No High Art Here

Bill Christman with The Phony Tough Guy

It’s easy to find where Bill Christman lives. Strut over to the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood and look for the 8-1/2-foot tall fiberglass white chicken out front. If Christman’s not there, tramp to his sculpture park next door and see how old junk never looked so good. Rest on a park bench where the head of an old Big Boy statue towers over your shoulder.   Gaze in awe at “robots” scattered about made out of spare parts, or the twenty-foot-tall man’s head called “The Phony Tough Guy” holding a cigarette in its mouth. Nearby is Joe’s Cafe, a tacky small concert hall Christman runs in the first floor of the two-story-brick store building where he lives with his wife, Mary.

Bill Christman’s Indian

Now motor over to South Jefferson Avenue and Cherokee Street and gaze at Christman’s thirteen-feet-tall statue of an Indian. Add base and headdress, and the creation is twenty-one-feet tall. Drive downtown to the City Museum and wander through Christman’s Museum of Mirth, Mystery, and Mayhem.  Before the museum opened in 1997, Christman included an exhibit scrutinizing the mystical properties of the corn dog and a display featuring the world’s largest pair of men’s underpants. The text for the latter exhibit declared that ninety-eight percent of men wore underpants over the head, either as youngsters or as drunken college students.

It’s hardly high art, as a vignette in The Colorful Characters of St. Louis declares. That’s fine with Christman, who knows all the techniques of the artist, but would rather have fun employing them.  “In the high art world, humor is considered a contaminant,” said Christman, a low-art type who’s dedicated his life to spreading that contaminant.

Welcome to the Christman Abode.

Published by Jim Merkel

Reedy Press published four of my books, Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2010; Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans, 2012; The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, The Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch; and the Second Edition of Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis's South Side, 2014. They're available in bookstores and online. For an autographed copy, send a check for $21.50 made out to Jim Merkel, to Jim Merkel, 4216 Osceola St., St. Louis, MO 63116.

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