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The Collected & Collaged Home

An artist pastes together his story

By Cassie Bustamante

 Photographs by Amy Freeman

Just beyond the front door of Perry Boswell’s downtown Summit Avenue condo hangs a large collaged canvas created by the artist himself. The Dandy is a collection of black-and-white images from the late 1800s and early 1900s, including three photos of suited Black men — one with a handlebar mustache — and a photo of a behatted Black woman adorned in fur.

Why these images? “I would find pictures that had no story and, for whatever reason, they would tell me they need a story,” Boswell says. So he got to work, cutting and pasting, weaving in advertisements and minstrel music from the same era, plus notebook writings of his own.

“And here is the thing about putting your comments in a different time,” Boswell says of working with old ephemera, “you can say something really pertinent — what needs to be said about things.”

At a show of his collage work, Boswell once overheard a friend comment on The Dandy to a gallery visitor, “You know what, if you knew him, you would realize it is also a story about him, too.”

While the canvases decorated with his own two hands are created as a means to share a bit of his story, he’s drawn to art that does the same. Beyond the entry, his home unfurls like a gallery, art, thoughtfully curated, and one-of-a-kind treasures inviting the visitor to pause and take it all in. One of his quirkiest pieces is a carnival-colored painting of a two-headed man he purchased at the Fearrington Folk Art Show. Painted on an old door, one face features dark shaped brows, pale blue eyes, a serious expression and is as dapper as The Dandy, down to the handlebar mustache. The other, its opposite, wears a toothy grin, bushier brows and dark eyes. The humor, color and use of recycled salvage drew him to it immediately. But what made him purchase it? “I was figuring me out and it spoke to me in a way that we’re all two-headed because we’re many people in one,” he says.

And has he figured himself out? Dressed in a gray shawl-collar, chunky wool sweater, dark denim and stylish black glasses, Boswell, a retired Davidson County High school art teacher, is, like his house, carefully put together. The effect? Refined ruggedness — a phrase that could easily describe his home, too. What his ensemble can’t illustrate on its own is the comfort he feels in his skin. But just as creating art or a home is often a slow and sometimes challenging process, so has it been with his inner journey.

That passage, he says, has involved “a lot of change. It’s age. It’s a divorce. It’s a lot of things,” says Boswell. Still, he says he feels as if he’s approaching his destination “because I can be at ease with all the things I am.”

Since growing up in his parents’ house, built on his grandparents’ 100-acre Thomasville tobacco farm, Boswell has called a few other places home in his 61 years. As a newlywed fresh out of college, he purchased his first house, a charming 1930s bungalow in Welcome. Later, when a son was born, the family packed up and headed to suburbia. And when that son flew the coop, he and his former wife moved to Greensboro into a 1920s Latham Park home, complete with a backyard art studio.

“I like a place that has a story, a soul,” says Boswell. So it’s no surprise that when his marriage ended, a topic he opts not to touch upon, he knew exactly where he wanted to land — the 1922 Flatiron Building on Summit Avenue. Designed by Jefferson Standard Building architect Charles Hartmann, the structure, originally intended to house four family-sized apartments, now features eight units and, of course, Flat Iron cocktail bar and music venue.


At a potluck dinner hosted by fellow Sternberger Artists Center tenant Molly Amsler, who lives in one of the eight units, Boswell immediately felt a strong pull toward the building. “When I stepped into it, I knew I was going to live here,” he says. “I just knew it.”

The stars aligned and a street level unit with a porch view of the Greensboro History Museum popped up on the market just when Boswell needed it. But, he adds, it was by choice that he made the purchase.

A stone’s throw from his studio space at Sternberger, his new Summit Avenue home is within walking or, as he points out, trolley distance, to some of his favorite haunts: the public library, the museums and the booming coffee shop scene. “It seems like downtown is becoming little Seattle,” Boswell quips gleefully. Or, he can simply sit on his porch and enjoy the cast of characters that walk by.

That thriving downtown cultural scene is fuel for this artist’s soul. “I can, on a Saturday night, go down here and hear Latin music and see families dancing with each other. How wonderful that is!” he says. “Hearing different stories but seeing the commonality of it is important to me.”

As a retired teacher, where does he find the funds to support his collecting and coffee shop habits? Of course, he has a pension, but he chose to get a part-time job as well. During his 30 years in the classroom, he often worked side hustles — painting houses with his father or designing High Point showrooms — and relishes in the opportunity to interact with people. Shoppers, he says, love to talk to him while he works, allowing him to meet interesting people that might inspire his artistic work. Plus, “I know how to work an apron,” he jokes of his role as stock boy at Bestway Marketplace at UNCG, where he earned both his B.A. and M.F.A.

Is there a common thread that ties together the quirky art and vintage pieces that make his condo as much a museum as a home? He laughs: “There is a fine line between collector and hoarder,” but the furnishings placed throughout his condo and adorning his walls are clearly curated to tell Boswell’s own story. When making a purchase for the home, he doesn’t consider whether something will “match.” Instead he asks himself, “Will it give me something positive?”

As someone who has been to High Point Furniture Market as both a guest and showroom designer, Boswell says, “There are beautiful, wonderful, expensive things . . . but you don’t feel anything about it.” And as an artist who admits to a studio space where creativity is born of chaos, he’s made his home more of a gallery than a workplace, filled with art, antiques and oddities that give him what he calls “good energy.”

