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Free spirit Byron Howes, an 'artist at living,' dies at 58

Byron Howes, 58, who resisted labels, described himself only as an “artist at living.” He died June 30 of a heart attack, his family said.

Howes family photo

Byron Howes, 58, who resisted labels, described himself only as an “artist at living.” He died June 30 of a heart attack, his family said.

ST. PETERSBURG — Like the consummate 1960s holdout he was, Byron Howes liked his time unstructured. He might stay up all night kneading his famous tie-dye T-shirts, which he sold at the Saturday Morning Market or Circus McGurkis, or swimming in Florida springs or writing songs.

Regulars at Gulfport's Blueberry Patch, described as Florida's longest-running artists retreat, frequently heard Mr. Howes playing guitar on a makeshift stage decorated like a hoarder's Christmas. Or you might have seen him at Pass-a-Grille beach, snapping Frisbees and going for immaculate receptions in the surf.

Mr. Howes, who resisted labels, describing himself only as an "artist at living," died June 30 of a heart attack, his family said. He was 58.

He relished wordplay, from his trademark "By-dye" shirts to a state of mind he called "Impeccaville."

"The Buddhists said, 'Let your words be impeccable,' " Bobby Howes said last week in a eulogy for his brother. "But Byron turned it into a place your mind can go. A fun place like Margaritaville."

It was also a game.

"Make a deal with someone you love," said Bobby Howes, 56. "When one of you starts wiggin' or whining or complaining or saying or doing anything negative, the other one can call 'Impeccaville,' and the whiner has to snap back to Impeccaville in speech and deeds. It works wonders for positivity.

"Eventually," he said, "you'll start calling Impeccaville on yourself."

Byron John Howes was born in 1955 in Tulsa, Okla., the fourth of five children. After his father died of a heart attack in 1957, Mr. Howes spent time in an orphanage in New York state. Sally Howes reunited her family and moved to St. Petersburg in the mid-1960s.

"I always thought he was the smartest one," said Molly Howes, 59, a clinical psychologist and Mr. Howes' sister, who described him as someone with a "big size, big presence, big intellect" and "outstandingly hippie-ish."

But those years of early uncertainty left a mark, his brother said, "compounded by being oversized and awkward, a target for bullies that left him with a chip on his shoulder and sometimes an explosive temper.

"He studied Buddhism to fix that."

By high school Mr. Howes was a blond, square-jawed football lineman who could have dumped a bully on his head. He went to Eckerd College, where he majored in pick-up basketball and partying but still graduated in four years. He lived in the Oakland, Calif., area for a while, volunteered for Ralph Nader and married someone to help her get a green card.

Mr. Howes returned to St. Petersburg in the early 1990s and became a regular at the Blueberry Patch. He developed a friendship with Patch founder Dallas Bohrer, a former designer with a passion for art and interdependence, or "sharevival."

"There is no one that loved Dallas and Dallas' ideas any more than Byron," said Peter Duffy, a Patch veteran since its founding in 1977. The three men took occasional day trips to Hardee County to visit artist Howard Solomon, Florida's king of nonconformity, and his aluminum-sided three-story "castle" on the edge of a swamp.

Eight years ago, Mr. Howes met artist Nola Flamingo at a "contagious laughter" workshop. They married five years ago.

"We were two strong personalities," said Nola, 56. "We butted heads sometimes, but we learned to compromise."

Mr. Howes spent the last day of his life playing his guitar, then throwing a Frisbee with his brother Bobby at the beach.

Scores of friends and family members gathered to remember him at Sacred Lands Preservation and Education Center, many of them wearing tie-dyes and Indian dresses, in sandals or bare feet. After the celebration, some retreated to a dock, played songs and watched dolphins feeding as the sun set over Boca Ciega Bay.

It was about as close to Impeccaville as anyone was likely to get.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

.Biography

Byron John Howes

Born: May 26, 1955

Died: June 30, 2013

Survivors: his wife; two brothers; two sisters; and nieces and nephews.

Free spirit Byron Howes, an 'artist at living,' dies at 58 07/12/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 12, 2013 8:45pm]
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