Charlie McKinney of Houston installs a copper etching of a scene from downtown Houston's past. (Herald file photo)

(Editor’s note: Houston’s Charlie McKinney was recognized last week with an Adult Leadership Award at the Missouri Community Betterment Program during its annual conference in Jefferson City. Here are the comments made at the event).

It is with pleasure that the Houston Community Betterment and Arts Council nominates Charlie McKinney for the 2009 Adult Leadership Award.

For the last five years Charlie McKinney has served as president of the Houston Community Betterment and Arts Council. Charlie and his wife united by their marriage and their common love for metal working, have achieved national success and acclaim with their combined efforts. In Houston, their work graces The Bank of Houston and can be found inside businesses throughout town.

Nationwide, their work is exhibited in museums and the homes of the rich and famous. One of their pieces, originally commissioned by The Bank of Houston, “Flowering Dogwood,” was exhibited at the National Ornamental Metals Museum in Memphis, Tenn.

The McKinneys’ success has not changed their hard work and dedication to the quality of their product, down to the smallest detail.

“A good example might be the clock face up there,” said Charlie McKinney of the timepiece they created for the Bank of Houston tower. “If anybody would ever have the reason to take it apart, everything you’d see on it, on the inside of the metal, on the back side of it, is going to be just the same, and that’s what, 70 – 100 feet from anybody? You can’t even see it, but it’s built like the public will be right there with their magnifying glasses, walking around the tower.”

Charlie works out of their forge and studio near Bucyrus, at the curve of a gravel road. Their yard and home are splashed with their efforts and the tools of their trade, decorations of hardened metal and delicate manipulation. From Marian’s drawing board, the designs go out to the forge, a cavernous workshop filled with smithing tools. Within, the heavy pieces are crafted by Charlie’s experienced hands and extremely high temperatures.

“He is a master craftsman,” Marian said. “He has great hands.”

The McKinneys’ work goes from custom bed frames and tables to breathtaking banisters, arbors and sculptures that add elegance and character to their surroundings. Their unexpected business in Houston includes a series of benches that have been placed around town to promote the Lone Star Plaza project, the bank clock and tree sculptures and private pieces commissioned by area citizens.

Charlie, the son of Charles “Debo” and Marcella McKinney, was born in 1948 and spent his childhoods in Houston and on a Bucyrus farm. Early in his life, McKinney remembers practicing metalworking, although in a rudimentary way. “I’ve been fascinated with metal as far back as I can remember. We had those old cook stoves, a lot of the time you could actually see the coals at the bottom of the damper. We’d put clothes hangers and wires and things into them and pull them out and set wood on fire, bending them, just playing.”

This fascination continued through high school, where he took shop and general metals classes. McKinney began working at a forge in St. Louis, producing 105 mm howitzer shells, until he moved to Memphis in 1974.

“My first job, I made 300 forged lamps for a lighting company in Alabama, and when I did that I was up to where I was working 40 hours a week in a hobby, so I thought I might as well try to do this,” McKinney said.

Charlie’s additional accomplishments include:

* Charlie has played a key role in the development of Houston. He has been a longtime volunteer with Downtown Houston Inc., a downtown revitalization group that has led efforts to create a plaza, new sidewalks, upgraded lighting and other improvements to the downtown business district.

* McKinney most recently assumed the treasurer’s post in the organization and was key its progress. A 1930s-era building was completely gutted and renovated. The organization won the top community award at the 2008 Governor’s Conference on Economic Development.

* As a volunteer director, he also had taken an interest in furthering the development of the downtown farmers’ market held each Friday.

* McKinney – because of his vocation as a blacksmith – also assisted the organization in creating specialized wrought iron fencing and pillars as a part of the Lone Star Plaza, which is a showcase in south-central Missouri. Additionally, he also oversaw efforts to create individualized benches that were placed in the downtown business district and feature an element related to the community.

* Multiple stars for Hospice of Care that are lighted at Christmas time as donations are received.

* Metal pumpkins used in the downtown during the fall season, some over six feet tall.

* Copper etching of downtown Houston in the 1940s that are attached to new McKinney Forge trash receptacles which are located in 14 areas downtown.

* Charlie helped with the renovation of the Community Betterment building that currently houses their office and the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce offices.

* All of his efforts have made a difference in the City of Houston that will be enjoyed by generations of Houston residents. Charlie exemplified the many characteristics, hard work and leadership that are required for a successful community program.

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