When you’re chillin’ in the big house there’s one thing you have a whole lot of — time on your hands. So you may as well fill the void by doing something productive and creative. Prison arts and crafts gift shops and web sites feature a lot of those behind bars artistic endeavors, and there is a crazy variety out there. Check out our picks for some of the most interesting inmate arts and crafts (click each picture to see more).
The Texas Prison Museum
The Texas Prison Museum features some really high quality handmade leather goods created by the state’s prisoners. However, it does strike us as a bit ironic that those items include leather cases for both handcuffs and mace.
Perhaps the wildest and most original art ever to come out of a prison cell was created by Mike McCormick. His insanely creative eyeball creatures are made from things like toilet paper and roll-on deodorant balls. You’ll swear they were made by Tim Burton.
Big House Art
When you purchase something from BighouseArt.com, “you are owning a beautifully handmade item that was made inside one of America’s Maximum Security Penitentiaries. In addition, you are encouraging incarcerated individuals to use their skills and talents to support both their families and themselves.” That sounds awesome, but we have to admit that buying a Ladybug or Bumblebee Purse made by a convict strikes us as a bit creepy.
Oddly, one of the best prison art galleries is Ebay. If you search for “prison art” you’ll find almost 750 items, including drawings, sculptures and carvings. Some of the coolest are the amazingly intricate ships made of matchsticks, including a giant five and half foot 6-mast model made by a “lifer” from Iowa that is going for $2379. Is there any way to verify that this stuff is actually coming from a prison? Who knows. But we can’t fathom why someone would lie about it.
One of the real problems for people who are locked up who want to create is getting their hands on raw materials. And that’s why you see a lot of prisoners getting really clever with what they use to create. Many turn to carving soap, and one of the best when it comes to cutting up these bars is Cliff Towers, who is doing 15 years in Oklahoma. His masks and pottery are wildly detailed and look absolutely nothing like the pristine blocks he starts with.
Ever wonder what the folks stuck in Gitmo do with all that free time? They actually have art classes there for the detainees, and the BBC recently published a gallery of their art. As you might imagine, the images feature a lot of isolation and a lot of visions of paradise.
John Wayne Gacy Art
Perhaps the most famous inmate artist of all time was serial killer John Wayne Gacy, whose clown paintings will make you never want to go to the circus again. A Las Vegas gallery actually has a site devoted to his art (johnwaynegacyart.com), where you can buy his colorful portrait of 7 Dwarf Dopey for $1500 or his doleful depiction of Charlie Manson for $4000.