Other features

Pioneer Artist E.S. Paxson
Butte's Painted Ladies: A Brief Tour of West-Side Homes
Butte, Montana: Ireland's Fifth Province
Cool Water Hula by the Berkeley Pit
Basking in the Boulder Batholith

OXO's Elegant Homes, ARTBYOXO Posters and Bedazzling Car Art

by George Everett

On a January night as a wicked winter storm beat down Butte with brutal winds, OXO passed away quietly in his sleep.

OXO is gone.

He was a great man. He always made me feel like I was his best friend but I know there were many others who felt that way around OXO. He was a gentle man who made his friends feel like they were the most important people on earth.

Although he was a visual artist, he loved word play and I will miss the palindromes he collected and sent along to his friends who were far flung throughout America and beyond. He chose as his name OXO because it was the same spelled backwards and forwards as well as upside down.

"In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni"
("We enter the circle at night and are consumed by fire.")

OXO level OXO.

Marge, let's send a sadness telegram.

OXO learned to write English, he joked, from the Christian Brothers and nuns of Butte Boy's Central and his prose was plump with clauses and elocution but, he was by far the best technical editor I have ever known. He had the precision of a surgeon to root out bullshit and equivocation, all the while pointing out such folly with kindness and humor. He could be very funny when he wanted to be and his main goal was to entertain his friends so he was often a funny guy who always impressed me at the same time with how brilliant and insightful he could be.
Above all, however, I believe that OXO would most like to be remembered as an artist and he was a great one. His poster art gave Evel Knievel Days its unique look (see www.artbyoxo.com and www.knieveldays.com).

Evel Knievel was like a father to him and the passing of Evel this year was a tremendous loss and hit him harder than most people knew.
I had the honor of knowing Bob Corbett since 1983 as a mentor, a colleague, a business partner, and as a great friend.

I don't know anyone who loved Butte, Montana as much as he did for all the right reasons; he spoke of Hawaii and California, New York and DC, and all the other places he had seen, but to him Butte was the center of the universe and he was one of its brightest stars.

OXO equaled hope for Butte to reinvent itself through the tremendous power of art to transform and renew. OXO was an alchemist of the heart, taking a dark and tragic town and trying to make it innocent and new again with love, imagination, and hope.

Few who knew OXO as a motorhead, or an artist (see artbyoxo.com), or as an eccentric occupant of a historically significant zinc mill ore bin, understood the international influence he has had through his career as an expert on superinsulation and energy-efficient and resource efficient low-income housing (see www.nahn.com). His houseplans have changed how many energy-efficient homes are built throughout the country from Texas to New England to Iowa to Montana.

For me personally some of OXO's highest achievements were achieved as a friend. He took responsibilities of being a friend as the highest art form. His thoughtful notes of encouragement, emails, beautiful art gifts and ornate certificates to mark the passing of often insignificant milestones such as birthdays will be missed. He was a thoughtful friend and I was proud to have known him and I will miss him dearly and there will be a hole in the fabric of my world as big as OXO for a long, long while.

As a community, as people, as a nation, as a world we are defined by how we treat the less fortunate among us and OXO was a humble man who could elevate the spirits of everyone he met regardless of their status or stature from a Governor to a desolate person beat down by the grind of poverty and ill health or even a peon newbie like myself who was amazed to be treated like a human being.

He became a cherished friend through a thousand acts of kindness and humanity to me and my family and I will miss him very much.

Who will drive the Mirrormobile now?

For a wonderful tribute to the man and what he meant to so many in Butte, see Roberta Stauffer's hasta la vista in the Montana Standard.


Calling Card for the OXO FoundationRobert J. Corbett dreamed of a home for the last 30 years. Not his own home, however. He was well settled in his own dwelling on Timber Butte overlooking Butte for 25 years. There he lived in a zinc-ore bin that once belonged to Copper King W.A. Clark where he devoted a lot of energy into recycling the building into his home.
 
The 50-foot-tall, 1,000 ton Ore Bin home has been featured in Fine Homebuilding magazine and on Home and Garden TV's "Extreme Home" series. No, Corbett dreams of homes for other people. As a founder of the National Affordable Housing Network, Corbett has designed award-winning houseplans for disadvantaged Americans since 1994.

"I decided I wanted to make a contribution, to work at the low end and change technology instead of working for rich people where the object is to spend as much money as possible, just to show they can," said Corbett.

