Dispatches | July 18, 2007

One’s person’s kitsch is another person’s art, a fact that was most evident to me when I was attending college in Branson, Missouri in the early ‘80s. First there are the Hee Haw-style country music shows with their religious and patriotic jingoism. The area also celebrates the illustrator Rose O’Neill, who retired there in the ‘40s. Her DQ-swirl-headed Kewpies are for sale in every gift shop up and down the ’76 Strip. And if, for some reason, you’re a fan of big-headed babies, drive a couple of hours north to the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage.

I thought I had escaped kitschville when I moved to Columbia, Missouri. But today, I read in a local magazine that a new housing development is underway of Thomas Kinkade Masterpiece Homes. Of course you’ve seen his paintings; they adorn upscale doctor’s and dentist’s office everywhere. His sugary world view of English thatched-roofed cottages nestled among snow-capped firs rendered in a palette of baby-aspirin pinks, mauves, and cornflower blues is enough to rot your teeth. It’s a kind of fake, forced, disingenuous beauty that dispirits the soul.

Move over Seaside, Florida, the real-life town that served as the creepy Americana setting for The Truman Show, and Celebration, Florida, a town designed by Disney–Columbia, Missouri’s got Kinkade Land.

According to the promotional material, buyers can select from houses inspired by one of sixteen paintings, most from his cottage series, including “A Peaceful Time,” “Hollyhock House,” and “Lamplight Lane.” The developers promise that families will feel as if they’ve stepped into the canvas.

Give me a Wright, a Gehry, or even a Gaudi, but please keep your Kinkade.