“I had it in my mind to do something big and I did.” – Simon Rodia, Watts Towers

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Watts Towers – Sabatino (Simon, Sam) Rodia

1879–1965
1765 East 107th St
Los Angeles, CA
Mosaic environment
Built: c. 1921-1954

“I had it in my mind to do something big and I did.” 

– Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists, by  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, New York, 1990.

Simon Rodia called his “something big” by the name El Pueblo Nuestro. We know it as Watts Towers.

Using simple hand tools, cast off materials, cement, steel rods, broken glass, sea shells, pottery and ceramic tiles, Italian immigrant Simon Rodia spent the 30 years from 1921 to 1954 creating his masterpiece.

Upon its completion, when he was about 79 years old, Simon Rodia deeded the property to a neighbor for nothing and announced that he was going away to die. He moved to a small town near San Francisco and never returned to Watts again.

In 1959, plans were made to destroy the Towers but the community rallied and they were saved. Today, restoration is in progress and the site serves as a community arts and education center as well as a monument to its creator and the people who loved it enough to save it. The Watts Towers is one of only nine works of folk art listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It is believed that Simon Rodia built the Watts Towers to share something he knew as a boy in Nola, Italy…the Giglio Towers that were paraded through the streets in celebration of the Feast of San Paolino (aka Giglio Festival of St. Paulinus). The shape of the the land that the towers stand on is in the shape of a boat, and he had completed 7 of the 8 towers before he left.

The information presented here is a short synopsis of “Simon Rodia: Watts Towers” by Calvin Trillin that was included in an exhibition at The Walker Art Center in 1974. The essay and photos were published by E.P. Dutton and Co. in an exhibition catalog entitled Naives and Visionaries, out of print.

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(Photos courtesy of Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations)

Bibliography & Links:

“Detour Art—Outsider, Folk Art, and Visionary Folk Art Environments Coast to Coast, Art and Photographs from the Collection of Kelly Ludwig” by Kelly Ludwig, Kansas City Star Books, 2007.

“Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations Coast to Coast Travel-o-Pedia” by Randy Mason, et. al., Kansas City Star Books, 2009.

On DVD – Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, “Cali-Zona, Here We Come,” KCPT, Kansas City Public Television, 2007.

“20th Century American Folk, Self Taught, and Outsider Art” by Betty-Carol Sellen, Cynthia J. Johnson, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, 1993.

“American Folk Art, A Regional Reference” by Kristin G. Congdon and Kara Kelley Hallmark, ABC-CLIO Publishers, California, 2012.

“American Self-Taught Art: An Illustrated Analysis of 20th Century Artists and Trends with 1,319 Capsule Biographies” by Florence Laffal and Julius Laffal, 2003.

“Contemporary American Folk Art  – A Collector’s Guide”  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, 1996.

“Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists” by  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, New York, 1990.

“Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond” by John Maizels, Phaidon Press; New Ed edition, 1996, 2000.

“Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Environments” by Roger Manley and Mark Sloan, Aperture, New York, 1997.

“Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art—A guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources” by Betty-Carol Sellen with Cynthia J. Johnson, McFarland & Company, 2000.

“Sublime Spaces & Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists,” by Leslie Umberger, Erika Doss, Ruth DeYoung Kohler, Lisa Stone, and Jane Bianco, published by John Michael Kohler Arts Center and Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.

Raw Vision Magazine