Flower Man

http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/features/2088557

I was planning on going to help out on this project. Would have been fun. Damned Flu.

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Sept. 8, 2003, 9:21PM
Artistic ‘Flower Man’ gets new house, paint job, too
By ANDREW GUY JR.
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle Paint cans sit on the ground, tops popped off, brushes dipping in and out. Sledge hammers lift and fall, crushing the dilapidated columns on the porch and the tile floors in the entrance. Workers scatter, lifting, squatting, brushing, sweeping.

“Yeah!” the Flower Man answers.

The door is painted.

Bright yellow.

“This is the only yellow that will bring out the life of this dead house,” the Flower Man says. “And it brightens up this corner.”

Cleveland “Flower Man” Turner — a folk artist known for transforming his Third Ward home into a display of flowers and collectibles — continues to supervise.

The volunteers refuse to let him lift a finger, telling him to tell them what to do.

Flower Man, should I paint the ledge?

Flower Man, is this trim good?

Flower Man, what should I do next?

“Boy, I tell you,” Turner said. “This is a great day. I’m blessed to have so many fine friends.”

Turner is somewhat of a sage, grandfather and father figure to many. He’s also one of the few people able to convince 30 or 40 folks to ditch their Saturday morning and help with his latest project — painting his “new,” larger and future home/museum at the corner of Francis and Dowling.

Sounds simple, but it’s a project with a larger meaning. Turner, 67, has faced myriad problems with his current home on Sampson Street: run-ins with the city about art blocking the streets; burglaries from vagrants; fires set in the middle of the night.

The fires — which happened earlier this year — got to him.

“I was very, very hurt by that,” Turner said. “That fire was hard for me to get over. Here I am, trying to do right by people, trying to do nice things, and somebody did this.”

Police never caught the person who torched his house.

He still doesn’t feel comfortable.

“Every time the wind would blow, I’d jump,” Turner said. “I’d sleep with one foot in the bed and one foot on the floor. I was terrified of living there. Still am.”

Project Row Houses founder Rick Lowe said the fire bombings shook up Turner.

“I think he felt violated,” Lowe said. “He didn’t want to be there any more.”

Another house was found.

With help from the Houston Endowment, Project Row Houses bought the structure — adjacent to a tiny park owned by the nonprofit — for $40,000. Turner will be designated an “artist in residence” at Project Row Houses and will have more space for his art, flowers and visitors.

On Saturday, volunteers from Project Row Houses, the Orange Show, Rice University and others from the community met at 8 a.m. and began painting.

“Flower Man is awesome,” said Bert Bertonaschi, a local artist and Project Row Houses volunteer. “He’s this great human being with a huge personality. He’s a fixture around here.”

So is that house. A dilapidated squat bungalow, it was abandoned by a woman who had fallen into drugs. The house became an invitation for vagrants, drug dealers and the homeless.

But as volunteers plastered on the paint, Elton Freeman and two friends sat in the park, mesmerized by the transformation of the run-down structure. Freeman, who said he’s lived in that neighborhood for decades, said the house was an eyesore.

“I know one thing,” Freeman said. “That’s a new house. It’s just beautiful. We need more houses like that around here. I know the person who used to live there, and she didn’t really care about it. All kinds of people took it over after she left. I love the color.”

Speaking of which, what’s up with the color?

Bright yellow?

It’s an artist thing. Turner insisted on the best and brightest yellow paint. Which didn’t make it easy for Lowe and the other Project Row House employees, who spent days scouring paint stores for the perfect hue.

“I love Flower Man, but he’s difficult,” Lowe laughed. “He knows what he wants and when he wants it. You know how artists are. Unfortunately, it’s one of the more expensive paints.”

Kari Smith, an architecture graduate student at Rice University, had never even met Flower Man until Saturday.

“Architects are somewhat inhibited, so it’s nice to be involved in a project where you can use colors and go crazy,” Smith said. “It’s nice to see someone take a creative leap.”

Turner is used to leaps. By noon, the house was fully painted bright yellow — with green trim — and the insides will be rehabbed next. It’ll be nearly a year before Turner will be able to move in. Lowe said Project Row Houses is looking for volunteers to help with engineering, plumbing and electrical work.

“I’ve never seen a house in this big a mess,” Turner said. “But I’m going to fix it up. It’ll be called the Flower Man House, and it’ll be great.”

No surprise there.