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Conference & Stage Expo
For the Record

Not every car is a work of art, but Noggin Del Fuego by Brian "Visker" Mahanay would certainly qualify by almost everyone's definition. It was just one part of Houston's Art Car Parade.

Photo/Courtesy Jeff DeBevec.


Patently Peculiar,
Anomalously Odd,
Wackily Weird: Unusual
Sights of Houston

Janet Harreld
Houston Promotions Coordinator

Cosmopolitan Houston wants you to believe that it is much more associated with distinguished fine art and expensive taste; but the Bayou City has a sound, belly laughing sense of humor, too. Visitors can discover both aspects of the city during USITT's 48th Annual Conference & Stage Expo on March 19 to 22, 2008.

At first glance, Houston just doesn't want anyone to think that a city filled with fashionista, multi million dollar homes, and oil barons has a fascination, nay- a love affair, with beer cans, coffins and "art" cars.

The fun side of folk art and culture in Houston is alive, doing quite well, and snickering up its sleeve, thank you. While Houston can boast of the erudition of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston with its masterworks by artists such as Turner, Franz Hals, and Frederick Remington or the Houston Grand Opera with music by Verdi and Puccini, it can also look to John Milkovisch's Beer Can House, The Art Car Museum, the Orange Show Monument, or the National Museum of Funeral History.

The Beer Can House, at 222 Malone just off Allen Parkway in Houston, was painstakingly constructed by a man who couldn't bring himself to throw away perfectly good, albeit empty, beer cans. Mr. Milkovisch figured he may as well put those cans to another good use as aluminum siding - one can at a time. Starting in 1968 and continuing for almost 20 years, Mr. Milkovisch covered every exterior surface of his house and yard with can parts, pull tabs, and beer can object d'art. The Beer Can House in managed and maintained by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art to protect the fragile work.

In celebration of America's automobile culture is the Artcar Museum or, as some locals refer to it, the "Garage Mahal" located at 140 South Heights Blvd. Founded by a former director of both the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston and his spouse in 1998, the Artcar showcases some of the most imaginative, elaborate, and masterfully-constructed art cars, motorcycles, and other mobile contraptions found anywhere.

Never heard of art cars? Not too many people have, but they should be inspiring art objects after any designer's or technician's heart.

Art cars, and the parade which started the whole thing, are true flights of imagination and are only subject to the creative limits of the mind. The majority of the cars are finely crafted pieces, often still used for the auto's primary purpose; but the "cars" can be based on anything that has wheels from roller skates to classic cars and absolutely everything in between.

For anyone who happens to be in Houston in mid-May, a must see, along with 200,000 of your closest friends, is the Art Car Parade which attracts more than 250 entries from over 23 states and Canada.

And just to make it a day in the Allen Parkway/Buffalo Bayou area, stick around to see the quarter of a million Waugh Bridge Mexican free tailed bats depart at dusk for their nightly dinner hunt. Visitors can take a seat on the banks of the Bayou or rent a canoe and paddle up stream from downtown to watch these amazing creatures.

A bit further flung from downtown and the George R. Brown Convention Center are the National Museum of Funeral History (NMFH) to the north and the Orange Show Monument to the southeast. The NMFH's motto is, "Every day above ground is a good one." Although the museum has several serious artifacts and exhibits, the most fascinating one is the Fantasy Coffins.

Twelve coffins were crafted by Ghanaian artist Kane Quaye and represent the essence of a specific departed one: a fishing canoe for Quaye's fisherman grandfather; a leopard for someone who was strong and valiant; or a chicken representing someone with personal wealth. While the KLM Airliner is quirky, it's the shallot (yes, the vegetable roots and all) and the Yamaha outboard motor that have me confused.

The Orange Show Monument, 2402 Munger near the University of Houston, was erected by a local mailman to extol the virtues of his favorite fruit. The 3,000 square foot concrete, brick, steel, and found-object monument was single-handedly built by USPS employee Jefferson Davis McKissack and includes an oasis, a wishing well, a pond, a stage (can't you just imagine all the little dancing oranges singing out of tune in their squeaky, scratchy voices?), a museum, and, of course, a gift shop.

Not all of Houston's attractions are quite so odd, but maybe it's the wonderfully weird ones that allow Houston's personality to shine, if even in an off-the-wall kind of way.

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