I caught might first glimpse of world-renowned folk artist Ronald Godwin as he peddled his small bicycle down the gravel road between his workshop and his home in Brundidge, Alabama. When I first saw him close-up, my eye was immediately drawn to what I thought was a “walking boot” worn to support a broken ankle. When I looked more closely, I realized he was wearing one beat up white tennis shoe, and one ragged black shoe with the toe torn back exposing his white sock-covered toes.
When I caught myself about to offer sympathies on his injury, he explained he was very superstitious and always wore one beat up shoe for good luck. I have heard of many strange superstitions, so I just assumed this eccentric folk artist had one such superstition. Then I saw a twinkle in his eye and he chuckled, “I have a corn and this is more comfortable.”
And that began my “by chance” meeting with the artist who sculpted the famous “Strider of Chernobyl” masterpiece.
Godwin created the metal sculpture of a bizarrely deformed fish in response to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown of 1986. Only one year after the disaster, he was working as a sculptor in New York City, and decided to use his artwork to display his outrage over the catastrophe. He wanted to display the piece on a Manhattan sidewalk, but the city refused to allow it.
Not dissuaded at all, Godwin and some buddies managed to get the sculpture out on the sidewalk themselves. Godwin then called up a buddy at the “New York Post” and told him to get someone out there quickly to photograph the sculpture because he was about to be arrested.
As it turned out the sculpture was photographed by many prominent newspapers and television stations and welcomed by the public. The City decided to allow the sculpture to remain on display a couple of weeks. The “Strider” is now one of Godwin’s show pieces in his “sculpture park” on North Main Street.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that occurred following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami prompted Godwin to again express his concern through his artwork. The “Scorpion from Fukushima” is now on display next to the Chernobyl-inspired piece.
Godwin says he gets visitors from around the world – some stumble upon his work, while others seek it out.” He can understand their languages, but shows them through his workshop anyway, he laughs.
This outdoor sculpture park is open 24/7 and is free to the public. Ronald’s brother, Larry, owns Art Wurks, about 3 miles south of Brundidge on US Hwy 231, where you’ll find more pieces of southern folk art. You probably have seen much of the brothers’ work already, even if you didn’t know it was theirs. The brothers’ father, Bob Godwin, owned a feed mill that served hundreds of dealers in three states. Ronald and Larry were artists at heart and did not feel the call toward the family business. They decided they could contribute to their father’s business by focusing on marketing his products through large sculptures.
“Rusty” the dog (or The Big Red Dog) in Northport, the Rooster made of Car Bumpers in Brudidge, the Monument to the Hog in Dothan and many more around the state have their stamp all over them!