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HOUSTON’S ORANGE SHOW


TURNS 30


Looking Back on Three Decades of Celebrating the Artist in Everyone


ORIGIN COLUMNIST | Jonathan Beitler I


f you’ve ever been driving through Houston and suddenly found yourself staring at a car covered in dancing fish or a pickup engulfed in tennis balls,


chances are the driver participates each year in the Houston Art Car Parade—the largest parade of its kind in the world. The annual event, celebrating its 25th anniversary next May, draws over a quarter million people out to witness more than 250 of these unique, majestic rolling works of art—made for the most part by completely unknown artists.


This very idea is the basis for the mission of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, the nonprofit organization behind the Houston Art Car Parade. The Orange Show exists to preserve, promote, and document visionary art and artists, and to create a community where vital expression is recognized and valued. Now in its 30th year, the organization is celebrating its many accomplishments in doing just that, while looking forward to the future of folk art and its place within the mainstream art world.


Dominique de Menil, oil heiress Nina Cullinan, members of ZZ Top, and East End funerary director Tommy Schlitzenberger. The first project in a series of many, the Orange Show Monument spent many years undergoing preservation and eventually received its listing in the National Register of Historical Places. A colorful labyrinth of reclaimed bricks, tiles, fencing and farm implements, it has played host to hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years for concerts, film screenings, poetry readings, and other artistic performances, and remains one of Houston’s most frequently visited attractions.


Six years after the Orange Show’s formation, the first Houston Art Car Parade came to life—a modest but inspired group of 18 car owners, a few skaters and very few spectators. Over the next few years the parade grew exponentially and saw artists, authors, historians and car buffs from across the country eager to travel to Houston to participate and document this outrageous celebration. A few oil booms and crashes later, Houston has embraced the Art Car Parade as a beloved annual event and it has played a significant role in helping to present Houston’s burgeoning art scene on a national level.


Photo: James Smallwood


Founded in 1981 by businesswoman and arts leader Marilyn Oshman as a way to rescue and restore local postman Jeff McKissack’s folk art masterpiece, the Orange Show Monument, the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art has become a magnet for artists, musicians, children, and anyone interested in expressing their own creative talents. A testament to the Orange Show’s draw, the original donors represented a diverse cross-section of Houston, including


While art cars were writing their place in history, the Orange Show continued its mission to preserve the unusual and was rewarded with the opportunity to save, restore and operate another unique site—the Beer Can House. Conceived and adorned over an 18-year period by John Milkovisch, a retired railroad upholsterer for the Santa Fe Railroad, the home had been transformed into an elaborate, beautiful and inspirational shrine to recycling with an estimated 50,000 beer cans (many of which were drunk by John and his wife Mary). While he considered his achievement more of an enjoyable pastime than a work of art, he enjoyed the attention


Photo: Mike Herrera


received from his neighbors and the surrounding community. After the couple passed away, the Orange Show acquired the Beer Can House and through careful restoration and the help of volunteers from across the country, returned the fading and deteriorating original artwork back to its shining glory and helped it become one of the most important and recognizable landmarks in Houston.


As the Orange Show reaches its 30th birthday, a new project is on the horizon— Houston’s first folk art inspired green space. Named Smither Park after the late John Smither, an avid supporter of the Orange Show, it is located on the half acre adjacent to the Orange Show Monument and is being designed by internationally renowned builder and visionary artist Dan Phillips. The park elements will be decorated completely out of repurposed materials like broken ceramics, bottle caps, tiles, and sea shells, in keeping with the Orange Show’s support for and commitment to artistic sustainability.


Just like the Houston Art Car Parade, Beer Can House and Orange Show Monument, Smither Park will be a place for people of all ages to see that art, like beauty, not only lies within the eye of the beholder, but within each of us.


WWW.ORANGESHOW.ORG OriginMagazine.com | 53


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