Mountain West Raw Art Wonders

So-called outside artists, often destitute, isolated or mentally ill, are driven by a primal, often-compulsive urge to create. Once obscure, the genre, variously labeled raw art or art brut, is now celebrated. The Outsider Art Fair opens January in New York. But why travel to New York when the Intermountain West is home to examples of awe-inspiring brut art?

Thunder Mountain, Frank Van Zant

A sprawling artwork sheltered in a grove of trees peaked with seven buildings (only three remain after an arson attack) and more than 200 concrete sculptures, decorated with bottles, automobile and bicycle parts, and typewriters. The work explores American Indians, their spirit protectors and their genocide. A giant handle is even built into a structure so the Great Spirit can carry it all away. Frontage road on south side of I-80 near Imlay, Nevada

The Crazy House, Anders John Miller

Miller created the garishly decorated house, also called The Old Curiosity Shop,  at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, it burned in 1913. 800 E. 300 South, SLC


Van’s Hall, Billy Van

Businessman Billy Van decorated his dance hall on the second floor of a garage on Main Street from about 1930 through 1940. The hall evolved into a wonderland of elaborate plastered shapes covered with thousands of bits of shattered mirror and glass in the shape of stars. From the ceiling hung a huge, mirror ball that was rotated by a prop of a miniature airplane. A tiny replica of the Salt Lake Mormon Temple rides above the ball. Main Street, Delta (not open to the public)

King of the World, Aaron Andrew

On a boulder north of Moab Andrew created a sculpture of himself in military regalia astride a horse in 1935. The figure’s buttons are small globes and a map of North America adorns his fur helmet. It is thought he died in the State Mental Hospital in Provo. Near Moab Springs Resort


Gilgal Garden, Thomas B. Child

Gilgal Garden, like much outsider art, finds its inspiration in religion—in this case Mormonism. And like much raw art, including Ralphael’s vision of Creation, it can be upsetting to those who would control the faith’s doctrine. It’s simply too weird and unsettling. Gilgal includes LDS Church founder Joseph Smith’s face on a sphinx. Enough said. 725 E. 500 South, SLC

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