HOME IS WHERE THE ART IS: Gary Bowling’s House of Art

A million thanks to Douglas Imbrogno from the Charleston Gazette for allowing me to re-post his wonderful story.

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BLUEFIELD, W.Va. – This historic West Virginia city has certainly seen better times. As a Preservation Magazine article noted a few years ago: “Bluefield’s economic gloom is as oppressive as its heyday once was glorious.” Just over a week ago, one side of the Matz Hotel, standing since 1911, simply collapsed onto Princeton Avenue.

But in at least one part of downtown, an artist born and raised here has brought back to life one of the town’s old buildings, a wild reinvention that aims to make the place “the heartbeat of the community.”

The front door is open on Gary Bowling’s House of Art at 701 Bland St.

With partner Pete Sternloff and a small troupe of volunteers, 60-year-old Bowling has crafted an artistic, eccentric, must-be-seen-to-be-believed, go-to place for art, music and culture. “They’re amazed when people walk in here,” Bowling says.

Word of mouth has brought visitors from as far away as Texas. What visitors encounter is three floors and 15,000-square feet of art, from the whimsical to the intense, from the outrageous to the just plain strange.

The artistry and decoration is packed into every nook and cranny. That’s not to mention the ceilings, swimming with fantastic creatures along with what looks like a tropical forest of undergrowth, animated by holiday lights.

Bowling’s mission is to create a nationally worthy venue for area artists.

“I would put this place up against anything in Soho, Atlanta or San Francisco. Why not here? Living in West Virginia is not a handicap. We’ve got wonderful talent.”

The House of Art currently represents 30-some artists, he said. “Were trying to emphasize our local talent [and] since we’re a border town that does include Virginia. We’re trying to keep it within a 300-mile radius.

“You know, I grew up here. This is the town that raised me and at my age this is a way of giving back. Paying it forward, if you will. This is my last hurrah, I can’t take anything with me. I want to help young artists because I didn’t have that growing up here.” (click here to read more)

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