This lecture was part of the Divine Disorder Conference on the Conservation of Outsider Folk art that was organized and hosted by NCPTT. The conference was held February 15-16, 2012 on the campus of Northwestern University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art
Church: Alright we’re ready to get started back. Our first presenter after the break is Marilyn Oshman. Marilyn’s father opened Oshman’s Sporting Goods in the 1930’s, and she herself was closely involved in the business but art has been her real passion. Since the early 70’s she’s been involved in art and she’s been one of the staunch supporters of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Arts. We’re going to welcome Marilyn today to talk about, she’s the first of three presenters that are going to talk about the Orange Show in Houston. Marilyn.
Oshman: Well, good morning everybody. I do not have a note, and I am not sure what our group is going to flash on the screen but I hope it’s the Orange Show. We, I, came today because I was the founder for the Orange Show Foundation for Visionary Arts, and I’m really excited to say that we run two beautiful sites that are within…oh something’s wrong, Jason? Is it too loud? Oh…is that better? So I was just saying that I’m very excited to say that the Orange Show Foundation for Visionary Arts from Houston, Texas, operates two gorgeous sites that are inside the loop of Houston, the country’s 4th largest city. They are open to the public and they are active and they have active programming that involves our community.
When I think about all the sites that are being discussed here today, and I look back on the long history of how all this happened, I realize that I’m really happy I live in Houston. We have a remarkable city that really responded to two environments which were the Orange Show itself, which is one site on the east side of Houston, and the Beer Can House.
Two men working at approximately the same time, neither of them knew each other, each of them worked for aproximately 25 years to complete their work and we have been able to purchase them, restore them, and get them up and operating and attracting a large part of the community. A lot of people have asked me how and why this happened. We started with the Orange Show and I think that part of it is because I had an art, my introduction to the Orange Show site and to the…hello? the picture? oh where…excuse me…ok, the Beer Can House. I don’t know where the rest of them are. This is the Beer Can House. This is John Malkovich. Can we leave the lights on please? This is Jeff McKissack and this is the Orange Show, a little sliver of it.
Anyway, the director of a museum that I was very involved with took me to see what he said was the best work of art in the city of Houston. He took me to meet Jeff McKissack and to see the Orange Show for the first time. Jeff McKissack had been working on the Orange Show for about 20 years at the time that I met him, so it was four- fifths finished but the first part he had started 20 years before so it already was in what we would call, in need of attention but he was excited to complete the last portion of it.
He did finish it. He ultimately opened it to the public in 1978 in what he thought was a proper condition. Unfortunately he died within six months of its opening. When he died he, I used to go and visit him a lot, whenever, I was very involved with the museum, so whenever visitors came to Houston, every time I would, my job was to take people to visit Jeff McKissack and see this really unusual site in Houston.
So people were getting to know it, and that was a very important part of the reason we were able to save it and have it, have the, the history that it’s had. Anyway after his death, he never married, he was a man who lived alone, never married, never had any children, was very friendly, you can kind of see from the smile on his face and more than anything he loved the Orange Show. So every time we would take a person there it was like he was taking them through it for the very first time. That’s part of his own love affair with the property. It’s part of what I think was his great gift in communicating that to the people who came there.
Now I’m going to do something…ok…this is a little piece of the Orange Show, by the way, this is a little piece of, that we’ll talk about in a minute. Anyway he left the Orange Show at his death to his only surviving relative which was a son, a nephew, of a sister of his. The nephew was 75 years old when he inherited the Orange Show and had no idea what it was. I would like to show you a picture of the whole Orange Show, but I don’t know where it is. So we’ll have to see it in a few minutes. It’s not the one that I thought it was. But anyway when the man came, his nephew, Alex Hearst, he was an ex-FBI agent. I think the last thing he expected to inherit was a structure like the Orange Show. It had a small museum in it, a labyrinth, a pond, a steamship, it’s a typical environment which I think, I think that Conservative Solutions, Joe and Brice will show you when it’s their turn.
