Is It Art? You Decide At The Weylan Dowd Exhibit

Apr 5, 2018

This crying clown is painted on velvet. Weyland Dowd says the colors really pop under an ultraviolet light.
Credit Rebecca Thiele/WMUK

“Is it art?” It’s a question you’ve probably heard before, even if you don’t hang around in galleries. As part of Friday's Kalamazoo Art Hop, mysterious kitsch collector known as Weylan Dowd — who looks a lot like local artist Steve Curl — poses this question to viewers at his exhibit at Diekema-Hamann Architecture


It’s full of bargain home décor — the kind of thing you might find in your grandmother’s basement. Dowd has a dictionary definition of art hanging on the wall.

Art: Something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings

“It didn’t have to do both which I thought was really kind of convenient because I’ve seen a lot of art which was pretty but really didn’t seem like it was saying that much," said Dowd. 

A hooked rug of a unicorn hangs next to a paint-by-numbers of Jesus Christ
Credit Rebecca Thiele/WMUK

Dowd has several paint-by-numbers on display. He says Palmer Paint Company, based in Troy, Michigan, claims to have invented paint-by-numbers back in the 1950s.

Dowd says after World War II, people had more money and spare time.

“They were looking for diversions and they had been to Europe and seen some of the classic artworks and they just had to be part of that and start to create their own artworks,” he said.

Dowd’s collection also has a disproportionate amount of unicorns. In the exhibit, there’s a golden bust of a unicorn that looks very unhappy for some reason.

Dowd says it’s something you might have seen on a coat of arms in medieval times.

“For those who’ve studied heraldry, he’s actually looking to the left which is the sinister side, so maybe he’s looking at Satan,” he said.

Probably the most intriguing works in the exhibit are Dowd’s black velvet paintings. He says you’d be surprised to know that velvet painting goes back to the Middle Ages — some think it originated in Kashmir, a region known for its fabrics.

Weylan Dowd in front of a tapestry in his collection
Credit Rebecca Thiele/WMUK

“You can tell this is of some vintage because of the craquelure," said Dowd looking at a velvet painting of two cats. 

"I love that word, craquelure. It just basically means that the paint is cracked, but it’s cracked in a very aesthetic sort of way.”

Black velvet paintings didn’t become popular in the U.S. until about the 1930s. That was when Edgar Leeteg, an American velvet painter living in Tahiti, made his most well-known work.

“But he died in a motorcycle crash in the 50s, a suitable end for somebody in the passionate art world sort of a situation," said Dowd. "It’ll make the movie punchier I think.”

Dowd even has a painting that looks a bit like the crazed cats of English artist Louis Wain: 

“Wain was known for his cartoony scenes of cats in human clothing going about human pursuits and their foibles. He was a Victorian fellow and quite popular. H.G. Wells had a phrase. I’m going to quote it from this little placard. He says, ‘He has made the cat his own. He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves.’ I think that’s lovely.”

Dowd says these objects speak to him — and they’re so affordable. But is any of this art? Dowd says he has his opinion, but you’ll have to decide for yourself.

“Do people just not have enough art in their life in that they’re making these differentiations? What is it about that? I know like some people from the big city. Like if you go to Grand Rapids, Michigan, they seem to think it takes a lot of pennies to make good art, if you know what I mean,” he said.

Friday, April 6th is the public opening of Weylan Dowd’s collection at Diekema-Hamann Architecture. Dowd says his doppelganger, artist Steve Curl, may or may not be there.

"I’m not sure if Mr. Curl and I are going to both be capable of being here at the same time," said Dowd knowingly.

The exhibit will be up all month.