2055 West Main St.
Houston, Texas 77098
February 20, 2008
To: The Ohio Historical Society
Re: Submission of Nomination of Jim Bowsher for the Edward J. Tiffin Award
Dear Nominating Committee,
I first met Jim Bowsher in 2004 on a visit to his amazing creation called The Temple of Tolerance, a visionary art and cultural history site located in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Located in a quiet residential neighborhood, Bowsher’s Temple is a unique combination of architectural landscape, material culture, and living history.
There are three major components to this environment, the first being Bowsher’s own home, inside which he has assembled a rich yet idiosyncratic collection of historical artifacts, with an emphasis on the city of Wapakoneta and the state of Ohio. This jaw-dropping home interior is not a museum in conventional structure or presentation; perhaps it can best be imagined as a hand-built annex to “The Nation’s Attic” - the Smithsonian Institution. The objects in the collection range from 19th Century scientific equipment to one-of-a-kind works of folk art, along with hundreds of books and paper documents. Alone, this house of wonders would be sufficient reason to honor Jim.
The second component of The Temple is an architectural landscape that Bowsher has constructed within the large property behind his home. This is the location of the monumental shrine from which the environment received its name. At first glance, a visitor might assume that the property is a geological phenomenon rather than a man-made assemblage. Massive glacial boulders mound up to form the central monument, dedicated to tolerance. Surrounding the main shrine are other features, including a stage for summer music performances, a Vietnam War memorial, as well as a Tree of Life, an addition constructed with the help of neighborhood children. Interwoven with the boulders and rocks are salvaged pieces of the built past, each with its own history. These remnants reflect a true history, not a sanitized one, ranging from profound to whimsical to evil; boundary markers of a Shawnee Indian reservation, fragments of the first baseball park in Cincinnati, a marble countertop from a bank that John Dillinger had robbed, as well as slab steps from a Klan meetinghouse.
The third and most important component of the Temple of Tolerance is Jim Bowsher himself. Behind each salvaged artifact are hours of research, and with each object, Jim offers not only a story but also a lesson. His storytelling is mesmerizing, with the zeal of a religious prophet.
In conclusion, my thought is not only has Jim Bowsher proved more than worthy of citation for his contribution to the preservation and teaching of history, but he could also easily be honored for his role as writer, geologist, architect, and philosopher. If there is an Ohio award for visionary, give him that as well.
Much more convincing than any nomination letter, make a pilgrimage to 203 South Wood Street in Wapakoneta.
(A brief introduction – I am an architect by trade, but once a year I organize public tours for a non-profit arts organization based in Houston, Texas to visit art, architecture, and cultural sites in different areas of the United States. In 2005 I made a second visit to Jim, this time bringing a group of 28 participants on a tour of Ohio. Our tour included respected art museums and masterpieces of architecture, but Jim and the Temple were by far our highlight.)
Thank you for your nomination consideration,