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June 15, 2024

Loy Bowlin, the Original Rhinestone Cowboy With His Beautiful Holy Jewel Home in McComb, Mississippi

Loy Bowlin was born in 1909 in rural Franklin County, Mississippi, and lived in poverty for much of his life. He married Ina Mae Mitchell in 1933, and the couple farmed and scrapped metal to get by. After their divorce in the 1950s, Bowlin struggled with depression and sought comfort through his Christian faith.

In 1975 Bowlin began to adopt a new persona to lift his spirits, inspired by Glen Campbell’s hit record Rhinestone Cowboy. In a project that took about five years to complete, he covered every inch of the interior, and part of the exterior, with daubs of bright paint and intricate patterns of cutout paper, rhinestones, glitter, tinfoil, tinsel garlands, Christmas ornaments, and collaged photographs and magazine illustrations.

Dressed head to toe in dazzling outfits he painstakingly embellished with rhinestones and glitter, he performed daily in local shopping plazas, fairs, and flea markets, playing the harmonica, dancing, and telling jokes. Calling himself The Original Rhinestone Cowboy, he pursued fame in an adorned 1967 Cadillac.

In the mid-1980s, as he approached his eighties and was no longer able to go out and entertain, he redirected his creative energy to his house in McComb, Mississippi, transforming it into the Beautiful Holy Jewel Home. Covered in rhinestones, with the interior swathed in glitter-coated construction-paper wallpaper panels, the house is a complete and total work of art; even the ceilings and furniture were adorned by Bowlin.

After Bowlin’s death in 1995, his property was sold, and the Beautiful Holy Jewel Home was scheduled to be razed. Houston artist and collector Katy Emde purchased the house, with the stipulation that it be moved from the site, just in time to save it from destruction. Emde carefully documented and dismantled the house. Later, the Kohler Foundation acquired the dismantled building and worked for four years on its preservation. In 2001, The Foundation gifted the art environment to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, along with many of Bowlin’s works of art and personal belongings, including his bedazzled dentures. The entire environment has been exhibited several times at the Arts Center and remains a favorite among local—and international—visitors.


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