Tom Lohr loves holidays—just not Christmas. He is still bitter about not getting the GI Joe Gemini capsule as a present in the mid-60s
What Is Yard Art?
Art encompasses many things, mediums, and ideas and means different things to different people. One thing is certain—if you think something is art you can call it art. And if you call it art, why keep the general public from enjoying your vision? Put it out where everyone can either admire it or call the zoning authorities on you.
Americans' idea of art has been ill-defined, but some artists really push the boundary of where art ends and wacky begins. In most cases, the more avant-garde the art, the greater the likelihood someone has to mow around it in the summer. Garden gnomes notwithstanding, yard art is an American tradition that allows us to express ourselves, no matter how ridiculously, and the best of these displays of audaciousness can be seen through the windshield of your car.
1. Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch
You see many weird things while driving along Route 66. The mother road is a haven for a multitude of oddities designed to catch the attention of drivers; sometimes in an attempt to lure a customer, other times to accentuate the uniqueness of the drive. Oro Grande, CA, sports the drive's best yard art exhibit.
Elmer Long has always had a fascination with bottles, and after inheriting his father's bottle collection, he began erecting his enchanted forest of glass. Beginning in 2000, Long has up-cycled bottles by fashioning colorful trees out of them. He mounts a steel rod to a base and then welds smaller rods to the main shaft at an upward angle, ending up with what resembles a bare metal tree. He then places the open end of a bottle over each metal “branch” to create one of his “trees.” One of these glass conifers is a sight to behold, but Elmer's forest is comprised of nearly 200 sparkling bottle trees creating a kaleidoscope of color. Entrance is free and has become a must-stop for travelers exploring Route 66.
2. Chris Barbee's Bowling Ball Yard Art
Life can get mighty slow in the far-flung corners of Oklahoma. When you don't live in an area that boasts much in the way of art, you have to take the bowling ball by the horns and make your own. Chris and Amy Barbee of Nowata, OK, had a few bowling balls put in their garden to give it an artistic touch. After Amy passed, Chris decided to build a fence out of the balls. An act that would foster one of the nation's top yard art displays.
As Chris scoped out yard sales and flea markets to complete his project, word got around of his endeavor. Before he knew it people would donate unused bowling balls for his project, which was now growing to include a giant American flag made out of the spheres. One person dropped off 54 of them. Chris' collection includes the world's heaviest set of Rosary beads and an eclectic array of bowling ball shapes and figures constructed of over 800 balls. It's a trip worth making in your “spare” time.
3. Don Park's Yard Art
In an unassuming neighborhood of west Phoenix, on a very ordinary street, passersby can happen upon one of the largest, and weirdest, collections of Americana on the planet. Don Parks has been collecting “interesting stuff” since he bought his home in the late 1960s. His yard, which has recently expanded to a neighboring home he purchased, houses old bicycles, parts of an iconic but now defunct local amusement park, fire hydrants and just about a little of everything imaginable. But his menagerie of figures is the cornerstone of his collection. There are likenesses of Chuck E. Cheese, several Ronald McDonalds and a bug-eyed pirate. The crown jewel of his accumulated art is a 20-foot-tall Paul Bunyan who had taken a shotgun blast to the face and lived to tell about it. Paul towers over the yard wielding a giant axe, a warning to anyone to would dare abscond with any of his figurative pals and their toys.
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4. Pollard's Collection
If you like looking at art, Salem, IL, has a bumper crop of it. A real bumper crop. Richard Pollard has over 300 chrome bumpers sticking out of his yard, gleaming in the sun and waiting to be harvested by the eyes of onlookers. When one plants bumpers, it helps to be a used car dealer, which Mr. Pollard is. His home, next to his dealership, also includes a crashed airplane, a riding lawnmower with a toilet, and a Volkswagen Beetle designed to look like...a beetle. Pollard's unique display of American yard art is just north of town on highway 37.
5. Yard Full of Model Airplanes
Building those plastic model airplanes from kits can be tedious work. There is plastic flashing to cut off, tiny print instructions to read and that messy glue. Tud Krohn of Elberfeld, IN, thinks so too. That's why he buys the kits, and then scales them up and makes them out of metal. These much larger and sturdier versions of military aircraft then get placed on a pole and placed in Tud's yard. It's like a miniature aerospace museum of warbirds. It is easy to get a glimpse of the collection of airborne yard art while driving on I-64, but for a closer look ask Tud for a tour.
6. Glen Burnie Mirror Yard
If art is meant to be a form of self-reflection, then Bob Benson has the perfect hobby. The 86-year-old Glen Burnie, MD artist makes creations from old mirrors. He not only makes mirror jewelry, but also wearable mirror clothing. He can be seen sometimes sporting a mirror necktie. But his true masterpieces are outside of his home. His yard includes numerous mirror structures and a bedazzling tree of metal and mirrors.
Once a classical music radio host, Bob didn't start messing with mirrors until 2004. Now, people are so struck with his work that he conducts workshops on how to make your own art from mirrors. His yard art is easy to spot, just drive down Midland Road when the sun is shining and look for the overpowering glint.
7. Toilet Yard Art
While some may call yard art crap, one resident of Craig, MO, has taken it to an entirely new level. Arranged in his yard, giving the phrase “game of thrones” a whole new meaning, are about 20 toilets. These priceless pieces of porcelain adorn a lawn on Craig Street, drawing admiration, and a few shaking heads, of purveyors of fine yard art. This artist is multidimensional. He isn't just about toilets. There is an old claw foot bathtub thrown in for some diversity, and a few pink plastic flamingos just to keep it classy.
8. Clyde Jones's Critter Crossing
You might expect to hear a chainsaw carving things up (like people) while in Texas, but in Bynum, NC, the roar of the saw is just Clyde Jones doing his thing. Jones has been creating critters out of logs since his lumberjack days in the early 1980s. He puts a slightly modernistic twist on his mechanized carvings; like a hot pink alligator or polka dot giraffe. Some of the animals he carves he has never actually seen, but that doesn't keep Clyde from immortalizing them in wood. People come from miles to view his rural collection, despite none of them being for sale. And this is one yard artist that has clout. His work has been displayed in Africa, China and the Smithsonian Institute.
9. Gene Cockrell's Yard
What do aliens, mythical creatures, Jesus and a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader have in common? They all reside in Gene Cockrell's yard. After retiring from the highway department, Gene began applying his steel and stucco skills to create art. Sitting in his Canadian, TX, yard are more than 20 figures, including the aforementioned cheerleader who used to be in the nude until he gave in to the flak from his wife. Gene creates what comes to his mind, and sometimes that turns out to be an Indian angel. While not in his yard, his most well-known work is a 50-foot-long, 17-foot-tall dinosaur that sits atop a hill near the highway. Aud, as the dino is known, is a local landmark and serves as a pitchman for travelers to exit the highway and take in the rest of Gene's wild and wacky creations.
10. Farnham Fantasy Farm
You knew West Virginia had to be on the list somewhere. The Mountain State practically invented yard art. Only most of us called them junk cars on blocks in the front yard. But a family in Unger, WV, is redeeming the state's reputation by offering Americans a yard art display worth the twisty drive into Appalachia.
A trip to the Unger farm is more like a visit to the land of giants. Fans of muffler men will get their fill while gazing upon this collection of colossi. An actual muffler man from an out-of-business Midas shop heads the collection. A Uniroyal Gal (a female muffler man), a giant beach dude, a Santa Claus and a hamburger hoisting hombre, all near or exceeding 20 feet tall, loiter in the Farnham's yard, awaiting the next member of their titanic clan to arrive.