Last weekend I attended a family wedding in Houston, Texas. In between wedding related activities, a few of us took time to visit one of Houston’s artistic treasures, The Beer Can House.
The Beer Can House, “Aluminum Siding, Twelve Ounces at a Time!”, is the work of John Milkovisch (1912-1988), who turned his bungalow and yard into a glittering, jingling, recycler’s haven.
Tired of Mowing
After retiring in 1968 from the Southern Pacific Railroad where he upholstered Pullman cars, Mr. Milkovisch began replacing his lawn with concrete. He poured a variety of shapes and embedded in them thousands of marbles, pebbles, and other found objects. When asked by a neighbor why he covered the entire yard in concrete he said, “I got tired of mowing the grass.”
Tired of Painting
Mr. Milkovisch and his wife Mary saved empty beer cans for seventeen years—Mr. Milkovisch guessed he would find a use for them. In 1975 he began “the beer can phase” of his life. Never to paint his house again, he worked daily for seven years, cutting precise rectangles from each beer can (saving tops, bottoms, and pull tabs), completely covering the exterior of the clapboard bungalow in shiny aluminum. Of the project’s beginning Mary Milkovisch said, “I thought he was off his rocker but I’m used to it now.” They worked out a division—John designed and labored outside the house, Mary’s domain was inside.
In 2001, after the death of John Milkovisch (1998) and Mary Milkovisch (2002), a team restored this little bungalow and counted 30,000 cans adorning the property, including siding, fences, planters, screens, and can-top curtains that tinkle in the breeze.
Call The Beer Can House a folk art icon, roadside attraction, folly, detour art, assemblage art, outsider art, or visionary art, its beauty for me is that this piece of art was a home, both decorative and practical.
CLP offers these books for further study, which may inspire you to visit folk art sites around the country.
American Self-Taught Art by Florence Laffal and Julius Laffal
Contemporary American Folk Art: A Collector’s Guide by Chuck and Jan Rosenak
The Flamingo in the Garden: American Yard Art and the Vernacular Landscape by Colleen J. Sheehy