Congress occasionally designates a day or month to commemorate something: We have been in “Black History Month” and June is “Dairy Month.” There was a bill in Congress that would designate March as “National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month” and another to make September “National Gospel Music Heritage Month.”
Let’s have a “month” of our own, maybe “Joe and Pat Smith Wedding Month” or “Baby’s First Step Month.” Looking back at the last two weeks, I am calling February 2013 “Folk Art Month.”
Visiting Bill and Peg near Lake Placid, we drove to see Solomon’s Castle near Ona, Florida. Howard Solomon built his castle from recycled materials. The shiny exterior is old offset printing plates, and were you to pull one off, you could read a local newspaper on the inside.
Having heard about similar eccentrics, I thought he was someone out of the 1930s, but he is still there working on his projects. He made the stained glass windows in the castle and he filled the castle and ground with sculptures and bas reliefs, all from recycle scrap wood, oil drums and machine parts. He built a large ship to house a restaurant.
Your guide takes you through the castle using a script written by Solomon pointing out his art illustrating one bad pun after another. Bad puns are good, when you laugh, and we did at least chuckle a lot. A large lion made from oil drums stands over a metal bat, his “lion’s club.” A window filled with cameras is a “picture window” and so on and so forth.
I particularly liked his stained glass, and Alie was taken with his recreations of famous art from wood scraps. While recreations, they actually highlight his own artistic talents. Rather than just making a wood jigsaw puzzle version of painting, he creates it in three dimensions. And in doing so, he creates a new artistic dimension as well as a geometric dimension.
The first was the “Art Car Museum.” This year, Houston will have its 26th annual art car parade. It all started with a 67 Ford decorated with plastic fruit and now has over two hundred and fifty entries. The museum is a private gallery, nicknamed the “Garage Mahal,” founded in 1988 to house some of the cars and contemporary art that not might find its way to typical museums and galleries.
You have to see one of these cars to really understand it. The longer we looked, the more detail we saw: a row of buttons here, tea pots there; pearls and beads here and plastic statues there. First time visitors, we spent our time looking at the cars and really didn’t spend too much time on the art hung on every wall.
We then went to John Milkovish’s “Beer Can House” built between 1968 and 1988 and now maintained by a private foundation. Everything including flower urns by the street is covered in beer cans. It would have been more interesting if we hadn’t just been to Solomon’s Castle.
As the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the largest of its kind, was starting, we also passed a parade of men, women and children in Western dress on horseback accompanying several old wagons. But in our “folk art theme,” I was more interested in a passing “pedal party.” They have bars on wheels and the customers propel them down the street pedaling. They didn’t mean it as art, but I think Solomon would approve.
Eric and Kathy took us to a fine restaurant one evening, but during our sightseeing day, he took us to his favorite burger joint, “Cream Burger.” Operated on the same corner by the same family (mom, then daughter) since 1961, it offers great value and fun people to talk to. Burgers, fries and beverages for three came to just over eleven dollars. Take that, McDonalds. And it made my list of folk art.
Our last two stops were not really folk art. The first was at a field where sculptor David Adickes is storing some of his huge works, mostly all the Presidents from Washington to Obama. Eric thinks some are to line the entrance to Mount Rushmore. Adickes used to have his studio across the street, but it has moved. It appears the location will be studios for a number of artists. Just one was open while we were there.
Our final stop was at the Rothko Chapel, built by a philanthropist couple as a non-denominational place of meditation. It is decorated with the work of Russian-born American painter Mark Rothko. While I hope not to offend, I personally believe Rothko, Pollack, Rauschenberg and the like were outstanding marketers, not outstanding artists. Years ago, as we stood in front of a painting in Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art that was similar to those in the Rothko Chapel, a voice from the back of the crowd said “picture your message here.”
I like Howard Solomon’s work better.