The Johnson Space Center, Mission Control, the discovery of oil in 1901 and the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world, are a few of the things that make Houston a world renown city. John Milkovisch is not a name that you will find associated with any of the aforementioned. However, this “jolly, beer-drinking Houstonian” has gone down in the history books for creating “a monumental work of visionary art that rivals any like it in the world.” After 17 years of saving, and over 50 thousand beer cans later John transformed his rather ordinary house into the now-world famous Beer Can House.
Nestled in a quiet neighborhood, The Beer Can House is now a permanent fixture in the Orange Show, a local center for visionary art. The transformation of the Milkovisch’s property didn’t start with beer cans, as the name suggests. It started with marbles. John, an avid collector of marbles (really. He had over 28,000 of them!) used his spare time after work and on the weekends to transform his driveway, and any other outdoor walkway on his property into a colorful, and bumpy, surface.
Then, he retired, and that’s when things escalated. Like I mentioned earlier, John enjoyed beer, and with beer comes cans and bottles. Lots of them. For 17 years John and his wife, Mary, saved the cans and bottles from their ritual of ending the day on their patio with a couple of cold ones. With a lot of time, and beer cans on his hands, John dreamed-up the idea of making curtains out of the cans to shield their house from the wicked Houston sun. And that’s just what he did. He made and hung beer can curtains, all the while his wife thought he had gone crazy.
Naturally, one thing led to another, and without any more room to hang curtains, John started siding the house with the leftover beer cans.
Then he made fences.
When asked about how she felt about the remodeling of her house, Mary said that so long as John didn’t bother the inside of the house she was fine with it. However, she did end up making her own contribution to the outside of the house, and it just so happens to be my favorite part. Using recycled items from her kitchen, Mary “planted” a lemon tree (in the right side of this photo you can see the marbles John placed on the sidewalk).
Mr. Milkovisch is someone I wish I could have met, and not only because of his artistic endeavors. From visiting the Beer Can House museum (which is the interior of the actual house), watching a video interview and reading a short biography of him, it is evident that he was one ornery cat. Speaking of cats, John’s neighbor put up a “Bad Dog” sign in his yard, though he never owned a dog. So, in response John, who didn’t own any kind of animal, made a “Bad Cat” sign and put it up in his front yard for all to see.
Here is a snippet from his biography that shows just how ornery of a guy he was. “John and Mary enjoyed going to Galveston. They would arrive early when the beach was deserted. John would go to the water’s edge and stick a water pipe topped with a faucet into the sand. Then he sat in his beach chair and enjoyed watching other bathers attempting to draw water from the tap.” I mean come on! Who would not want to befriend this guy! He sounds like a hoot! But when people began coming in flocks to see his beer-studded house he was baffled, and was even quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t go around the block to see it.”
While the Beer Can House was quite amazing to see, discovering John Milkovisch was much more exciting. There were several times as we made our way through the museum, that I bust out laughing while learning more about Mr. M. I love that we live in a city that rather than look down upon and ostracize an artistic display such as the Beer Can House, they took it under their wing and made it public point of interest. Beauty and creativity comes in all kinds of forms. Sometimes they manifest themselves in places such as the Sistine Chapel and in people like Pontelli. But sometimes they show up in people like John and Mary Milkovisch, in a place as unassuming as Houston, Texas.
All quoted information comes from The Visitor’s Guide to the Beer Can House, by Mark Hinton.