Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project

Heidelberg Project – Tyree Guyton

42 Watson
Detroit, MI
Folk art neighborhood

Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project is still the best known, thanks to the millions of polka dots with which he’s blanketed his neighborhood. Trees, houses, streets and sidewalks all dotted up in a downtrodden part of town he’s determined to help heal through the power of art.

Created in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton and his grandfather Sam Mackey (“Grandpa Sam”) as an outdoor art environment in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood on the city’s east side, just north of the city’s historically African-American Black Bottom area. The Heidelberg Project is, in part, a political protest, as Tyree Guyton’s childhood neighborhood began to deteriorate after the 1967 riots. Guyton described coming back to Heidelberg Street after serving in the Army; he was astonished to see that the surrounding neighborhood looked as if “a bomb went off”.

At first, the project consisted of his painting a series of houses on Detroit’s Heidelberg Street with bright dots of many colors and attaching salvaged items to the houses. It was a constantly evolving work that transformed a hard-core inner-city neighborhood where people were afraid to walk, even in daytime, into one in which neighbors took pride and where visitors were many and welcomed. Tyree Guyton worked on the Heidelberg Project daily with the children on the block. He and director Jenenne Whitfield gave lectures and workshops on the project around the country. Their main goal was to develop the Heidelberg Project into the city’s first indoor and outdoor museum, complete with an artists’ colony, creative art center, community garden, amphitheater, and more. In 2005 the Heidelberg Project was awarded the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence silver medal.

Sadly, not everyone appreciates the art and message of the project. On May 3, 2013, the famous “Obstruction of Justice” house was largely destroyed by a fire beginning around 3:30 am. The cause was not immediately known.

Late in the evening of November 11/12, 2013, the “House of Soul” burned to the ground. The suspected cause so far is arson.

Early morning November 21, 2013, the “Penny” house was burned. The cause appears to be arson.

Early morning November 28, 2013, the “War House” was burned. The cause appears to be arson.

Late evening December 8, 2013, “Clock House” was burned. The cause appears to be arson.

(Information courtesy of Wikipedia)

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(Photos courtesy of Mike Murphy and Randy Mason, Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations)


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

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

“Fantasy Worlds” by Deidi Von Schaewen and John Maizels, Taschen, New York, 1999.

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

“Raw Vision Outsider Art Sourcebook”  Raw Vision, Ltd., 2002.