First published: Summer 2002
When Loy Allen Bowlin died in 1995, he left behind the persona of 'The Original Rhinestone Cowboy – the World's Most Famous Entertainer', a character who attracted crowds to watch his shuffle-step dancing and listen to his stories, jokes and off-key singing. What really drew them were his rhinestone-studded polyester leisure suits, cowboy boots and hat, not to mention the rhinestones embedded in his dentures. Today, that performative aspect of his life is largely eclipsed by his real legacy – an elaborately decorated, otherwise modest home, originally located in the small town of McComb, Mississippi, and now owned by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The house is a complete home environment, its interior a shifting kaleidoscope of glowing colors and intricate patterns constructed from paper, glitter, and glue, covering every wall and ceiling. It is a private universe so abstract that eyes and mind struggle to contain it.
Bowlin was a self-taught artist who worked mostly outside the art world, although not unaware of it. He occasionally sold individual pieces off his ceilings and walls to dealers and collectors, and his creations were featured in television documentaries. His fame endures largely because of the determination of Katy Emde, an artist and private collector from Houston, who rescued the contents of the house and subsequently handed them over to the Kohler Foundation to preserve for posterity. The living room of Bowlin's 'Beautiful Holy Jewel Home of the Original Rhinestone Cowboy' was conserved and reconstructed inside JMKAC and exhibited in the spring of 2000. Kohler Foundation is currently working on the conservation of the rest of the home.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #39