Bowling Ball House - Whimzeyland
Safety Harbor, Florida
In 1985 the house on Third Street was small, brown, and ordinary. Then artists Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda bought it and moved in -- and the neighborhood has never been the same.
The house is now the center of "Whimzeyland," a riot of bright paint, tile, and yard sculptures. It's also known as "The Bowling Ball House" because hand-decorated balls are a big part of the landscaping. Bowling balls are arranged in piles, wind along flower beds, and perch on pedestals, embellished with smiley faces.
Todd and Kiaralinda, childhood friends who lived a few doors from each other, moved to the cozy and art-friendly community and began Whimzey's transformation. They are full-time artists; part of the year they travel to art shows, selling their work and meeting folk artisans, painters, and sculptors. We lucked out when we stopped by; they were both home, and though busy, gave us a tour of the property.
The main house is painted in bright, happy colors, with murals of star fields and rainbows. The yard, which originally had just two spindly palm trees, is now layered with lush foliage, tile work, found objects, and sculptures. There are blue bottle trees, a fountain, junk art animals -- something unusual no matter where you look. And lots of bowling balls.
Todd and Kiaralinda recalled how that started: they were at a local flea market when they saw a sign: "10 Free Bowling Balls Per Person." They grabbed twenty, called a few friends, and quickly had 60 bowling balls. They lined their property, augmenting the black ones with patterns and faces. In their art show travels, the pair enlisted other artists to create bowling ball art. Over 80 participated; the results are in Todd and Kiaralinda's book "On the Ball." A selection of balls are exhibited in a small, musty building that they call The Bowling Ball Museum.
An adjacent gazebo was obtained from the old Kapok Tree Inn and modified to fit into Whimzeyland. It now shelters a performance area where Todd and Kiaralinda host concerts and events (a recent one, themed "Shock the Monkey," celebrated their 50th birthdays).
Whimzeyland doesn't stop at the home's property line. We'd noticed a house next door showing obvious signs of a Todd and Kiaralinda attack. Another house across the street featured a large sculpture of a peace sign. And still another house (Casa Loco) is filling with yard art and architectural embellishments, while a garage beyond that is painted in crazy colors…
It's not a case of copycat neighbors; Todd and Kiaralinda own these houses, too. They're a special kind of landlord, renting to kindred creative spirits. One structure is a guest house for visiting artists.
The original Whimzey house is densely packed with art, items made and collected: Howard Finster angels, a large sock monkey in a hula skirt, strands of beads, a series of Mexican figures holding bowls. The bathroom is a particular wonder. The ceiling above the shower curtain is covered with hundreds of glued-in-place plastic toys and figures.
As a place to live, it might've driven any previous owners nuts. But for mellow Todd and Kiaralinda, with her purple hair and infectious smile, it's a home base set up exactly the way they want. How many people can make that claim?
The couple is currently working with others to open a new downtown arts and music center, which will feature some of their sculpture.