Ã¯Â»Â¿EDGAR TOLSON, SCULPTOR
by Jack Lyne
Kentucky, the state that brought you strip-mining, KUAC, black conspiracy trials, and Owsley Stanley, Jr., has finally gotten itself out of Harm's way long enough to discover an artist.
Yet, the artist in question hardly fits the Warholian stereotype, for 65-year-old Edgar Tolson of Campton, Kentucky (Wolfe County) is, if anything, a vintage redneck renaissance man.
Locked somewhere in the closet of the collective psyche of every Kentuck-ian is the image of the bucolic folk artist, whittler extraordinaire, mouthing agricultural aphorisms from the county courthouse steps, fashioning, small, rigid fish and fowl to plop atop your trusty weathervane, windmill and/or mantle.
True, this hypothetical rustic can normally be found in most small Kentucky towns, sitting among the shavings, enjoying community stature as some sort of nouveau village idiot.
However, the sculpting and carving, indeed, the very life of Edgar Tolson tffc&nscend such limited, shallow categorization, for he is much, much more than an automated craftsman, a complex man who simply cannot be pigeonholed into what barefootin' down-home-you-all mould into which
we are want to conviently exile the mountain people.
Tolson would likely have evolved as an extraordinary man regardless of economic circumstance. As is, his life has been checkered with enough changes to flush Christine Jorgenson blue (pink? ) with envy.
The rake-thin, razor-featured Tolson has turned in vocational stints as an electrician, carpenter, coal
miner, concrete worker, farmer, cobbler, and building contractor.
Rummaging through these myriad roles Tolson has somehow managed to muster the time, energy and libido to father 18 children through two wives, a fertility track record likely to make him the first man tried by the Planned Parenthood Association as a war criminal.
Tolson's mercurial, ambivalent character is reflected in his convoluted relationship to the church, an institution that twists throughout the sometimes schizoid mountain mentality. While serving the past thirty-odd years as a self-ordained minister, Tolson has also been a very frequent tko victim in bouts with the bottle.
Such innumerable mental interfacings seem occasionally merged in'
the man for brief, fragile moments, hanging together in symbiotic alliance like huge breaking waves.
Such contrasts seem fused in Tolson's rehashing of his exploits as an 18-year-old ecumenical Che Gue-vera. Tolson, a frequent churchgoer, found the pastoral pace too slow, too timid one summer night, and, together with another young compatriot, decided to enliven the proceedings "by just layin' a little dynamite under the chapel. "
After lighting the fuse that sultry mountain night, Tolson and his partner in chaos trucked back to their pew post positions, piously uplifting their eyes as stain glass and rafters sailed around a rather startled congregation.
Tolson revels in recounting his existential exploit, saying ''We had to go back in that chapel, you see. When it blowed all up with us in it, we knowed no one would suspect us. "
Tolson's artistic efforts began as an unconscious reaction to the poverty that pervades his Breathitt County birthplace. Lacking playthings as an 8-year-old, he carved a cross-hatch tablecloth atop an old stump, later adding hand-crafted cups and saucers.