- OXO's Elegant
Homes, ARTBYOXO Posters and Bedazzling
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
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
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
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
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
- Robert 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
"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.
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 Corbett 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
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,"
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
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
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 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
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'
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."