Live from the Magic Gardens: Linda Lou Horn’s Cast of Curiosities

Linda Lou Horn always dreamed of becoming an artist.

So when the long-time nurse,  elder care activist,  and gestalt psychotherapist decided to radically change up her life at age 50,  she marked the occasion with a two-mile free fall from an airplane.

16_07_08 1 Linda Lou Horn DC_5561Linda Lou with “Going Nowhere Fast” in her polka-dotted dining room.

 Now the much-exhibited, found-object artist – whose art-and-imagination-filled home we profiled last summer – has landed in a one-woman show at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens through August 28.

And you’re invited to meet her there this Friday,  July 15,  from 6-9 p.m.   (More on that in a minute….)

16_07_08 2 Linda Lou Horn DC_5842

And,  yes,  the bright, polka-dotted walls at the Magic Gardens gallery were inspired by Linda Lou’s home.


Like many of her fellow Philadelphia Dumpster Divers,  Linda Lou exhibited an early affinity for turning found objects into treasures.   As the oldest girl in a family of 10 children in St. Paul,  she loved accompanying her dad – who operated a rubbish removal business – to the dump.

Her mom taught her to improvise with whatever was at hand,  and Linda Lou created gifts for her nine siblings from her “great and wonderful” dump discoveries and from natural materials like pinecones,  milk pods and corn stalks.

16_07_08 3 Linda Lou Horn Magic Gardens DC_5820Still improvising:   Linda Lou’s Magic Gardens exhibit includes (from left) Bell – Member of the Stick-Your-Neck-Out Club;  WOF;  Trapped;  and PUR

Putting aside her artistic ambitions,  she followed her mom’s more practical dream of becoming a nurse,  and soon found herself advocating for under-served and neglected seniors suffering from nursing home abuse.


Linda Lou’s activism attracted the attention of Gray Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn,  and she moved to Philadelphia in 1973 to head up their national nursing home project,  teaching people around the country how to reform nursing homes in their own communities and writing a book called Nursing Homes: A Citizens’ Action Guide.

Top row:   Pearl Jammed,  Miss Priss Proudly Presents,  Trapped (detail).   Bottom row:  Miss Charlotte Cool,  Chasing the Bootie

After completing a Master’s degree in mental health nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, she went into geriatric psychiatry,  developing pioneering programs to address the psychological needs of older people.


But years of intense,  emotionally draining work and professional care-giving led to burn-out,  and so she symbolically free-fell into a new life at age 50.

16_07_08 9 Linda Lou Horn Studio DC_5499Where the magic happens:  Linda Lou in her second-floor studio.   The basement houses her wood,  tin and lamp shops.

A self-taught artist,  Linda Lou works with paper clay,  tin,  wood,  fiber,  paint and an endless array of found objects,  stalking yard sales,  flea markets,  thrift stores and Philadelphia’s trash cans.

Given the near-poverty of her youth,  she’s drawn to the concept of free and low-cost materials,  although eBay and the increasing overabundance of plastic trash are making the hunt harder.

But way beyond cost,  “my work is about discovering the old,  the broken,  the damaged,  that which was lost and abandoned,” she writes.   “The resulting metamorphosis is a fusion of perception and humor, a discovery of something new with value and worth.”

Top Row:  Ziggy Rings His Chimes,  Zelda Rings Her Chimes,  Ascending,  Voyager Exploring.  Bottom Row:  All in the Family  and  Meanie,  Mannie and Moe


But the attribute that perhaps most defines Linda Lou’s work is her faces,  modeled from air-dry paper clay.

“I like watching them as they develop to see who or what they will become,” she said.   “I’m curious about the struggles they have,  and I want to see their stories.


16_07_08 16a Linda Lou Horn

Yes.  No.

“Although my characters appear cute,  they are all metaphors of what we emotionally experience in our daily lives,”  whether that be issues of individuality,  friendship,  loss,  fulfillment or freedom.

“Finding the balance between the polarities,  the serious undertones and a playful spirit,  is always a challenge.   My 40-plus years as a nurse,  social activist, and gestalt psychotherapist help me see the possibilities and the best in the broken and discarded.”


Those issues also inform her private psychotherapy practice,  where she works with people searching for themselves,  just like her figures.

“If there’s anything I want to say to people,  it’s that we can reinvent ourselves.  We can,  once we know ourselves,  become who and what we want to be.”

Mom always liked me best:  Trixie makes it clear to the guy in the funnel hat that she’s the boss of Linda Lou’s lap.  If Linda Lou forgets to take a play break every 1-1/2 to 2 hours,  Trixie loyally reminds her.


“Cast of Curiosities:  Works by Linda Lou Horn” is on display at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens,  1020 South Street,  through Sunday,  August 28.   And,  yes,  you’re invited to meet Linda Lou at a public reception this Friday,  July 15,  from 6-9 pm.   Click here for details.

26_07_08 21 Linda Lou Horn Magic Gardens DC_5829See you at the Magic Gardens this summer…..!

Kate & Dave