In-Curiosity Stephen Stephen (1894 - 1964)
U.S. Highway 45, Aberdeen, MS, 39730, United States
early 1950s to 1960s
About the Artist/Site
“It takes a lot of nerve and good thinking to keep a project like this going,” said Stephen Sykes in a 1963 Ebony Magazine article titled “Do It Yourself Skyscraper.” The project he’s referencing was the “In-Curiosity,” his teetering, towering 65-foot home with six split-level floors. The reporter acknowledges the precarity of the structure but goes on, “once inside, the visitor’s apprehensions are dispelled by its sound construction.” The open-air structure crafted from a tangle of wooden poles and other found materials attracted curious passersby, and Sykes was ready to welcome them in his “reception parlor,” following what the reporter describes as an “alpine-like climb.” At the cutting edge of sustainability, he installed a rainwater shower, and his “air conditioning” was a repurposed smoke stack used to capture the breeze and redirect it to his room. He also created an improvised “telephone” – rubber hose with a funnel to speak into – so folks on the ground could reach him way up in his perch. His home was painted in bright and assorted colors and decorated with signage he created by punching holes in pieces of tin with messages like, “Don’t talk so much. Keep your mouth closed and your bowels open and believe in Jesus.” Installed at the greatest height of the structure was a “sheet metal ventilator from a sawmill that slightly resembles the crow’s nest of a ship.” Sykes could be found sitting up in the “nest,” using binoculars to peer out into the horizon.
As a young man, Sykes served in World War I as an Army cook, and then took odd jobs, including “sidewalk barker” for a pawnshop in Memphis. According to the Ebony article, he developed the goal to “build something great out of common materials available to anyone,” after being inspired by the construction of oil rigs. In the early 50s, he and his family purchased the 20-acre plot, and he began building the “In-Curiosity” to alleviate boredom and put both his mind and body to work. He was well supported by witnesses to his project, receiving building materials donations from people across the country. Like many environment builders – Sykes had lofty goals for this construction, hoping it would break 100 feet tall. “Somehow, I need to get several of those [utility] poles. They’re just the length I need to reach new heights.”
Sykes passed away in 1964, and according to the photos we have by Gregg Blasdel (who included the site in his seminal 1968 Art in America article “The Grass-Roots Artist”), the “In-Curiosity” began to collapse. There are no remnants of the site left today.
wood, scrap metal, found objects
Map & Site Information
U.S. Highway 45
Aberdeen, MS, 39730 us
Latitude/Longitude: 38.8056364 / -88.5081447
St Louis, Missouri