It is an opinion formed working for architects throughout the Northwest. He designed the Butte home of Evel Knievel while working for a local architecture firm. After a brief stint as head of the city planning department, in 1977, he joined the staff of a non-profit research group in Butte, to study the use of alternative energy sources.

"I sat down with a couple of colleagues to design the perfect passive solar home. In the process, we discovered that the more insulation we added to the design, the less crucial were solar features," said Corbett.

Since then, his dream has been to design comfortable homes that can be maintained on tight budgets for families who would otherwise not be able to buy their own home. Corbett's designs have been used to build affordable, comfortable homes throughout the nation's northern tier, including for Habitat for Humanity families in Montana. Despite cold winters, these homes can cost less than $150 a year for space heating due to the efficiency features of his houseplans. Warm climate versions of his designs have been built by Habitat affiliates throughout Texas.

There's another side to Corbett, or "OXO" as he is known to his friends. Corbett enjoys the symmetry and graphical potential of his nickname because it remains the same whether you spell it forwards, backwards or upside down. As an accomplished graphic artist, he has delved into correspondence and poster art and distinctive computer art that is cherished. A variety of his works is featured on his web site www.artbyoxo.com.

Also, Corbett has combined a life long love for cars and art to create his own "art rod" that he calls "The Shiniest Oldsmobile on Earth." With the help of Billings artist Rhondaveaux (aka Renee Scherrer), Corbett covered the exterior of the 1970 Oldsmobile with 694 mirror pieces. He laughs when he describes ads that say, `this is not your father's Oldsmobile.'

"This car really was my father's Oldsmobile. He sold it to my brother who used it for a family car around town and then I bought it from him," Corbett explains. "When I finished the conversion I showed it to my father. He took one look at it and said `it's a mirror image of a car I used to own.'"

Crowds gather wherever Corbett takes the vehicle out for a spin. Bystanders can't resist commenting or at least smiling when The Shniest Oldsmobile on EarthCorbett drives by in "The Shiniest Oldsmobile on Earth." One woman yells, "How did you do that?" and Corbett replies, "It's all done with mirrors."

Corbett's artist friend Renee Scherrer, who uses the nom de guerre of Rhondaveaux, joined him for the Fourth of July holiday in 1990 and spent three days of intensive work converting the Oldsmobile into the Mirrormobile. They set out to use Z-brick, thin finishing brick squares, to reflect the "heavy" character of the 1970s Olds body style, but they had more mirrors than Z-brick.

Also, the flat styling of the Oldsmobile lent itself to flat mirrors. Together they used 694 mirror pieces weighing nearly 200 pounds to cover 180 square feet of the car. They used 4,400 double-sided foam tape squares to hold the mirrors on until the mirro-mastic set up, using six or eight for each mirror. They used five tubes of mirro-mastic adhesive before the job was done. Using a chalk line to ensure that the mirrors were evenly applied, they completely covered the exterior with mirrors of various sizes. The largest pieces are 12 inches by 12 inches while the smallest piece measures 1/8 inch by 3/4 inch. "The project also went through eight glass cutters and two band-aids," added Corbett.

But, is it Art? According to Corbett, "The Shiniest Oldsmobile on Earth" is his personal statement of the extremes that most luxury car owners will go to with superfluous detail work and polishing their finish such as gold plating bumpers which are designed to get bumped and nicked. These cars end up sitting in a garage, too precious to risk a drive on the street. "I have tried to turn that notion upside down with this car. This car has a shinier finish than a Lambourghini, but if it gets a nick, then I replace a mirror square or two," says Corbett. The mosaic they achieved results in a kinetic effect where the car sometimes disappears into its surroundings.

It literally reflects the owner, or anyone else or anything that happens to be within the car's range.

"The idea was for the finish to disappear and for the surroundings to become the finish," says Corbett. "When it works, the car should disappear, even losing its shape. My dream is to take it to Las Vegas and drive down the Strip at night." Corbett is not alone as a car artist. All this art form requires is an inspired artist armed with an idea who decides to convert a working automobile to convey a message to anyone who happens to be watching when they drive by.

"People call them art cars, says Corbett. "I'm proposing that they really are art rods, after hot rods. Art cars may be more descriptive, but I call them art rods because it indicates that they are a meeting of two different worlds, where two different worlds overlap. Serious artists rarely get into cars as media and serious motorheads rarely get into art. Here the two worlds meet on the street."

