The Man Behind the Can

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (11/29/12) – You’ve seen them popping up all over town. Brightly colored metal structures housing humble trashcans have started taking over downtown Madisonville. Where did they come from and why are they here? The answer – music.

“Music inspires me,” says can creator Tim Corum. “I like old rock and roll. I come down here to my workshop, put some music on, and I just go into this Zen state. The spiritual, creative side of my brain takes over. I don’t think about anybody or anything outside, and it’s just me, in my shop, and it just starts flowing. Music has an influence on people. You’ll listen to a song and it will take you somewhere. Music will remind you of somebody or something. To me, music is a shape. You can look at a shape or color, and it can make you feel or think a certain kind of way. So, I just take a shape and I start filling it. This stuff actually kind of talks to me and tells me what it wants to be, or where it wants to go. I don’t have any set rules. The four sides of these cans are canvases to me. I’ve got four canvases on each one that I work with. I just look at everything like it is a canvas.”

Tim has been working in his shop, allowing music to fill him with inspiration for years. Only recently has he been getting the exposure a talented person of his caliber should be receiving. Thankfully, the Downtown Turnaround Project (DTP) has taken notice of his talents, and has included him in their ARTcan streetscape venture. As a result, more citizens in Hopkins County are taking notice, and starting to ask themselves - who is Tim Corum?

Our story begins in Chicago, IL where Tim was “hatched”.

“I was born in Blue Island, but I’ve lived in Madisonville most all my life,” says Tim. “I’ve made several trips trying to get away, but I always wind up back here. I’ve been a lot of different places, but I’m ready to get back home most of the time.”

Music was helping Tim develop his artistic background as early as the second grade.

“My second grade teacher’s name was Ms. Finley,” says Tim. “She would put an album on the record player and ask us to get a paper and pencil. She would play the record and have us start moving our pencils around. When the music would stop she would ask us to color in whatever design we had come up with. Music has always influenced me.”

Another artistic guide in Tim’s life was his father Don, who was in a rock and roll band when Tim was a child.

“One year, they went to the state fair in Louisville and entered a battle of the bands,” shares Tim. “They came in second place out of one hundred and fifty other bands. There was a lot of music in the family, I just didn’t play any. I listened. My brother got the musical gene. He was one hell of a drummer. I used to draw a lot of my dad’s band’s album covers. That’s where I got all my practice, I guess.”

Like a lot of creative minds, Tim’s sensitivity to sensory and emotional input caused him to turn to recreational drinking as a form of self-medication.

“I started drinking when I was about thirteen,” says Tim. “Everybody in the neighborhood was drinking, and I joined right in. The only difference was that I just kept on drinking.”

Tim continued to drink during his high school years, and while still in school realized he had a talent for welding.

“I took welding in high school for two years,” says Tim. “I was actually selling some of the stuff I made at school when I wasn’t supposed to. One day, my art teacher told me, ‘Hey, if you can sell that junk, sell it.’ I always had trouble with school. I had trouble all my life. The only reason I passed history class one year was because of something I had made over at the trade school out of metal. I had taken this world globe out to the high school so they could display it in the lobby. I asked my teacher if I could take the class out in the lobby to show them the globe I had made. So I told them all about the globe, and how I made it. I made an A and passed history just because of that.”

Following his high school graduation, Tim started working in the coal mines. There was no longer any time for art. Regardless, he was welding for pay and furthering his expertise.

Years passed and Tim got married to his first wife when he was 21-years-old. Her stepdad was a biker and, as a result, biking quickly became one of Tim’s passions.

“I hung around with them,” says Tim. “Other people wanted to go to college to be doctors and lawyers. I wanted to be a biker. That is what I wanted to do. Those guys are like brothers. They stick up for each other, no matter what. It was the safest place that I could be back then. I felt like I belonged. I never really felt like I fit in anywhere. I think that artists often feel that way. Artists think a little differently than everybody else. That group of guys made me feel comfortable around them.”

By the time Tim had hit his mid-twenties, he was homeless, living south of Tucson, Arizona, in and out of his old beat up Plymouth.

