From Trash to Treasure at Gary Bowling’s House of Art

Last updated: August 30, 2021

An Egyptian coffin made out of a shipping container and a camel carved out of reclaimed wood are just two pieces of you’ll be able to spot when visiting The Queen’s Tomb, a themed area located on the third floor landing at Gary Bowling’s House of Art (GBHA).  

“The building is six stories, and there are three sets of staircases in the building. Each landing will be a journey into a different time and place,” said GBHA Director, Vicki Queen. “We’re working on a steampunk area and a medieval castle, too.” 

Two of the coolest things — and let us tell you, there are many cool things — at GBHA is that the work shown is by Appalachian artists (about 8–10 artists are on display in the public gallery space at present, including an exhibit by featured artists Tom Acosta and Jamie Powers) and much of it is made from recycled or found materials. GBHA folks refer to themselves as “the ultimate dumpster divers.” 

Photo by Nikki Bowman Mills

“Everything here started life as something else,” Queen said. 

To give you a little bit of background: GBHA is rather well-known around Mercer County and Southern West Virginia. Bowling, a Bluefield native, started the organization in 2008 with a mission to be a “vital resource to Appalachian artists” and offer opportunities for the community to “discover, experience, and explore the arts in an inviting and welcoming atmosphere.” 

“GBHA is constantly evolving — new people come in with new ideas and inspirations, artists come and go — this organization is a living, breathing organism,” Bowling said. “There is a core group that has been present for all 11 years, that has helped to guide and mold the House of Art by staying true to our mission.”  

The organization has been housed in four different buildings over the last decade, but GBHA now has a permanent home in the historic Ramsey School, located at 300 Ramsey Street, in Bluefield. Built in 1926 and measuring 33,000 square feet, The Ramsey, which has officially been recognized by “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” for being the “School with the Most Multi-Level Entrances,” is just as unique as GBHA itself. 

Photo by Nikki Bowman Mills

“Having a permanent home the size of the Ramsey gives us the ability to dream big. We want this building to become a destination for tourism, a community of artists, a resource for the community to experience, learn and explore the arts — all of the arts,” Bowling said.

It’s a perfect match, and the GBHA crew are excited to be “planting the seed and nourishing it” as they work to restore and preserve the building to be able to educate, entertain and inspire future generations. 

While it is a work in progress — ¾ of the building is unrenovated — visitors can still stop by and explore. Gary Bowling’s House of Art is open to the public on Saturdays (12–11:30 p.m. in October) and by appointment. Admission is free. 

New for 2020: In addition to uniqueness of GBHA, the One Thin Dime Museum (inside the GBHA) showcases local history of Bluefield, everything from coal to railroad.