Culture Compass

Taking a Master Class with Legendary Houston Sculptor Jesse Lott

Sharing decades' worth of wisdom over a game of dominos

By Jeanne Lyons Davis August 22, 2016 Published in the September 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Jesse Lott

“I’m an artist in the same way that I’m human,” says legendary sculptor and longtime Houstonian Jesse Lott. It’s the kind of thing the 73-year-old likes to muse about over games of dominos at Project Row Houses, the Third Ward nonprofit he co-founded with a group of local artists led by Rick Lowe back in 1993, as a place to make and exhibit artwork that largely was ignored at the time.

Lott peeks at his dominos and makes a score. When he started out in the ’60s, he explains, he knew he was playing a rich man’s game. “Materials to make sculptures were extremely expensive, so poor people couldn’t afford to be artists,” he says. “I created a technique that wouldn’t be cost-prohibitive.”

That method—often referred to as El Piñatero because of its resemblance to piñata-making—layers papier-mâché over complex wire frameworks using recycled and discarded materials to create human, animal and other forms.

The sculptures, known to some as Urban Frontier Art, have been exhibited around the country at institutions including The Alternative Museum in New York. Locally, Lott’s work has been shown at the Museum of Fine Arts, and he has a permanent installation not too far from PRH, at the Scott and Elgin Street light rail stop. 

Lott plays his final domino. He’s won, of course, and in more ways than one: The Art League Houston recently announced him as the recipient of its 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award in Visual Arts. “Art can change a person’s perspective quicker than a gun,” he says. “It starts with just one person.”

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