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Mary Paulsen, Bottle House

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  • Location:

    Lockwoods Folly, North Carolina, USA (Map)

  • Status:

    Extant

  • Artist:
  • Built:

    begun 1990

Visiting Information

Open 365 days a year, 9am-9pm. Free to the public. Call 910-842-9908



About the Artist/Site

Mary Paulsen, one of ten children of a shrimp fisherman and his wife, was born in Sunset Beach, close to North Carolina’s coastline. While she loved swimming and playing in the water, she ultimately lost both a dear brother and her first husband to the waves.

Paulsen’s family and neighborhood knew scarcity, and she first gained local fame among the neighborhood children by gluing together the china head of a doll owned – and broken by – her younger sister. Soon not only was she fixing the broken dolls of other neighborhood children, but she started her own collection of these outcast figures, a collection that grew to some 6000 dolls. In the meantime, in order to earn funds sufficient to raise her two children, she spent some 25 years serving up fresh fried seafood in Calabash, NC, the “Seafood Capital of the World.”

Rather suddenly, in 1996 Paulsen believed that she was being directed by God to build a “village” for her dolls, using recycled materials of all kinds. Ultimately she created a chapel (within which she was later married to her second husband), a Little Red Schoolhouse, a Soda Pop Shoe, a Train Depot, a Library, a General Store, and a “Make a Wish for Jesus Fountain.” Several of the small buildings house her dolls and other recuperated artifacts, including religious figurines. She has been helped in her endeavors by neighbors and friends, who bring her their castoffs rather than taking them to the town dump. She calls her combined works “Gonna make you smile art.” She paints on gourds, old frying pans, surfboards and boogie boards, plates, and old pieces of furniture. At the very least, she says, the local county bureaucrats should be happy that she’s saving them money by keeping castoffs out of the dump. Her imagery is primarily figurative, although she has also explored abstraction from time to time, and will often glue found objects such as broken shards of mirrors to the flat surfaces of the paintings. Crabs, fish, mermaids, shells, and swimmers figure prominently among her visual vocabulary. Each work is titled, signed, and dated.

Paulsen also uses bottles in her construction, and has created a bottle house in which the colorful containers from cologne, condiments, wine and beer, cologne, nail polish, and peanut butter are inlaid horizontally into the walls. The first bottle was added on October 5, 2008 and the 8000th on February 9th that following year. There are also freestanding vertical sculptures, planters, a well, and a ship-like form in the garden that is created from bottles, again referencing the sea and its importance to the local residents.

Two years after beginning her village, Paulsen believed that God was asking her to branch out, to do reverse painting on the recycled glass doors and windows rescued from the dump. At first her husband and mother weren’t happy about this new project, but soon she sold the first piece for $80, and they were happy to support her in her work.  Another building on the site, the Lighthouse Gallery, showcases her paintings. It is piled with works of all kinds: the colorful images jump out at the visitor from every angle; even the walls, floor, and ceiling are painted with images of flowers, boats, birds, and angels. And now that her children are grown, she uses her income to help other families and children in need. Among the charities she supports are Feed the Children. “This was a gift from God to me to help feed the children,” she has said. “He put His art into me.”

Although Paulsen’s “village” is located only five miles inland, and despite her self-taught construction skills, it has consistently survived the hurricane winds blasting in from the ocean. She welcomes visitors every day.

~Jo Farb Hernández





Map and site information

2431 Holden Beach Road
Lockwoods Folly, North Carolina, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 33.934598 / -78.294001

Visiting Information

Open 365 days a year, 9am-9pm. Free to the public. Call 910-842-9908



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