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Monday, December 8, 2014

The Hillbilly Gardens

Keith Holt's Hillbilly Gardens in Calvert City, Kentucky is an remarkable folk art environment created by a man who didn't even know what folk art was.   In fact the whole attraction was created on accident.

On my recent turbo roadtrip Hillbilly Gardens was my very first stop.  After driving 6 hours in the middle of the night, I came across the Gardens right as the gates opened at 8:00 AM.  As I saw the signs dotting the trees along the road I knew I was in for a treat.

The Hillbilly Gardens are a true site to behold, as an army of trees with faces greet you.

I pulled into the amazing folk art environment and parked in front of the Holt's home. 

I was cheerfully greeted by Dianne Holt who immediately begin the tour starting with the Museum built inside the old family store on their property.

The museum not only chronicles Keith Holt's family history in the area, but houses some of his collection of unique artifacts. 

Such as Keith's impressive collection of Billy Beer cans, including an unopened 12 pack......

A gun left by Bonnie and Clyde (possibly)

A "Buford Stick"

Some weird puppets.....

And the obligatory mooshine still......

Keith Holt would take over the tour from his wife and finish giving me a complete tour of the remarkable property.

Over the course of tour Keith would explain the history of the attraction.  Keith and Dianne would return to Kentucky after living in Los Angles.  Keith had amassed a massive collection of toys and had his sights set on creating a toy museum known as "Toyland".   The locals did not take kindly to Keith starting an attraction in their small backwoods community.  Keith begin to be hassled by local authorities for having junk in his yard.   Irritated by the idea of being run off of his ancestral homeland Keith found a legal loop hole that he could keep his junk as long as it was classified as art.  Keith started by decorating his old run down van.

Do to the heat put on by local officials, the original financial backers for the toy museum backed out.  This of course did not stop the local officials from harassing Keith about his junk.  Keith would continue to transform his junk into art.  This would quickly transform Keith's property into an unintentional roadside attraction.  Keith did not have a problem with the public's interest.  In fact Keith was a major fan of roadside attractions himself.   Some of his art directly reflects this, as their are direct homages to other attractions. 

Keith created his own version of the famous "Salvation Mountain" in Niland, CA.

Keith explained to me that one bag of concrete does not go very far.  He attempted to have the mountain say "God is Peace", but only got as far as "God is Ace"

We also have the "Lawnmower Ranch", a homage to the famous Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX....

Keith proudly declares that every one of these lawnmowers was blown out mowing this property.

Sticking with the lawnmower theme we have a self-propelled Hillbilly Lawnmower.....

I was assured that it actually works, but that is not easy to use.

Coming soon is Toilethenge, a homage to other roadside Henges.  

Keith mentioned that he was a huge fan of Mark Cline's work.

I really loved Keith's homage to roadside zoos.

 Topped off by the exhibition of Keith's bloodhound "Bear"

In addition to his sculptures, Keith also paints portraits of celebrities.

Keith told me if he doesn't like how the paintings looks he turns them into a clown.

Keith said that one of his friends told him that what he was creating was folk art.   Keith said that he had never heard the term "Folk artist" before and was insulted when he looked it up and found out it meant "someone who didn't know what they were doing".

Keith led me to a path in the woods and begin his infamous "Bad Pun Tour".  Here all his sculptures take the form of terrible puns.

Makes sure to watch out for SINK-holes.....

Here is "Technologically Impaired"

"Killing Time"

"The Re-TIRE-ment Home"

My personal favorite:  The Holy Rollers.....

Keith said that local law enforcement accused him of growing marijuana, which he responded by "Growing Pot"...

Apparently the police were not amused.

Of course this is just a small sample of the bad puns that lurk in these woods.....

The bad pun tour ends with a visit to "Toyland", as scaled down version of Keith's original vision.....

Inside is an overwhelming mass of toys, with several mechanical trains rolling through the masses.  Keith informs me that this is only 20% of his collection.

After giving me the full tour Keith set me free and let me spend as much time in the Hillbilly Gardens as a I wanted.  It truly was a unique and amazing experience.

What can I say?  This place is amazing!  Please check it out!

The Carpetbagger

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