Alva Gene Dexhimer was born in Clarksburg, MO in 1931 and lived in central Missouri his entire life. As a five-year old boy, he fell off a tractor and sufferd a severe head injury. This accident led to major learning disabilities, which caused him to drop out of school after the eighth grade. The years he attended school were spent primarily drawing, and he continued to draw throughout his lifetime.
In his teens, Dexhimer worked for his father, who was a carpenter and handyman. with his brother Abe, he lived with his parents until they died. In 1972, his sister and brother-in-law offered the two brothers a space on their land near Syracuse, MO to place a trailer. It was at this time that Dexhimer began to construct a wide variety of objects from scrap wood, using only a hammer and a handsaw as tools.These objects ranged from doll-sized chairs and birdhouses to gunracks with wooden rifles and crosses with the inscription “INGODWETRTST” (the artist never learned to read. or write). These objects were painted with inexpensive housepaint or small cans of enamel brought to him by his sister.
These constructions were placed in the yard in front of the red, white and blue trailer in the hope that passersby would purchase some of the work. Occasionally, someone would stop to investigate. After allowing the visitor to look around for a while, he would usher him into a small shed behind the trailer which was filled from floor to ceiling with paintings- on cardboard, shoesoles and other scrap materials from a nearby shoe factory, paper, and plywood. Some were framed in elaborate, handpainted frames in an attempt to make them more saleable.
Dexhimer used a variety of sources for his work: He eagerly looked through newspapers, magazines, and books for images he liked. Comicbooks with a western theme were among his favorites, and movie cowboys like Gene Autry recur again and again in his work. After his sister purchased a plastic roadrunner windmill, he duplicated it in wood. He copied designs from stamps and coins, portraits of life insurance salesman from ads and occasionally made up written messages to ward off photographers who, he believed, could cause him to lose his social security disability income if the authorities discovered his business venture.
Several years ago, an Iowa artist accidentally came upon the trailer, and began to spread the word about this extraordinary artist. In 1984, Dexhimer’s work was included in FOLK ART/FOR SALE, an exhibition and sale at the Kansas City Art Institute, and in DELIBERATE LIVES- A Celebration of Three Missouri Masters at the First Street Forum in St. Louis. During the past few years, his work has found its way into numerous private collections throughout the U.S.
In his early fifties, Dexhimer developed diabetes. Complications from this disease led to a stroke and, several months later, to his death at 52 in 1984.