The Road Less Traveled Exhibition Series



Jan. 29 - Dec. 31, 2017

In 1975, Loy Bowlin reinvented his life and transformed into the “Original Rhinestone Cowboy.” That adopted persona inspired him to convert his home into a dazzling art environment. Folklorist Jennifer Joy Jameson adds original research and oral histories from those who knew Bowlin to this presentation of the “Beautiful Holy Jewel Home.”

Explore the exhibition

Ends Dec. 2017

About this exhibition

A favorite with visitors when it was last exhibited in 2007, the newly preserved “Beautiful Holy Jewel Home” will again stand inside an Arts Center gallery. The accounts of those who remember the site’s creator bring added depth to this presentation of Loy Bowlin’s visually striking art environment.

Bowlin (1909–1995) grew up on a hardscrabble stock ranch in Mississippi. His childhood was defined by the family’s struggle to make ends meet. Bowlin married in 1933 and made a meager living farming and scrapping during the Depression. After a failed business venture in the 1950s, he divorced. Over the next two decades, Bowlin suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety.

It was Glen Campbell’s 1975 hit record “Rhinestone Cowboy,” that brought joy and purpose to his life. Bowlin adopted the rhinestone cowboy persona. He added rhinestones to his clothes, decorated his 1967 Cadillac, and created a home environment to serve as the backdrop for his showmanship.

“The Beautiful Holy Jewel Home” (c.1975–1990), was a small, extravagantly embellished home in McComb, Mississippi. He adorned much of the exterior and nearly every inch of the interior. The walls were covered with patterns of cutout paper, paint, glitter, and collaged photographs and magazine illustrations.

After Bowlin’s death in 1995 when The Beautiful Holy Jewel Home was slated to be razed, a Houston artist and collector purchased the home with the stipulation that it be removed from the property. The buyer then documented and dismantled the house. In 1998, Kohler Foundation, Inc. acquired the disassembled house and later gifted the home and many of the Bowlin’s works to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.



In her response to this art environment, folklorist Jennifer Joy Jameson focuses on Bowlin’s impact within the McComb region. A collaborative ethnohistory created from recorded oral accounts and memories of those in the area is accompanied by a photo series.

Jennifer Joy Jameson


Jennifer Joy Jameson is the folk and traditional arts director of the Mississippi Arts Commission and managing editor of Mississippi Folklife. She has a deep interest in community engagement and documentation in the American South.

Contact Jennifer Joy:

Behind the Scenes

Alex Gartelmann working in the Preservation Lab: Loy Bowlin's Holy Jewel Home at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 2016.

Dig A Little Deeper...

Read a special Q & A from the responder, Jennifer Joy Jameson, in our gallery handout.

If you want to learn even more about Loy Bowlin, you can purchase an in-depth publication from our online store or at ARTspace.


The Road Less Traveled Conference

Scholars, artists, preservationists, educators, activists, art historians, collectors and devotees will delve into the complex subject of artist-built environments during a three-day conference at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

Through a variety of performances, panels, and workshops, attendees will share new ideas and broaden the collective knowledge and appreciation of this unique style of art making that is the focus of a yearlong series of exhibitions at the Arts Center.

The conference, titled The Road Less Traveled, is the third Divine Disorder program of the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT). In addition to the Arts Center and NCPTT, Kohler Foundation Inc. is a hosting partner for the conference.

Sep. 27, 2017 - Sep. 29, 2017


This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education, Kohler Foundation, Inc., Herzfeld Foundation and Sargento Foods Inc. The Arts Center thanks its many members for their support of exhibitions and programs through the year. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) (nonprofit) organization; donations are tax deductible.

The Road Less Traveled 50th anniversary program was conceived by Amy Horst, deputy director for programming. The exhibitions series was organized and curated by Arts Center Curator Karen Patterson. Special thanks to Emily Schlemowitz, assistant curator, for the curation of Driftless: Nick Engelbert & Ernest Hüpeden and Folk & Fable: Levi Fisher Ames & Albert Zahn, and Amy Chaloupka, guest curator of The World in a Garden: Nek Chand and Volumes: Stella Waitzkin.