Florida Folklife Program

Folk Heritage Awards Recipient: Charles "Charlie" Lewis


Charles
Charles "Charlie" LewisCourtesy Florida State Archives/Florida Folklife Collection. Photo by Merri Belland.

Charles "Charlie" Lewis (1912 - 1991) - 1992 Florida Folk Heritage Award

Born in 1912, Charles "Charlie" Lewis was a Florida native who lived most of his life in and around Perry. He grew up on a farm and spent much of his life working in the forest industries. He got his start as a builder at age ten when he helped his father build a house. In addition to working with wood, he also built with clay and mud brick. In his younger days, he made so many items from clay—including plates, buckets, and bowls, that he acquired the nickname "mud dobbin."

Lewis's wood craft involved the carving and construction of utilitarian items as well as historical restoration. As he explained simply, "I can make anything that I want made." He built hand-hewn bed frames; carved walking sticks, bowls, cups, knives and mallets; and fashioned stiff-bristled brushes out of cabbage palm trunks. Lewis was one of the few remaining builders who knew how to make a fireplace of mud and sticks in the style of nineteenth-century Florida. This skill was put to good use in 1981 when he built such a fireplace at the Tallahassee Junior Museum. He also rebuilt the kitchen of a fire-damaged log house at the Cracker Homestead on the grounds of the Forest Capital State Museum in Perry.

Until poor health restricted his activities, Lewis was actively involved in folk arts programs. He visited elementary schools and classrooms as part of the Folk Arts Rural Education Program in Taylor County, was a regular participant in Perry's Forest Festival, and was a frequent guest artist at gatherings of senior citizens.