“A guy got me a hide-a-couch and I hauled it out to the desert,” laughs Tim. “I was sleeping in the desert under the stars. I was going to a campground and taking showers, and doing my laundry there. There was this old Indian guy that used to hang around there. They had a pool table there, and we’d sit around, drink beer, and play pool together. He told me a lot of war stories.”

While Tim was trekking around freely out west, he was inspired upon his discovery of hippy artist communes, which were cropping up in small abandoned towns across the countryside.

“When I was out west riding around I came across all sorts of ghost towns out there,” shares Tim. “Back in the day, all the hippies moved into those ghost towns and they were creating art there. It’s been several years back, but they were all artist communities. I thought that was just the coolest thing.”

During that time, Tim’s health started failing him. Continual drug and alcohol use was starting to take its toll.

“I got sick,” explains Tim. “I was sick from drinking. Alcohol and drugs about killed me. I used to be on crack. I almost overdosed two or three times. I was left for dead a couple times. At one point I was so sick I couldn’t walk. I had it bad, man. I’ve been in and out of jail, and fired from lots of jobs. I even got kicked out of art school at the Fort Lauderdale Art Institute because I was so wild in my youth.”

Tim’s dependence on alcohol and drugs even cost him his first marriage.

“We’d had it with each other,” remembers Tim. “All the drugs and alcohol finally caused it to come to an end.”

At Tim’s lowest point, he had a brush with death that still wasn’t enough to encourage him to change his rowdy ways.

“I was at this house once, with a bunch of druggies and people hanging around,” says Tim. “This guy was passed out on the bed, and I kept messing with him for some reason. I can’t remember exactly why. He had his back to me, lying on the bed. I guess I bothered him just enough. He woke up and rolled over. He had a gun in his hand and I didn’t know it. He fired a shot. He wasn’t even looking where he was firing. It went three inches above my head into the wall behind me. Was that a wake up call? No. It got me sober that day. The day after, I was back at it.”

Tim’s lifestyle not only put him in danger’s way, but it also caused him to make chance encounters along life’s journey that otherwise would have never occurred.

“I was in West Palm Beach one time, on one of my little drunken escapades, and I saw some art in the front of this guy’s yard,” remembers Tim. “It was a huge piece. So I just kind of wheeled in there and went in through this gate of this ten million dollar house. I got out, half drunk, and walked around to his back yard, which was on the intercostal waterway. All of a sudden, a great big, old, bald headed Cuban guy starts yelling at me, asking me why I’m there. I told him my name, that I was from Madisonville, and that I created art like what was in his yard. He hollered back that I needed to make an appointment. So I started walking back around the house, and I knocked on the side door to ask about making an appointment. This maid answers, and all of a sudden I hear this old man hollering, asking her who was at the door. I hollered back, introducing myself. It turns out that this guy, Lawson, owned the place. There were two guys in white coats holding him up, walking him. I guess I impressed the guy with my honesty and plainness, sounding like a hick. He informed me that he had the world’s greatest marble sculptor in the back yard at that very moment. He had me to go on back around to meet him. There was this woman lying out getting some sun in a chair, and there was this guy beside her, and there were these rock tools lying out. There was a piece of marble chunk that they had dropped in there with a helicopter. It weighed several tons. He was chipping on this huge piece of marble, and I’m just sitting there talking to these people like they are my neighbors or something. The world’s greatest marble sculptor was right in front of me, and I never even asked him for an autograph. Who could that guy have been? Stuff like that happened to me all the time. It inspired me to want to make big stuff. This guy had a bunch of 50-75 foot sculptures in his back yard, it was awesome.”

Vicious CycleTim’s drug use and binge drinking continued until he had an epiphany at the age of 38.

“I had a wakeup call one day, man,” says Tim. “I just kept thinking – you’re getting old, you don’t have anything, you don’t have a job. You’re going to have to straighten up. It was the final one, you know? I had sobered up some times before, but I always relapsed because I was bored. I would just always go back to it. I went through several treatment centers and read the bible. I was looking for this thing to cure me. I was reading the bible and it was talking about this guy who couldn’t walk. Jesus happened to see him. This guy was 38-years-old. He told the man to take up his bed and walk, that he had been healed. And I thought damn, he’s talking to me. Get up and leave your addiction behind. Go on and get healed. So that’s what I did. I’m not a religious person. I’m more of a spiritual person. I just don’t get into all that church stuff. I went through all that. I went to all sorts of different churches and learned about all sorts of different religions. I consider myself a nondenominational free spirit.

