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Lawrence 'Larry' L'Hote brought trash to life with sculptures

Saturday, April 13, 2013 | 7:43 p.m. CDT; updated 12:28 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 18, 2013
The sculptures are made from repurposed trash L'Hote would find in dumpsters.

COLUMBIA — Larry L'Hote fell in love with a Jack Russell terrier at the Central Missouri Humane Society. The dog, Sadie, immediately cuddled up to him, a perfect match for adoption. But, then, the bad news: Sadie had heartworms. 

"I don't care," Mr. L'Hote said. "I want this dog."

"This is how generous this man is," Mr. L'Hote's friend, Melynda Lotven, said. "He healed her heart, and I think she helped his."

Lawrence "Larry" Edward L'Hote, a former Hickman High School physics teacher who became a Columbia art scene staple with his sculptures, made of repurposed trash, died Friday, April 12, 2013. He was 72.

Mr. L'Hote was born June 13, 1940, in Columbia to Homer J. and Earlene (Patton) L'Hote. 

He graduated from MU in 1963 and spent 35 years teaching math and science.

"He was a good teacher," said Farah Nieuwenhuizen, a colleague at Hickman for about 20 years. "He was very serious in many ways. He was a kind person."

Mr. L'Hote retired from Hickman in 1998 to take care of his wife, Peg (Bobbitt) L'Hote, who died in 2002. He started making art to fill his spare time.

"It was very strange because he was never an artist," his sister Lynette Burgess said. "It brought out a whole new personality in Larry."

He started fashioning furniture and clocks out of wood. Mr. L'Hote eventually used recycled metal, glass and leather in his work, including a three-dimensional sculpture of a wiener and fork and portraits of women from newspaper advertisements. Burgess said Mr. L'Hote regularly collected materials, including wire and piping, from dumpsters.

"... There is beauty and usefulness to be found in the least of things," Mr. L'Hote said in a 2007 Missourian profile. "The process of discovering the potential in a material and crafting it intrigues me the most and gives me the greatest pleasure."

Columbia artists and gallery owners said that despite Mr. L'Hote's humble personality, he was an exceedingly talented artist. 

"He was brilliant," artist Josie Sullivan said. "He was always creating something new. He never stopped. I was always amazed."

Lisa Bartlett, owner of the Artlandish gallery, said Mr. L'Hote "had this very different take on things. His art was just like that, an incredible creative spirit."

Bartlett said she grew fond of Mr. L'Hote's dry wit.

"I guess you could never tell what was going on behind that sly, curmudgeonly smile," she said. "At first you'd think he was some big grump, and then he could really make you smile just with the jokes."

Diana Moxon, executive director of the Columbia Art League, said Mr. L'Hote exhibited at the league many times and sold "quite a lot."

At one event, Moxon said, Mr. L'Hote crossed out "exhibiting artist" from his nametag and wrote "trash artist."

After creating metal caricatures of celebrities such as Hillary Clinton, Fidel Castro and Barack Obama, Mr. L'Hote turned to airbrushing female figures such as Blondie singer Debbie Harry on T-shirts. 

He also sewed hip purses and pouches out of recycled goods, Bartlett said.

"He could turn anything into his art," Moxon said. "He's going to leave quite a hole."

Lotven, who makes art out of gourds, was ready to give up her art several years ago following her father's death. She put her dozens of gourds out by the road. 

"(Larry) helped me change my heart," Lotven said. "He helped me love my gourds again."

The two talked about their projects and became close. Mr. L'Hote attended Christmas and Easter breakfast at the Lotvens. 

"He became a part of our family," Lotven said. "He's lived many chapters, and I'm so honored to have gotten to experience this chapter with him."

Mr. L'Hote planned to open his own art gallery in the Parkade Center. His family will hold a private memorial there on Monday. 

Meanwhile, Lotven entered Mr. L'Hote's "Monica," a woman's face made with old car metal, in the Columbia Art League's Green show. Judging is Sunday. 

"You see something, and it's just going to go into a landfill," Mr. L'Hote told the Missourian in 2010. "I give it new life."

L'Hote is survived by his children, Andrew L'Hote and his wife, Nikki, of  Batavia, Ill; two stepdaughters, Susan Bobbitt Schumaker and her husband, Larry, of Overland Park, Kan., and Trish Bobbitt; a stepson, John Bobbitt and his wife, Clea, of Lake Ozark, and three sisters, Linda L'Hote of Columbia, Lynette L'Hote Burgess and her husband, Joe, of Plano, Texas, and Lisa L'Hote Schildt and her husband, Ulrich, of Redmond, Wash.; two grandchildren, Brady L'Hote and Hope L'Hote; five stepgrandchildren, Jake, Lou and Joe Schumaker, Dana Bobbitt and Kate Waltrip; and several nieces and nephews.

A brother, Leland J. L'Hote; a stepdaughter, Anne Hardie; and a stepgrandson, Matt Hardie Waltrip, died earlier.

There will be a brief service Monday at Memorial Park Cemetery, 1217 Business Loop 70 W.

Memorial contributions can be made to Columbia Art League, 207 S. Ninth St.,  Columbia, MO 65201.

Tributes can be posted at memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com.


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