A California filmmaker named Harrod Blank, son of Les Blank, has been documenting this art form for the last few years (see web site www.artcars.com). He has toured the country in search of car art, filming the examples he finds along the way, saving the best, including Corbett's "Shiniest Oldsmobile on Earth" for a film that he released titled "Wild Wheels."

As well as directing the film, Blank is also a car artist himself and a subject of the film with his own creation "Oh My God!" a transformed 1965 Volkswagen beetle that has been completely encrusted with plastic baubles and gewgaws and 25 different colors of spray paint. The globe that graces the front hood and the TV on the roof light up and blink and a loudspeaker unleashes clucking and crowing from inside the car whenever Blank flips a switch.

Blank named his creation "Oh My God!" because that is what he heard every time he drove down the street. He started working on the car in 1981 and continues to add to its embellishments. From a cast of dozens in "Wild Wheels" there are several stars such as The Mad Cad, The Coltmobile, The Button Car, The Lightmobile, The Grass Car, and The Fruitmobile.

The Mad Cad is the creation of Larry Fuente. From 1980 to 1984 Fuente worked on The Mad Cad, a 1960 Cadillac Sedan de Ville that he has covered with more than 1 million colored beads, shoe soles, shells and other objects and weighs more than 7,000 pounds. The designs flare out the back in tailfins that form giant pink flamingoes.

The Coltmobile is the creation of Ronald Colt Snow, distant cousin of Colonel Samuel Colt, of Colt .45 fame. The car is in part a tribute to his famous relative and in part a result of a long-time association with Alcoholics Anonymous. The Coltmobile is a 1966 Buick Skylark that has been converted into a pickup truck that is now covered with 1,045 horse figurines of various materials held together with bumper stickers ("One Day at a Time" "Easy Does It") and auto body putty. Snow has been adding horses to the car since 1976 and it now weighs 2 and 1/2 tons and needs 9 and 1/2 foot clearance when Snow drives it down the road.

The Button Car is covered with 100,000 beads of different colors and shapes and was built by Dalton Stevens, "The Button King," of South Carolina. Stevens likes to tour with his art car and his button-encrusted guitar. The Lightmobile is the creation of Eric Staller who spent five months installing nearly 1,700 light bulbs that flash and flicker on his 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. A computer connected to a generator in the back seat allows the car to flash 25 different patterns on command.

The Grass Car is the creation of Gene Pool, a performance artist. Pool applies mastic adhesive to the car's exterior and then sprinkles it with grass seed. The seed sprouts within a few days and for about two to three weeks he has a lush mobile yard when watered daily. Pool also sports a grass-covered suit complete with hat and tie that has been similarly treated to sprout leaves of grass. The Fruitmobile is the creation of Jackie Harris of Houston, Texas. True to its name, the Fruitmobile is embellished with plastic fruits and vegetables of all varieties. It is one of several art cars that Harris has completed over the last several years.

The Fruitmobile is also the official car of Houston's Art Car Parade. Every May, these car artists and others from around the country converge on Houston, Texas to display and compare their engine-driven art. In May of each year, about 500 art cars participate in the parade. Entrants are judged in several categories for a variety of cash prizes including a $1,000 grand prize for "Judges' Choice."

As well as being featured in Harrod Blank's film and companion book, Corbett has also received acclaim for his art car in magazines and newspapers in the U.S., Japan, and Brazil.

For now, however, Butte and the surrounding mountains are all that are mirrored by his creation.

"It's okay with me. I'm having enough fun with people's reactions here in Butte. There seems to be a universal reaction to car art that would be the same in New York as it is in Butte, Montana. I enjoy judging where people's heads are at by how they react to my car. About two percent react negatively, they shake their heads or something. But most people really enjoy it, particularly old people and kids. The most common comment I get is `isn't that illegal?' Lucky for me I tell them, there's no law yet against having a car that's too shiny."

The car is an elegant rebuttal to extravagant designs, much like his simple, affordable homes, spoofing the extremes that luxury car owners go to to add expensive, superfluous details to their cars such as gold-plated bumpers. As he describes future additions that include a flame thrower and a fog generator, Corbett stops to quote Captain Beefheart, "You only exist for the amusement of your friends."
This site is designed and maintained by George Everett.
© 2008 by George Everett. All rights reserved.

Return to Only in Butte