I’ll treat you like you treat me. That’s just kind of where I’m at with it.”

In addition, Tim had been invited to the Great Banquet by friends. This proved to be a monumental turning point in Tim’s life.

“It’s a weekend retreat and there is no denomination hooked in with it,” explains Tim. “It was a three day weekend event. On the second night, they had this candlelight thing. It was like God came through the roof of the church. It was the most smooth, peaceful, easy feeling that I’ve ever had. Everything was clear. It was like a moment of clarity. I finally felt like I understood what God wanted me to do.”

Furthermore, Tim felt like God had uncovered a mission for him.

“I was at this church one night and I noticed that a person in a wheelchair was having trouble getting across the parking lot,” explains Tim. “It was like God said; I want you to start over. I want you to read this bible over again, and when you get a scripture that hits you personally, you paint it like you see it. I want you to raise the money to get this parking lot paved. These wheelchairs are having problems. So that’s what I did.”

Tim started studying scriptures and painting the images they conjured. He went on to sell those paintings to raise money for the church to get their parking lot paved.

“It was becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to have enough time to raise the money before winter,” says Tim. “The Messenger wrote an article about what I was trying to do for the church. I cut it out, got it laminated, and had me a little folder going. I made up some challenge sheets to solicit donations, and started going around to local businesses. Money just started pouring into the church. The people that went to this church saw all the money coming in and it inspired them. Church members started having yard sales and bake sales to bring in more funds. They were contributing. Everybody was coming together. They put all their differences aside, raised some money, and paved the parking lot of the church.”

How did Tim actually get involved in creating the city’s ARTcans though, you may wonder? Only recently has Tim had an adequate amount of time to fully devote himself to his metal work.

“I got laid off in April of this year,” says Tim. “Everything just kind of lined up. I got this shop, my wife has a good job, and now I’ve got plenty of time for what I really love to do. So I just started creating stuff.”

Tim started fashioning a “sculpture garden” in his yard for him and his wife, Star. The two were married the first weekend in April, although they have been together for over four years.

“That is what I’ve always wanted to do,” explains Tim. “I just started making these pieces to put in the yard. We’ve almost had two or three wrecks out here because of it. The city of Earlington is so worried about it that they are going to actually fill this big ditch up that runs along the back of my yard. They are afraid somebody is going to run off the road into it.”

While filling his yard with metal sculptures, Tim created a piece that would unknowingly open a door of opportunity for him.

“I made this huge banjo and that is when it all changed,” says Tim. “I had it displayed out at Madisonville Community College. Barbie Hunt saw it out there. She told [DTP founder] Jenny Gibson about it and Jenny came by my house to talk to me.”

Conveniently enough, the DTP had been working on an idea for the new trashcans that were to be placed around the city. Tim’s creativity made an impact on Jenny, and she wanted to see if he could come up with something different and original that could improve upon their project. Tim was onboard to assist the DTP with their vision, created the first can, and says “it just kind of went from there.”

Currently, Tim is undertaking the creation of eighteen cans that will be appearing in different places downtown. Tim titled his original can, “Jenny’s Garden,” due to its reason for existence.

Local businesses have been coming out of the woodwork to support the DTP’s ARTcan project. So far, almost ten cans have been sponsored, saving the DTP funds for other community ventures.

How does Tim collect the materials he needs for his creations? Some of the businesses sponsoring the cans have provided him with resources. Cuda Tools has even supplied Tim with refurbished miner bits to use on their can. As for finding the other “puzzle pieces” that fit, Tim hits up yard sales, flea markets, and thrift stores.

“I just went to Greenville today,” says Tim. “I think I just about bought all the metal stuff in town. There’s a junk yard down the street that I frequent, Randall Boles owns it, and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have even got started in this. He would just let me wander around in his junk yard, even though he didn’t really understand why I was there. Now, when I go, he’s like, ‘You going shopping today?’ Randall has had an influence on me too. Randall is my go-to guy.

How does Tim determine what to put on each ARTcan he creates? He lets each can decide. He considers them individual puzzles, while his job is to put the pieces together.

