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Paint Pedaler: How a 1980s Michelangelo Found Fame on the Ceilings of Old Victorians

In the Middle Ages, artists would travel from town to town, making a living by using stencils to decorate homes and other buildings. In the Victorian era, this architectural art reached its height in the lavishly painted ceilings and crown moldings that accentuated the intricate wallpaper of fine homes. Larry Boyce revived both the art of Victorian decorative painting and the lifestyle of the itinerant artist. In the 1970s and '80s, he traveled from town to town, more than 200,000 miles on his bicycle, decorating classic homes and making friends.

Charismatic, passionate, and uncontrollably self-absorbed, Boyce was the foremost decorative-stencil artist of his day, widely covered in the home-design press, which was always looking for colorful characters to cover. Because of his early success in the late 1970s and big personality, Boyce inspired equal parts love, admiration, frustration, and exhaustion among friends, clients, and competitors alike. Some got to know him only after he had knocked on their doors as a stranger and proceeded to talk them into letting him paint the ceiling of their foyer in exchange for a place to pitch his tent, three squares, and the “small sum” of one dollar an hour. Many of these roadside clients—there were hundreds—would call themselves Boyce’s friends, but the people who knew Boyce best were those who cycled with him from gig to gig, sharing the hardships of heat, wind, rain, tedium, and minimal personal hygiene that typify the unromantic side of traveling vast distances on a bicycle.

In fact, Boyce met two of his closest associates on the road during cycling treks. The first was Ken Huse, who was riding a custom-made Braxton bicycle from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles when he encountered Boyce, who was then in his mid-30s. “I met Larry in April of 1980 in the middle of the Mojave Desert,” Huse says. “He was going one direction, I was going the other. It was kind of rainy, so I was huddling beneath some boulders. Larry came over and introduced himself. I remember I had broken a strap on my toe clip and he gave me a spare. He was very friendly, verbose, and quite a seasoned bicyclist.”

As Huse remembers it, Boyce was also quite a self-promoter and proselytizer, even in the middle of the Mojave Desert in the rain. “He broke out a collection of magazine articles on his work and started describing what he did,” Huse says. “Larry was on a mission to re-create the venerable craft of stenciling and Victorian decorative painting. He was very, very focused on that.”

Read the story of Larry Boyce's extraordinary life and see some of his beautiful work at Collectors Weekly.


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