by Kim Thomas
This haunting portrait of Johnny Cash is by Scott Leonhardt, a 16-year-old "outlier" who grew up in Nicholasville, but now lives in Louisville. Scott's grandmother, my good friend Deborah Hillman, forwarded it to me a few weeks ago in an email. I could not get the image out of mind, and so I asked Deborah for more of Scott's artwork and how it came to be that he put together this likeness that instantly takes me back to the days of hearing Cash's songs on the radio and watching him on television. Apparently, Scott sketched it simply as a homework assignment, and as any child prodigy would do, he has surprised his parents and teachers for years with his uncanny ability to put into pen and ink (or pencil, charcoal, pastels -- any sort of medium, apparently) what he sees in today's world.
Johnny Cash would be 77 years old next week, born February 27, 1932. What always impressed me about Cash was the fact that he somehow managed to rise above the tide that seemingly was always rising against him. His longtime marriage to June Carter was a beacon of hope to those who think that love is beyond their reach. He wrote blues, hillbilly, silly, pop songs and sang with some of the best the music world had to offer. Even more lasting in my mind, though, is the fact that much of Cash's music, especially that of his later career, echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation, and redemption.
Scott Leonardt's entry for a national AAA competition (right) has already won the Kentucky top honor, and now he is one of five national finalists. Of course, I wish him all the best!