“It’s the music,” repeats Tim. “I got all these shapes in my mind, which I relate to music, and they are coming out. I’m making a new song. It’s a shape. I’ve got a lot of shapes in my brain coming out. I listen to Pink Floyd once a day,” laughs Tim.

Usually, it takes Tim around two weeks to build each can. Yet, he doesn’t set deadlines for himself.

“I just take it one day at a time,” says Tim.

In the future Tim would like to see, what he calls, an “art factory” occupy Madisonville.

“I want to see an art factory in town,” says Tim. “I want to see artists living there and doing photography, pottery, painting, sculpture, acting, whatever. The building could have different sections with people living there and stuff.”

Additionally, Tim would also like to help the homeless.

“When I was homeless in Arizona, I hung around a lot of homeless people,” smiles Tim. “I still think about them. I want to do something to help. I’ve got to survive myself, and then I’m going to try to help those people. I’m hoping that this ARTcan thing will kind of lean that way later on to where I can help homeless people. Maybe I can set up some kind of charity down the road. I would also like to help neglected kids that are suffering. I have a little bit of a path to follow, but this is all kind of new.”

Tim was also excited to inform me that the DTP has invited him to display some of his pieces in the sculpture park on West Center Street downtown.

“I need a bigger shop so I can make bigger pieces,” says Tim. “I’m limited to how big I can make something too because I’ve got to pack it. If I had a bigger shop, and an overhead crane, something to help me lift stuff and move it around, it’s possible. Anything is possible, except straddling a mud puddle with a wheelbarrow.”

Interestingly enough, citizens of Hopkins County and those visiting from out of town already pass by some of Tim’s work daily and don’t even realize it. There is a tall metal piece on South Main Street that has been there since the 70s and often goes overlooked.

“At W.R. Smith’s junk yard, Double S Recyclers, out by market place, there are some gears in the corner,” grins Tim. “Back when I was in high school, my art teacher introduced me to this guy, his name was Coy Blades. He was into the same thing I was into. We made that sculpture together. It weighs over a ton. The Messenger came out there and took some pictures of it. It was on the front page. They called it ‘High Gears’. They wanted to come out and get pictures of our next project as it went through the stages of being created, but Coy died. So it never happened. Coy Blades,” sighs Tim. “He was my mentor.”

While I was sitting across from Tim in his workshop, in awe of his comfortable, warm, personality, and wealth of talent, he continued to impress me when speaking so strongly about his love of art, what it means to him, and how it is important to our community.

“Art is everything to me,” expresses Tim. “Art is my heart, and my heart is art. It’s peace for me. It’s serenity. It’s peace of mind, happiness, and joy. Art relaxes me. It’s therapy for me. It’s just the opposite of what the world does to you. I saw a show on TV last Sunday and they were talking about this cancer hospital where they had lined the halls with artwork and sculptures. They are finding out that the patients staying in this hospital are being affected by it. Art is doing something to their brains. Their brains are releasing chemicals that are aiding in the healing process. Art has a healing property. I believe there are a lot of answers in art that have been neglected. In big cities, art means something. This place used to be the heart of the coalfield. It’s not like that anymore. It’s moving out, and something has got to replace that or this town is going to die. It’s going to wind up a ghost town. I think art can bring this town back to life and help it expand. There is one thing I know, the economy may suffer, but art doesn’t suffer. People still buy art. People around here are just not really tapped into this thing yet. It’s time to wake up the sleeping bear.”

As these ARTcans crop up across the city, they have begun to breathe new life downtown. Tim’s love of art is rejuvenating others and inspiring the city. Maybe this is just the push Madisonville needs to get moving in a new direction. Maybe it’s time to create our own artistic community where empty buildings are currently standing. Together, we can repurpose the downtown area and let it inspire us and those around us.

“I’ve got this old saying that has always stuck with me,” says Tim. “I was just around the corner from myself, so I’m glad I saved myself a seat.”

The Sugg Street Post will be posting articles and photos specific to each ARTcan in the upcoming weeks, so keep an eye out for those. They will be featured once a week, until every can has been highlighted.

To contact Tim Corum you may call (270) 871-0957 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Sugg Street Post
Written by Jessica Dockrey
Pictures taken by Jeff Harp

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