Anyway, the nephew didn’t know what to do with this and so he didn’t know if he should sell it, should he tear it down, should he just, you know, sell the property? But anyway, he was going through his uncle’s things and on the top of his uncle’s desk there was a note and it said, “Dear Alex, if you don’t know what to do with the Orange Show call Marilyn Rebuctkin” (that was my name then) and it had my phone number. He had been dead at this point for three or four months, and this man called me and he said, “My uncle said that you could tell me what to do with the Orange Show. ” I had no idea what he should do with it, but I loved the Orange Show and so I went to meet with him and after a year of, that was difficult, trying to figure out, I think he thought that he could make a lot of money by turning it into a food stand. I heard somebody refer to that a little while ago from another structure.
But anyway he finally decided that he would give it, he would sell it, to us. So I put together a group that included two of the most powerful women in Houston who were much older. I took everybody I could out there to see it and to say do you think this is worth saving? And they all said, this is fabulous, you can’t let this go. To start with, for the people (lady) who asked me how do you do this? I think you have to you have to build a constituency who has the same passion for it and people who are respected in your community who can help you communicate the message to a larger group.
Anyway, we did buy it. Twenty-six people bought it, We paid $10,000 for it and we contributed [it] all to a foundation so that everybody, all 26 people had put in, actually $500. When you stop to think about what the Orange Show has become and what it’s given the city of Houston, it’s like a great investment. It takes up a lot of time and energy to keep it going.
Anyway, so we opened it up, we restored it, we didn’t really know what restoration meant then. I wish I had done this before that, and I didn’t, and I didn’t know about all this, but we did the best we could. We thought we did a great job, and we had some local architects who were really, loved what they did. They fixed it up and we’ve been operating it ever since.
The reason I wanted to speak today was to talk for a minute about the importance of, we’ve won a wonderful grant from the NEA, and we are working now with SWCA Environmental Consultants and Conservation Solutions, Jo and Price. The questions that it has brought to mind are what I wanted to present to this group, which [ ? ] the fine line between doing the most sophisticated products from Dow that this gentleman spoke of (I don’t know what the name of it is) and matching that with the ethos of the place and the great marvelousness, charm, magic, that emanates from these environments from the hand, and to somehow integrate into the engineering solution, something that will reflect something of the artist as well as doing the most to stabilize it for the future.
A lot of these people, Jeff McKissack did not think, he did not think for one minute, about how long is this going to last? He only thought about what is this look like, what does it feel like, and am I going to get finished before I die? I guess that’s what he thought, although he thought he would live forever. As soon as it was over, he actually did pass away. I thought I would bring out the question about the ethos, about the engineer and the artist putting them together with this photograph. This is inside of the museum at the Orange Show and it demonstrates the problem perfectly. This model has her head under a deer head…can everybody…is it clear? Okay and if you notice that left eye, if you kind of concentrate on the left eye for a second, you’ll notice that it isn’t really an eye, well we’ve always thought it was a ping pong ball because the real eye had fallen out of the deer. So he didn’t have the money to go buy a new deer head so he simply painted a ping pong ball and stuck it and pasted it into the eye of the deer. The other eye was there and then you’ll also notice, it’s hard to see, that he tied the horns of the deer. They’re just tied on with a string.
Now he knew this wasn’t perfect, because he knew, but he needed to get it finished. So when you redo this, the question is, now that the skin and the hair of the deer is shrinking up, it’s been there for 30 years now, should we get a new deer head? Is that what we’re supposed to do when you stabilize these places? Should we put in another ping pong ball? What’s the deal? We don’t really know but maybe somebody here has an answer, and that would be really great.
There’s a whole lot more I can tell you, I don’t know, I didn’t make any notes as you can see. I’m talking right off the top of my head. I don’t really know what else to say except that what it takes to do this and keep it going for thirty years, is to develop a program that involves the community. Without the community and the neighborhood support, I don’t think there’s any way these things can have a real life.
