Fall into Art: Meet Lawrence L'Hote

Friday, September 17, 2010 | 2:31 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — If you wake up one morning and see a tall, white-haired man going through your trash, it might just be Lawrence L’Hote looking for art supplies. 

L’Hote, 70, who refers to himself as an artisan rather than an artist, uses discarded materials found anywhere, including flea markets and trash bins, to make his creations.

If you go

What: Fall into Art festival

When: From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Parkade Center, 601 Business Loop 70 W.

For information: Fall into Art

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“I consider myself an artisan because I’m more crafty than talented,” L’Hote said. "I’m 5 percent talent, 95 percent creative.”

His work will be on display this weekend at the Fall into Art festival at Parkade Center. His art is a combination of different media, using materials including wood scraps and sheet metal siding from automobiles. His studio — a converted garage — and backyard are testaments to his craft. Where others see piles of metal junk, L’Hote sees opportunities. 

“I’m a firm believer that it’s better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it,” he said.

In his “declining age,” as he refers to it, L’Hote keeps active working on his projects and volunteering to do yard work for two senior citizens and one single mother. 

“I’m working on my redemption,” L’Hote said, chuckling.

Looking at L’Hote’s work, it’s hard to imagine that he hasn’t been pursuing this talent all his life. However, he’s been making art for only the past 10 years. He has a bachelor's degree in science education and was a physics teacher at Hickman High School for 23 years before his wife became sick in 1999.

She was bedridden by 2000, and after finding out that she wasn’t going to get better, L’Hote decided to retire so he could take care of her.

“I needed something to do so I didn’t have to be away from her,” L'Hote said, “so I built a shop in the garage and made stuff.”

He eventually branched into woodwork and didn’t realize where he was going with it until someone called him an artist.

He hasn’t stopped since.

“Some people retire and do these pastimes — you know, the fishing and the golf,” L'Hote said. “For me those just don’t have any meaning. Art has meaning.”

On trash day L’Hote goes around and looks at stuff. If he likes it he picks it up and brings it home.

“I may qualify as a hoarder — but not really,” L’Hote said.

His favorite materials to work with are wood, coat hangers and auto body sheet metal. 

He makes his own frames for his pieces out of discarded wood. L’Hote makes a point of keeping the wood’s imperfections so as to preserve its authenticity. 

He often gets inspiration from magazines and contorts coat hangers into minimalist portraitlike sculptures of subjects from their pages. His favorites are W, Architectural Digest and The New York Times. 

His renderings sometimes receive criticism as being stolen or unoriginal. To that he replies: “Do you remember what Picasso said? It’s something along the lines of, ‘Poor artists borrow, great artists steal.’”

“I make my own renditions,” L’Hote said.

Lately, L’Hote has started to create jewelry from scrap metal and silverware. He said these pieces, along with used T-shirts he stencils on, seem to be the “bread and butter” of his art shows.

“I don’t make art because I want money, but that’s where I’ll get it,” L’Hote said.

There are many things one can take away from L’Hote’s art, but if he’s happy with it, that’s all that matters to him.

“I recycle, but that’s not the point,” L’Hote said. “You see something, and it’s just going to go into a landfill. I give it new life.”

“If people like it,” he said, "it’s icing on the cake and gravy on the hamburger.”

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