THe OG: Remembering Mississippi’s original ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’

By CLARK HICKS,

In 1975, I met the original Rhinestone Cowboy.  At least, that’s what he said, and my 9 year old self believed him.

Loy Bowlin had a vision in his later years.  Frequented by dreams of sparkles, color, and heavenly radiance, Bowlin began creating handmade art like a mad genius, with hands divinely directed. 

He told anyone who would listen, and few did, that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to him with a clear instruction like Saul on the journey to Damascus.

God commanded Loy Bowlin to use construction paper, glitter, and glue to shape and forge otherworldly images of beauty. 

So, Mississippi’s version of Michelangelo began his own non-stop work on the ceiling of his modest home. 

He knew nothing of the Sistine Chapel, but he worked with similar intensity, crafting meticulous patterns of intersecting designs, like rivers of gold and silver.  Mr. Loy did not take time to bathe, and he had only one light bulb to guide his way, always saying in a whisper that the Lord’s will must be done.

After weeks of relentless work, every room in the home shined a Byzantine look of jaw dropping busy glory. 

For good measure, the Lord told Mr. Loy to hang multi- colored Christmas ornaments from the ceiling, by the thousands. 

Not satisfied, he began painting the furniture, floors, and every square inch of the “shrine.” 

True enough, the work became so bedazzling, word spread through Pike County and beyond, even to first class art circles and superior university art departments. 

You see, Loy Bowlin is not alone.  Throughout this world, men and women of lowly means tell stories of celestial visions, instructing them to create sublime spaces of enchanted eminence.

God touched Mr. Loy, like so many others, and acting as a dutiful muse, brilliance outpoured from his feeble hands.

Unfortunately, I did not know the whole story in 1975. 

On a warm and lazy summer day, I came upon Loy Bowlin in front of Roses department store. 

He wore a costume of fabric and rhinestones, with multi-colored stones glued to his horn rimmed glasses and false teeth. 

He grinned at me with green and red twinkles and handed me a Jesus tract. 

Startled, I giggled and went on my way, later learning from ill informed grown-ups that the man was the town kook.

He drove an old hard top Cadillac with his name emblazoned on the side, “The Original Rhinestone Cowboy,” a nod to Glen Campbell’s song and hit of that year.

As a young man in 1988, more appreciative of Mr. Loy’s gift, I knocked on the door of his home and received a grand tour from the man himself, ending with a gift of his construction paper art that adorns a wall in my study to this day.

Mr. Loy passed away years later, leaving his home intact.

His estate agreed to sell the home to a private art collector who promptly had it moved to a Wisconsin gallery and restored in all its splendor. 

Mr. Loy had painted an entrance sign to his home which has been preserved for visitors to see. 

The sign reads, “The Beautiful Holy Jewel Home.” 

So true, and thank God for Loy Bowlin.

Clark Hicks is a lawyer who lives in Hattiesburg.  His e-mail is clark@hicksattorneys.com.

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