Lawn Party

Outdoor art around Bozeman.

You've seen it. A toilet rolled on its side with a splash of perennials pouring out of the bowl, lawns adorned with strange gargoyles and gnomes riding Harleys, not to mention the unusually ginormous air-blown snowman that engulfs an entire house at Christmas time. The question is, what exactly are we looking at, and why do some people need to put a toilet in the yard at all?

Perhaps the yard owner views his Port-A-Planter concept as a chance to express himself on a sprawling canvas of grass. But others may be appalled by such "yard art" and wonder why a neighbor would want everyone to think of his petunias when they go to the bathroom.

Regardless, yard art keeps the observer wondering, and at times, entertained. So two hours of driving, six pedestrian near-misses, and three dead birds later, we've boiled down Bozeman's yard artists into five categories – because depending on your style and taste, like anything, there are a number of different "genres" to appreciate within the yard-art community.

The Collector
Psychologists might point to this house and declare that the person has a hoarding problem and needs to appear on one of those "Clean Sweep" shows where the crew takes everything out of the house and lets the owner keep a spoon and some sweaters. But Collector yard artists will tell you that there is a theme; you just have to figure it out sometimes.

The Seasonal Decorator
These yards actually make quite a bit of sense and are at their finest during Halloween, Christmas, and Fourth of July. But there are two categories: the Revolvers, who let the decor linger until the next holiday comes, and the Competitors, who fight like stage moms at a beauty contest for the best light show and most creative reindeer placement.

The Random-Household-Objects Guy
The question here is whether the owner is decorating the yard or remodeling the inside of the house. True artists in this category transform unusual household objects (or old junk) into beautiful works of art – no need to waste anything, right? Bathtubs, toilet bowls, ovens, sinks, bed frames, and old windows are fair game. Mostly these are incorporated into a flower garden for more of an unusual yard display / will-use-anything-as-a-planter idea for flowers. This cliche says it best: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The Traditionalist
These folks are cut from the same cloth as anarchists and goth teenagers – they're the conforming nonconformists. Theirs are the houses with concrete statues of angels, saints, goddesses, the infamous little boy urinating into a fountain, and ornate birdbaths. Quite often, you see the statue of Saint Fiacre, the patron of gardens.

The Doctor Doolittle
This is where things get crazy. The sky is the limit for these folks, and their tastes include anything from pink flamingos, dwarfs, eagles, deer, elk, moose, bobcats, bears, shadow cowboys, wolves, and gazing balls to wizards and even life-size firemen. Most want the animals to look real. The technique there is to let the lawn overgrow around the wildlife to aid in the illusion of the wild, according to Judy Tyler, owner of Critter Camp located on Highway 191 on the way to Big Sky. What about the life-size firemen? "This happened after 9/11," says Judy. "Folks wanted to support the country, so they started putting these in their yards. We had four and now we're down to two. Like that wizard, we have these because of that Harry book. The kids want them in the yard."

The Yard Sculptor
The most well-known art in this category is the orangutan riding a motorcycle right out of the front yard of Jim Dolan's home on Airport Road. "Fifteen years ago, my kids and I created Clyde after [watching] Every Which Way But Loose," says Jim. For the most part, art in this category is metal work, created by professional sculptors, that often depicts animals native to the Rocky Mountain area, as real-looking as the bear in the airport, or a collage of metal and stone. The elk across from the mall at First Interstate and the horse at the Museum of the Rockies are good examples (and both are Jim's work).

People may hate yard art, but Jim is a guy who gets it. "It's been fun throughout the years. People passing through to Sturgis stop and take photos, some leave booze out there and one left poetry with Clyde."