Loy Bowlin
John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Loy Bowlin: Mississippi's Real Life Rhinestone Cowboy

Everyone loves Glen Campbell's 1975 hit "Rhinestone Cowboy." But no one loved the song more than McComb, Miss. artist Loy Bowlin. And Bowlin didn't just love the tune about a country boy dreaming of a life of ritz and glitz glamour - he lived it. The self-proclaimed "original Rhinestone Cowboy" grew up in poverty on a Mississippi stock ranch. As a young adult, he struggled through the Great Depression. After a failed marriage and a business that went bust, Bowlin struggled with anxiety and depression.

But everything changed when he heard Campbell sing about riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo. Bowlin began bedazzling everything in sight with rhinestones. His glasses, dentures and his 1967 Cadillac all received the sparkle treatment. But his greatest achievement was his house, the Beautiful Holy Jewel Home. In the nearly two decades Bowlin lived in his glittering palace, he decked out every square inch of the interior with his signature rhinestones.


The Star-Spangled Rodeo

A rhinestone encrusted house would stand out anywhere, but it must have been especially thrilling to see in the small Mississippi town of McComb. Bowlin certainly drew attention from neighbors. But soon he was getting recognition from around the country as an outsider artist.

Bowlin worked diligently day in and day out, crafting rhinestone-adorned collages with posterboard, glitter, paint and magazine clippings. The folk artist lined the walls with the collages and hung Christmas ornaments from the ceiling. According to a documentary put together by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Bowlin was so dedicated to the process that he ordered glitter by the pound.


When Bowlin died in 1995, a Houston artist and art collector bought the house and moved the interior piece by piece to Houston to ensure that future generations would be able to see the Beautiful Holy Jewel Home. Bowlin's work was kept safely in storage until it was placed on display at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 2007.

This year, the Arts Center brought the rotating exhibit back as part of its Roads Less Traveled exhibition series.

Jennifer Joy Jameson, the folk and traditional arts director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, gathered photos and stories of Bowlin to accompany the exhibit.



The Making of a Dream: Loy Bowlin is on display through Dec. 2017.

Watch: This Creative Cowboy Welds Incredible Scrap Metal Sculptures