All that we love deeply becomes a part of us — Cleveland “Flowerman” Turner

Cleveland “Flowerman” Turner

May 23, 1943 — December 1, 2013
Houston, TX
Folk Art Environment
Built: 2003-present

A green oasis beckons amid rows of ramshackle houses in the Third Ward, near the University of Houston campus. Cleveland Turner’s gaily painted house peeps out from beneath a riot of flowers, vegetation, and decorations that cover every inch of the small space available. The bright array clambers up elevated beds and balconies, spills out over the sidewalks, and radiates hope and good cheer into the neighborhood beyond.

Cotton, corn, squash, black-eyed peas, and sugarcane number among Cleveland’s “crops.” Watermelons, papayas, and peaches also thrive here. Zinnias, coxcombs, canna lilies, roses, and periwinkles add their seasonal colors. Pieces of packing popcorn stud the spikes of a yucca to make it appear perennially in bloom.

Cleveland, known to Houstonians as “The Flower Man,” embellishes his gardens with Christmas lights, tinsel, and ribbons, woven among the trees and adorning his front gate. An improbable flock of artificial birds, including ducks, flamingos, a rooster, and a heron, jostle for space on a porch with a wooden Mickey Mouse and Raggedy Ann.

Mirrors and painted bedposts sprout among the tangle of plants. Carpet covers the sidewalk. Flower beds that extend into the street bear edgings of concrete blocks painted red, white, and blue.

“My mother raised flowers. She filled the whole yard front and back with flowers,” Cleveland says of his childhood in Mississippi. “The other children would cut the flowers down, but I never would. I always thought, whenever I get to be a man, I’ll have my own house full of flowers.”

Cleveland came to Houston in 1961. “I was on my way to California and I wanted to see Houston. I thought that Houston was full of cows. I was going to stay a week with a friend, but we got to drinking and I never did make it to California.”

He became what he calls a “skid-row bum” for 17 years. “I slept out in a weed patch and in empty houses. Even then, if I saw a wildflower, I would take care of it.”

A vicious bout of alcohol poisoning that landed Cleveland in the hospital for five weeks caused him to reflect. Then and there, he says, he decided to join Alcoholics Anonymous and he made a pact with God. “I said if He would put me back on my feet and keep that wine bottle out of my mouth, if I ever got my life straightened out, I was going to get me a little house and plant me a whole lot of flowers.”

And he did. Cleveland passed away December 1, 2013. It was a great joy and honor to have met him. That corner of Houston will be a little less colorful without his spirit.

(Photos © Copyright 2006-2013 Kelly Ludwig, all rights reserved)

Bibliography & Links:

“Detour Art—Outsider, Folk Art, and Visionary Folk Art Environments Coast to Coast, Art and Photographs from the Collection of Kelly Ludwig” by Kelly Ludwig, Kansas City Star Books, 2007.

“Rare Visions & Roadside Revelations” (the book), by Randy Mason, Michael Murphy and Don Mayberger, Kansas City Star Publishing, 2002.

On DVD – Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, “Back to the Breadbasket,” KCPT, Kansas City Public Television, 2004.

“20th Century American Folk, Self Taught, and Outsider Art” by Betty-Carol Sellen, Cynthia J. Johnson, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, 1993.

“Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Environments” by Roger Manley and Mark Sloan, Aperture, New York, 1997.

“Yard Art and Handmade Places: Extraordinary Expressions of Home” by Jill Nokes, with Pat Jasper, University of Texas Press, Austin, TX, 2007.

“Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art—A guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources” by Betty-Carol Sellen with Cynthia J. Johnson, McFarland & Company, 2000.

“Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South”, Vol 2, Arnett, et al, 2001.

“Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond” by John Maizels, 1996.

“Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations Coast to Coast Travel-o-Pedia” by Randy Mason, et. al., Kansas City Star Books, 2009.

Folk Art Society of America

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