I can’t, it’s very good timing that we’re following Watts Towers, because my first trip when I decided I was going to make a real effort, when Mrs. [?] says as she thinks this is good now and go do it, I knew I was going to do it. The first thing I did was to come out to see the Watts Towers, this was in 1978 or 1979, and I visited with a man named Seymour Rosen, who gave me a plan and said get a petition, go to the neighbors and make the neighbors sign it. And so we just went for three square blocks and we had a petition and we took people, we asked them, “Do you think that the Orange Show is worth keeping? Would you like to have it in your neighborhood? Do you mind having it in your neighborhood?” and everybody signed it, so that was the beginning and that developed a relationship with our community that has lasted all these thirty years because the kids get invited to things, whether it’s art classes, we’ll have a barbeque once a year for the neighbors. Anyway, that’s kind of part of how you get it done. Then after that, we did develop something called the Art Car Parade which has become a Houston favorite and now attracts about 250,000 to 300,000 people a year which really comes from the energy of these sites. Trying to explain this to people is very hard, but I’m here, and I hope that you guys will understand it. Anyway, I don’t have anything else to say, please feel free to ask me questions.
The Orange Show Foundation Inc. recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to perform a Detailed Conservation Survey of The Orange Show, an environmental artwork created by self-taught artist and postman Jefferson Davis McKissack. This presentation will focus on the history of preservation and stabilization of this monument, and present to the public for the first time the findings of the first Detailed Conservation Survey of the monument. This survey is the first item-by-item examination of the entire Orange Show monument by both sculpture and architectural conservation professionals.
The Orange Show is currently experiencing additional weather and foundation related structural and superficial deterioration in parts of the environment since the last major conservation and stabilization efforts in 1991. The areas requiring attention need to be assessed and analyzed so that appropriate conservation measures can be taken. In September 2007, an Architectural Assessment Report, funded by the Heritage Preservation’s Conservation Assessment Program, was completed. This report advised that “lack of a strong foundation is perhaps the largest problem for the Orange Show” and that “existing problems are huge, despite some major and valiant efforts through the first 25 years to conserve and maintain this unique outdoor artwork. The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art is to be highly commended for the care to-date for a complex and high-maintenance outdoor historical artifact”.
When the Orange Show was purchased, the best advice from the fields of conservation and preservation was to treat The Orange Show as a work of architecture rather than a work of sculpture. A prevailing philosophy of stabilization was decided upon by the founding Board and maintenance procedures put in place. With the many advances in both conservation and in the restoration of folk art sites, it is time for The Orange Show to thoroughly assess the state of this National Historic Site, assess and update maintenance and conservation procedures, and plan for long term structural repairs and object conservation.
The OSCVA is a 30-year-old non-profit organization originally founded to preserve and promote The Orange Show, a visionary art environment located in Houston’s East End. Each year our outreach efforts impact more than 400,000 individuals who participate in our programs, visit the visionary sites we steward, or line up on Allen Parkway for the Houston Art Car Parade. The primary activities of The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art (OSCVA) is the continued preservation and presentation of The Orange Show monument and The Beer Can House to ensure that these extraordinary landmarks will be enjoyed for generations.
Team members for this project include: Lynette Wallace, Executive Director and Ruben Guevara, Preservation Manager, Anna Mod, Historic Preservation Specialist, SWCA Environmental Consultants, Catherine L. Williams, Silver Living Art Conservation, and Stephen Fox, Professor, Rice University School of Architecture.
Marilyn Oshman, Orange Show, Houston, Texas
Marilyn Oshman’s father, Jake, opened the first Oshman’s Sporting Goods store in Houston in 1931, and Marilyn herself was closely involved in the business. But art was always her passion. In the early 1970s as board chair of the Contemporary Arts Museum, she was instrumental in the hiring of director James Harithas, an often provocative former curator at D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art who was a great champion of emerging artists and helped change the face of art in Texas. Since its inception thirty years ago, she has also been among the staunchest supporters of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, an entity that preserves such treasures as the Orange Show Monument, the Beer Can House, and the Art Car Museum and Parade, an event that attracts 250,000 people each year. The Orange Show mottoes, “Art for the sake of art” and “Art for everyone,” are the mantras she lives by.