‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ Kid at Heart Bruce Brinkley Makes Far Out, Fantasy and Myth-Inspired Folk Art in Cheriton

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Bruce Brinkley in the studio. Photo by Stefanie Jackson.

By Stefanie Jackson – Bruce Brinkley is the product of a bygone era of flower children, free love, and yellow submarines, and it shows in his art.

Brinkley, who hails from Princess Anne County, moved to the Eastern Shore 13 years ago after he was introduced to the area for work and he and his wife realized, “Virginia Beach wasn’t our home town anymore.”

The Shore reminded him a bit of what Virginia Beach was like in his youth.

It was a different place and time that left Brinkley with some far out memories.

He remembers African American women who practiced hoodoo and fashioned mojos that they hung around the necks of their children for protection.

Brinkley later practiced his own version of the ritual, waving a mojo over his band, Big Brewster and the Blue Rocks, before every performance.

Mojos are also a part of one of Brinkley’s most recent folk art pieces, which he was working on when a reporter met him for an interview in the art studio at Custom Picture Framing in Cheriton.

It is one of many works that begin as a single staircase post or porch column. Brinkley enjoys salvaging old building materials and furniture parts and making them into something new.

The artworks that seem to be closest to his heart are the ones of humans or humanlike creatures.

Brinkley carves the wood and incorporates found objects into the pieces to create facial features and body parts.

The first such artwork was a carving of Macey and Wynn Neville, the daughters of Brinkley’s friend, Scott Neville, also of Cheriton.

Brinkley’s reference for the piece was a photo of Macey and Wynn costumed as shepherds for a play at the Palace Theatre in Cape Charles. He aimed to capture the playfulness of Macey prodding her sister’s face into a smile.

The artwork was based on a real-life subject, but there is one element of the fantastic hidden in plain sight: Macey has wings like an angel.

Brinkley carved his first true angel six years ago. Her name is Jill, just like one of the characters in Brinkley’s children’s novel, “The Be-Bop-A-Lula Kid.”

Jill resembles an Egyptian queen, and her most unique feature is her huge wings with hundreds of shiny gold and silver-colored house keys as feathers.

Libby is another angel fashioned similarly out of a salvaged wood column. Her delicate wings are made mostly of souvenir spoons, with a key or two nestled among them.

Libby wears a pink evening gown with a hem made from a wooden gear that would have been used in turn-of-the-century, industrial machinery. Her hair is made of metal acanthus leaves that give the appearance of boxer braids.

Both Jill and Libby have made their home with an art dealer in Maine.

Another angel, Icey Moon, is kept in nearby Bay Creek. Perhaps it’s fitting that the angel who stayed behind in the little beach town of Cape Charles is the one holding ice cream cones.

Brinkley’s latest celestial creation is Lucy, “the angel of Chesapeake Bay mermaids.”

Lucy is twice as fantastic as her predecessors, since she is both an angel and a mermaid.

Lucy’s face is carved out of the wood column that also serves as her body, and her arms are table legs. The jewels that cover her chest are beach glass and other trinkets. Her bronze-colored wings are small and dainty.

Appropriately, the angel of Chesapeake Bay mermaids recently visited Cape Charles Beach for a photo-op.

Brinkley earned a living as a fire inspector and fire marshal, but he made a life as an artist, whether that meant playing a rock ’n’ roll song, writing a story, or carving an angel.

Now he and his wife are both retired and “my main goal is to keep her happy.”

He spreads a little of that happiness around with every new piece of art he creates as he captures the wonder and whimsy of youth and times gone by.

As one of Brinkley’s favorite sayings goes, “Time flies like the wind, fruit flies like bananas.”

Brinkley at work in the studio on a new piece featuring “three major mojos,” two of which are animal bones that are visible in the photo. Photo by Stefanie Jackson.
A folk art representation of two sisters dressed as shepherds for a play. Submitted photo.
“Libby Grayspoon.” Submitted photo.
Brinkley’s novel, “The Be-Bop-A-Lula Kid.”
Photo by Stefanie Jackson.
“Jill,” who shares her name with a character in Brinkley’s novel, appears to be an innocent angel, but she has a dark side. She has the face of a red devil on her reverse. Submitted photo.