Athens artist Charles Pinckney has been working as a metalsmith for more than 50 years, crafting jewelry and small sculptures out of metal, found objects, stones, bone and wood. He said that he arranges and rearranges these objects into a composition “until the piece feels balanced and exciting to me.” You can see his work at the museum as part of a special display, “Charles Pinckney: Personal Adornment,” through November 13, in one of the wall cases in the permanent collection wing.
Pinckney, who was born in South Carolina, says that by the time he was 9 years old, he was making his own tools to carve wood and bone. He didn’t think being an artist was a realistic goal, so he studied psychology at Clemson University, but he didn’t want to spend hours behind a desk, and he had always loved making things with his hands. He paid his bills by working as a hospital orderly and a radio DJ until he was able to support himself as a full-time artist.
Pinckney’s art is inspired by stories of his childhood, resistance to injustice, family, hardship and joy. It often includes deeply considered personal symbolism. For example, he sometimes places the clasp of a necklace at the pendant rather than behind the neck, to make it visible. In doing so, he hopes to draw a contrast with the way he remembers Black labor and Black people being hidden during his childhood.
Almost all the works in the display at the museum are from Pinckney’s collection. His others are out in the world to make new narratives, new histories, and new memories.