A local illustrator is working on a limited-edition poster of the Man in Black to help raise money for a local library.
Ron E. Ott has spent weeks illustrating the 18-by-24-inch poster. He partnered with David Moon of Picnooga to raise funding for the Lafayette Public Library and their summer children’s reading program.
The poster is a digital reimagination of a Johnny Cash event poster for a benefit concert held in Lafayette, Ga., in 1970.
The poster is expected to go on sale in late March or early April. At least a few of the posters will be signed by John Carter Cash, the son of Johnny and June Carter Cash.
Cash’s LaFayette lockup
In an appearance on NPR’s "Fresh Air" program in 1997, Cash recalled to host Terry Gross the dark days of the 1960s.
"I was taking the pills for awhile, and then the pills started taking me," Cash said during the interview.
The cards fell in 1967 when, according to reports, Cash was involved in a car accident in Walker County and police found a bag of pills in his possession.
Cash was also observed driving erratically through the woods, apparently searching for "Civil War artifacts."
David Moon said Cash attempted to bribe his way out of trouble, but his behavior got him booked for an overnight stay in the Walker County Jail in Lafayette.
And then something magical happened, Moon said.
"The next morning, Sheriff Ralph Jones released Cash and returned his pills, but challenged the young musician to get clean or die," Moon said. "Cash heeded that advice and got his life back on track, later crediting Jones and his Lafayette experiences as a turning point."
As a way to atone for his sins, Cash returned to LaFayette in 1970 to perform a benefit for the high school. He was joined by members of the Carter family, the Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins, June Carter—of course—and their infant son, John Carter Cash.
The concert raised more than $25,000 toward the completion of the football stadium where Cash was playing. Moon said 12,000 tickets were purchased for the event.
Jones has been credited with helping steer Cash away from the dark side. Jones later appeared as a guest on "This Is Your Life" in 1971 and recalled what he said to Johnny Cash on the night he was arrested.
"I said, 'Johnny, I’d like to understand why you’d let a little thing as a pill throw you in the gutter and ruin your life,'" Jones said. "'Just take your pills and go and just remember there are people like us that care for you and you’re a better man than that.'"
Cash said he never forgot the words Jones said to him.
Ott has drawn the likenesses of prisoners, celebrities and regular folks in his years of work as an artist. But to draw a legend like Cash, every little detail matters.
"You want to ensure the likeness is solid because if there’s any discrepancy between what someone thinks someone looks like and how you portrayed them ... it leaves you feeling confused," Ott said. "I’ve got to nail the likeness."
The project started out as a hand-drawn commission, but it morphed into a digital representation of Cash as he would’ve appeared on a poster if there had been a poster created for the 1970 event in Lafayette.
In order to do that, Ott reverted back to his graphic design skills instead of ink and paper for this project. He said the process is the same—meaning he still has to draw—but he now has the ability to edit, which is a catch-22.
"Because it’s digital, of course, you have more control, and you don’t have as many limiting factors," he said. "So there’s this propensity of overwork, the tendency to go back and edit and undo just because you can ... You can be as sloppy as you want, so this has taken a lot of time."
As a "big fan" of Cash, Ott volunteered his time for the poster. He had already been looking into images of Cash for another project, so the timing worked out.
Ott gained attention in 2012 for his mug shot series. The series was inspired by the emotion and character he saw on the faces of the arrested in Chattanooga.
Click here to see more of Ott’s work.