t have the imagination,” Arnold said, and Wilkinson advised him, “Just build something and it will start coming.”

And that’s what he did.

“We built a bird, a bird with a frog in its mouth,” Arnold said, “and one bird led to another.”

That first bird, though, carried a special message: “Don’t give up.” Charlotte had been diagnosed with cancer, and that bird was an inspiration to her, and she whipped the illness.

Arnold, who has worked in maintenance for 50 years, learned to weld when he was a youth, and it comes in handy at home as well as at work, for the creations come in many parts, just waiting for the torch to put the ideas into motion.

It’s a joint venture, though Arnold says, “I’m the laborer, she’s the brain.” Much of the imagination comes from Charlotte, but together, when the items are made, they paint them.

They have a huge inventory of materials — old spoons and springs, welding rods, shock absorber parts, window weights, a variety of wheels of many sizes, pliers, rebar, fence wire, posthole blades, shovels, hinges, railroad spikes, horseshoes, camshafts, brake drums, bicycle spokes, washers, lug nuts, woks, oil filler spouts, candleholders, rakes, tongs, drill bits — there’s no end to the list about which Arnold says, “Charlotte has all that catalogued in her head.”

Though some creations are individual, such as the blue bird of happiness, made from an old skillet and garden rake and other items — and painted blue — others are scenes and tell stories.

There’s the set of ants, made from iron balls welded together — they’re lined up, marching, each carrying something, and their anthill is made from a light base turned upside down.

Some display a sense of humor, such as the three crows. Two have ears of corn in their beaks, and the third is trying to figure out how to take it away from them.

One is a tall bird — maybe a blue heron — with a green snake made of rebar in its mouth. At the bird’s feet is a frog trying to get out of the way.

Not everything is metal. Two weathered pine knots joined together look amazingly like an eagle in flight. Arnold had to add some legs and feet and a beak.

A tractor made from an old treadle-style sewing machine, with some parts added here and there, looks just like an old farm tractor. It’s called a “J.D. Sew-All.”

Two of the Lumbleys’ scenes are of cowboys inside a corral made with antique barbed wire. In one, a cowboy is riding a bucking horse while another watches, along with a little boy and a dog. There’s even grass growing by the fence posts. The other is of two cowboys at the rail, one with one foot propped on the fence. Their hats, crimped just right, are from lug nuts and washers. Everything is to scale.

“When there’s nobody here with me,” Charlotte said, “I can hear them talking.”

The most popular items they make are flowers and birds, Charlotte said, but they also make toys and have given lessons at toy shows on how to make them. No two items are alike, she said. Each has its own personality. To make them takes both inspiration and perspiration. They range in price from about $40 to $350, depending on size, the time it takes to make it “and what your attitude is,” Arnold said. After taking out expenses, they usually give the profits to the needy.

Arnold also makes furniture and lamps and before he got into making yard art restored Ford Mustangs, which he sold all over the country. He has a Model A he’s working on now.

He may go back to restoring cars eventually, but he said he has more fun with the metal sculptures than anything else. He never tried anything artistic before, though he has made some belt buckles, one with a miniature wrench on it that works. He has learned, he said, mainly through trial and error.

Charlotte has the drive, he said, and “if she wasn’t behind it, I probably wouldn’t do half of what I do. Seldom do I come home and not do anything unless I’m sick. We enjoy this.”

And, if he isn’t working on a particular project, he’ll find one. With horseshoes and old hinges and a few other items, he’ll tell Charlotte, “I think I’ll go out and birth an armadillo.”

Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.