Cleveland Turner, the Houston folk artist known as the "Flower Man," died in December 2013 at the age of 78, leaving behind a Third Ward house filled with his idiosyncratic collection of found objects and homemade works of art, which spilled out into his front lawn and attracted art enthusiasts from around the world. Following his death, the house came into the possession of nearby Project Row Houses, which had helped Cleveland purchase it in 2003. Although Project Row Houses looked into preserving the building as a house museum, it was soon deemed uninhabitable, and has remained unoccupied for over a year while the grassroots arts organization tried to decide what to do.
Last month, a mold specialist found a high level of toxic mold in the house, as well as in many of Turner’s objects. “We were actually shocked,” said Project Row Houses executive director Linda Shearer, who has been leading a panel of advisors examining options for preserving the Flower Man’s legacy. “Some of the artifacts had already been removed before we realized how much damage had been done.” Today, Project Row Houses announced that it would be bulldozing the house on February 7 as part of a public ceremony honoring Turner’s life.
Rather than turn the house into a museum, as was done with the Beer Can House by the Orange Show for Visionary Art following the death of its creator John Milkovisch, Project Row Houses is examining other ways to commemorate Turner. These include salvaging certain items from the house for preservation and exhibition, building a website and Facebook page devoted to his career, and installing a memorial billboard in the Third Ward’s Dupree Park. The most recent Thanksgiving Day parade featured a “Flower Man Float” designed by artist Philip Pyle II and Everything Records. The float now belongs to the City of Houston and may be part of future Thanksgiving Day parades.
Although Shearer expressed disappointment at having to raze Cleveland’s house, she said that the Flower Man’s impact transcends any individual building. After all, he had occupied two previous houses before finishing his life at the 2305 Francis location. “Without him, the house and the artifacts that are there have very little meaning,” Shearer said. “It was about him and the way he arranged the artifacts in his house that had meaning. As he once said, it’s all just stuff.”