Back in the single bedroom of his unit, Boswell, who has traveled quite a bit in his lifetime, purposefully created a retreat that feels like an old European hotel. On its gray walls, his appreciation for fashion, especially vintage, is on display. Genuine 1920s drawings from Paris fashion houses, gifted to him by a friend, add a sprinkle of vibrant color to the serene space. And next to his antique oak highboy, a framed salesman’s sheet of sample bowties from, he guesses, the 1940s is paired with its perfect complement, discovered later at a flea market — a vintage sketch of a dapper gentleman in a bowtie, smoking a pipe.

Anchoring the space, an antique brass bed with simple white bedding is flanked by a pair of sleek mahogany-colored vintage nightstands. Above the headboard, on either side of a French-inspired sconce scored at Adelaide’s, two muted but colorful German prints featuring Arts-and-Crafts-era pottery and candlesticks hang, a souvenir from his many summers spent teaching at Reynolda House’s summer enrichment program. “I got as much out of it as the kids did,” he muses.

The bedroom’s counterpart, his white kitchen, is where he shows off his fondness for folk and outsider art. A set of clay tiles featuring farm animals created by local artist Leanne Pizio fills a skinny strip of wall by his back door. He takes one down and flips it over, revealing a simple saying on the back. “I love these for the tiles and the writings,” says Boswell. As luck would have it, he also scored a couple of bright Leanne Pizio chicken paintings at a second-hand shop.

Boswell opens his pantry door to reveal a hidden gem. “This is a Mary piece,” he says. Featured on PBS, Mary Paulsen is a coastal North Carolina creator who makes folk art out of found objects. Boswell’s “Mary” is a verre églomisé — backward painting on glass — merman. Art lovers from as far as Europe now come to buy her work, so he’s happy to have one hanging in his home and hopes to acquire more.

Across the hall from the kitchen, the dining room’s furnishings piece together, much like a collage, his own family’s history. A green-based farm table was rescued from his grandparent’s farm and served him as an art table for many years, moving with him from house to house. The table, Boswell knew, had been built by his great-grandfather and formerly used in a smokehouse to hold hams. He loves to imagine all of the conversations his ancestors have had around this very table. “Wow,” he muses, “if this thing could talk.”

Now, it serves as a place for Boswell to take his turn hosting monthly artist potlucks. At 700 square feet, according to Zillow, “My home is not big,” he says without a hint of humor at the understatement, “but I can have dinner parties.”

And what’s a dinner party without the perfect cocktail corner? Serving as his bar, a tool chest that belonged to his father holds various glassware. “When I found this, my father’s badge from work was in here,” he says, tears pricking the corners of his blue eyes. He opens the drawer and, with admiration, shows off his father’s Western Electric photo ID card. “Now, my father didn’t drink. He would probably have a stroke about this,” he says with a chuckle.

On the wall just above the cabinet? More quirky art, naturally. A colorful piece passed down from a friend features a bar scene that reminds Boswell of a Van Gogh work. When he placed it over the tool-chest-turned-bar, a chorus of yesssss rang through his head.

An unassuming, elongated octagonal ironstone platter on display in an open dining room cabinet boasts an unexpected story. “Maya Angelou lived in Winston-Salem and I went to the estate sale!” says Boswell, who paired his undergrad art degree with a minor in literature. Showing up on the last day, not a whole lot was left to choose from, but in the garage, hiding on a shelf, he spotted the plain white platter, which had a large chip. “I paid 25 bucks for it,” he says, and then took it to Replacements, Ltd., which, in turn, recommended a local couple who could repair it. He had it mended, but requested it maintain a little knick. “The imperfections of things make them much more livable and homey to me.”

Ever the collector, Boswell recently purchased an old glass cabinet from a Pittsboro shop, though it originated in an Albemarle farmhouse as a kitchen upper. Inside is a collection of vintage books found locally at Bargain Box. An avid reader, he bought the whole set and has been making his way through reading them — Thoreau, Oscar Wilde, Emerson and more classics.

In the hallway, which runs the length of his living and dining rooms, Boswell has turned the narrow passage into an art exhibition featuring more of his collected pieces plus a couple of his own. He points out a recent acquisition, a French lithograph featuring a rural autumnal scene. Across from it, hangs a lone photograph of Boswell himself, a gift from a filmmaking friend. In the image, he was caught unawares, head-down at a table in Winston-Salem’s Joyner’s Bar, sketching with an old fashioned, his cocktail of choice.

His rarest find, his pièce de résistance, sits at the very end of the hallway underneath a vintage mirror. A memory jug is a form of African-American folk art that pays homage to the dead and is crafted from bits and pieces of their life, almost like a mosaic. “I’ve never seen one outside of a museum,” he says.

Although this piece is likely valuable, that’s not the reason he bought it. So why does he call this particular piece his pride and joy? It’s simple — the story it tells.

“The storytelling part of all this old stuff is what is important,” he says. And Boswell continues to tell his story to the world through his paintings and collages. But perhaps his biggest piece of collage art to date is this very home: a series of bits and pieces meticulously crafted together into what has become his favorite — and likely his last — residence. “Our story is all we have to give each other. We come into this world alone, we leave alone and we’re lucky to have people to love in between. But if this is all there is, our story is all we’ve got to give each other.”  OH

Perry Boswell’s work can be found at Sternberger Artists Center and on his own website: