Dunlap artist showcases his whimsical outdoor sculptures this month at In-Town Gallery

Charlie Yowell plugs into solar power in latest work

Dragonflies fashioned from acrylic and solar lights by Charlie Yowell.

If you go

› What: Opening reception for Charlie Yowell’s “Light Play.”› When: 5-8 p.m. Friday, July 6.› Where: In-Town Gallery, 26A Frazier Ave.› Phone: 423-267-9214.› Online: www.intowngallery.com, www.charlieyowell.com.

For his first feature show at In-Town Gallery, Charlie Yowell is facing challenges most of his fellow artists don't.

"First of all, it's outdoor art, and of course it's an indoor gallery," he says. Most of the works are lighted, so they show better at night. "And they're all really big."

How big? There are butterflies and dragonflies with 4-foot wingspans, lizards and fish approaching 5 feet and flowers that tower 8 feet high.

And then there's the flamingo, a 6-foot-tall paragon in pink.

Yowell says he's worked hard to get the layout right for the front wall at In-Town, where featured artists' works are rotated in and out each month.

"I planned it all night," says the St. Louis native, a hang-gliding enthusiast who moved to Chattanooga in 1983 and then to Dunlap in 1986. "I did a mock-up and placed it out and cleared my living room floor and arranged it all. I think it looks pretty good. When I put it up I think it will all come together."

Visitors can get their first glimpse of the collection, titled "Light Play," today. An opening reception is scheduled Friday evening, and the works will be on view throughout July.

Yowell, 65, also is showing the works he regularly has on view at In-Town, a collection of kinetic sculptures fashioned from stained glass or sheet acrylic attached to metal frames. Creating flat-panel stained glass always left him bored, he says, but when he discovered how to attach metal and stained glass together to create three-dimensional creatures that moved, his interest was piqued.

His sea turtles, for instance, are crafted in such a way that head, tail and flippers "swim" in the wind. He also has added mobiles to the collection, so that groups of fish or birds or honeybees move together.

But these days he's most excited about a relatively new collection of solar-powered sculptures, which he considers his signature work.

He started with a dragonfly about six years ago. The original design, he says, was "very rough and very basic." He sold a few at art shows, but the next year he refined the design and started etching the wings.

"Then I got more ideas for flowers and butterflies and giant fish," he says. "And then of course I had to have a frog and a lizard."

All are made of fade-proof acrylic and rustproof metals. Each is outfitted with a solar collector that powers a 50-count string of LED lights. The lights automatically switch on at night and off in the morning.

He has sold outdoor pieces to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis that can be enjoyed day and night. He is particularly proud of their 24/7 potential.

"During the day, they're bright, colorful, fluorescent; they throw colorful shadows all over the ground," he says. "At night is when they really come to life."

He hopes to receive other commissions to make these whimsical pieces even bigger. "Twenty and 30 feet tall," he says. "I want to do a fish you can walk through."

And, no, it's not fine art in the strictest sense, but neither is it mass-produced kitsch. It's somewhere between what you'd buy at Walmart and what you'd view at the Hunter Museum of American Art, he explains.

"I just want people, with all of my art, to look at it and be happy. I want them to smile when they see it."

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.