Article by Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel. Published in the Florida Magazine, August, 1997

One of the casualties of our business is that we tend to think we've seen everything, which is a very limiting state of mind. But then we meet someone who has mutilated a perfectly innocent floor mop to make hair for "Jesus," and we realize what a sheltered life we've really led.

No, Don Howard, a 69-year-old Winter Park artist, is like no man we have ever met - which, frankly, given his fascination with skulls and what we politely call his "anatomically correct" carvings, may be a good thing.

"He went on a crucifix kick," says his wife, Joanne. "I came home from work one day and he had an 8-foot-tall Jesus hanging from an orange tree, and he was cutting up my new mop for the hair...We entered it in an art festival at the Winter Park Mall, but Jesus fell over and broke."

That was in the 1970's, and Don has since sworn off art festivals. After all, he reasoned, if Jesus isn't safe, what chance does a pagan wall relief have?

He does do galleries, though, and his latest artistic endeavor-those aforementioned wall relief's - is on exhibit until October at the Blue Room, a nouveau-funky nightclub, restaurant and cafe on West Pine Street in downtown Orlando. There, his bold, even bizarre, carvings of African, Mayan and Aztec masks and figures grace the walls and even pop up behind the bar.

They are bulbous-eyed, hawk-nosed, big-lipped, bejeweled, headdress-bearing, earring-wearing, wildly-colored composites of papier-mache, wood, wire, plastic, stone, tile and Styrofoam. One is built atop a milk jug. Some are rather enormous.

They have a sort of slap-you-upside-the head essence.

 "People are raving about it," says cafe manager Sheila McIntosh of the exhibit."Personally, I love it. All the masks are so unique."

For some reason, patrons tend to assume they are the work of a goateed, possibly tattooed, probably pierced 20-something- not a senior citizen given to khaki trousers and polo shirts and boasting a 2,500 piece beer can collection whose wife got fed up with not being able to vacuum.

"We had them (the masks) all over the house," Joanne says. "I even had to stick the real huge one in the van. Finally I told him: Just plain stop it."

Don, the reticent one, smiles. "That's before you knew there was a market for them," he answers.

He has always been a woodcarver, but for years he crafted mostly small, folksy pieces - a garland on a grandfather clock, a 'Noles plaque, a snake fashioned from a twisted branch.

Then he started on the religious icons and gargoyles and the anatomically correct pieces - and then the masks. Virtually every square foot of their 3 bedroom house is crammed with his collections of decades-old soda bottles, license plates, metal lunch boxes, clocks, hubcaps, swizzle sticks-and, of course, wood carvings and beer cans.

"We can never move," Joanne says.

He was an advertising manager for Eckerd Drugs, co-founder (with Joanne) of the Woodworks on Park Avenue (the shop closed about 10 years ago), and owner of landscaping and publication businesses. Lately he has dabbled in building koi fish ponds.

He sees no reason, at 69, to settle down. He will not limit his horizons. If, as the spry septuagenarian he will soon be, he should not find fame as an artiste, OK. If not, no matter. He works for his own pleasure.

"He'd give his work away for a quarter if I didn't intervene," says Joanne, his unofficial agent. As it is, the African/Mayan/Aztec pieces go for $85 to $600-quite modest in the gallery world.

He has never been to Africa, but he did take several trips to Mexico in his youth. So, did those sojourns to the south of the border lead him to the great ruins of ancient civilization and inspire his artistry, lo, these many decades later?

"No," he says, "I mostly went to drink."

The following are other publications featuring Don Howard. Please click on an image to read articles.

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