Huell Howser and the "Lint Lady" of Long Beach

by Cathy Franklin
Special to


(Jan. 8, 2013) -- California cheerleader Huell Howser shouted out the grand wonders of Yosemite as well as the use of lowly laundry lint to create life-size installation art, according to reports of his death late Sunday [Jan. 6].

Mourning the man who brought California's Gold and other programs to public television is Slater Barron, the Long Beach artist whose choice of degenerated fabric as a medium fascinated Howser.

On hearing of his death, Barron said, "I simply closed down. I couldn’t deal with it. I couldn’t think about it."

The two, she said, forged a relationship that spread from the strict perimeters of journalist and interviewee. Howser did segments in 1988 and 2007 that explored the way the Wrigley artist put her stamp on the state.

They weren't on the same page during segment one.

Howser -- possibly hearing about Barron's exhibit at Whittier through a press release -- contacted her and did his trademark take on the life-size pieces that depicted a living room and Barron’s parents. He did not touch on what was an underlying theme of Alzheimer’s disease, she said.

The figures, made out of upholstery lint held together with thin wire and sewing thread, were arranged on a couch. The walls and floor were covered in lint. The couch and a table, which belonged to the couple, were covered in same.

Example of works on and

"He was so enthusiastic" about the lint itself, "and did not realize the piece was about Alzheimer's," Barron said. "He was excited about the lint and I didn’t push it."

"He'd pick up parts of the installation, and say, 'Here’s a table made out of lint.'" Barron said. "He was so entranced."

After her parents' deaths, Barron wrote a book and sent a copy to Howser, thanking him for his support and letting him know what she was up to. He called back and suggested a follow-up.

At that time, Barron was showing near life-size portraits of her parents at a gallery at the medical campus at USC. The taping took place at the gallery and Barron's studio. The piece concluded with information on who to contact for information on the disease.

"It made for a very strong segment," Barron said. "That was always part of the reason for this work, so that people would not feel they were alone."

Example of works on and

The two later touched base, and Howser became "more personally friendly to me, as a person," Barron said. He would call occasionally on a birthday, and she returned his birthday calls and kept him apprized of her shows and activities.

Barron, who was married to a serviceman and had four children, began her career in art with painting and drawing, but switched to lint when she couldn’t get it out of her head.

"I was trying to be a painter and working in the garage," she said. "The buzzing of the dryer constantly interrupted me and it went from there."

Barron said that both she and Howser took something and made it their own.

The lint segments, merged into one, ran several times over the years. It seemed to be one of his favorites, Barron said.

The most recent airing was the day after Christmas, Barron said, "and I thought, 'What a nice Christmas present.'"

After hearing of Howser’s retirement last fall, Barron said she thought of him often as doing whatever he really wanted to do.

Recalling her first impression, Barron said, "I just felt that what you see is what you get. This man is so genuine. He cares about people. He loves life."

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