Wednesday, November 3, 2010

ODDASEE - "Art Guy" Ponderings

Oddarinos and Oddarellas,

As you have gathered by now, the Oddasee was quite the experience. My last lengthy message sought to summarize the adventure and the many thoughts that it presented. As time passes, the impact of such a grand journey will continue to alter my way of thinking, seeing and feeling. As a curious human being that seems to be inextricably drawn to the "out of the ordinary", such  sights were a gift but as an artist, there was another level to the many encounters and visions.

NOTE: In these days of instant communication, we have grown accustomed to quick messages but be forewarned, this will be rather lengthy. It's just impossible to edit this down to a quick email, tweet or text message. So, if this long tome is bothersome, just hit delete now and not to worry. Art lovers and artists in particular might find something of value below. Enjoy or ignore at will......   Art people please slow down and let me share a gift with you. 

Art Ponderings:

Along our 112 day path, we visited very few "traditional" art galleries, museums or events. This was intentional but not a hard fast rule. Truth is, we we're seeking the non-traditional and simply just found ourselves addicted to the unexpected found in many of the non-academic or commercial art sights. As mentioned, when in Washington DC we did not venture into any of the Smithsonian art edifices. Our goal was to see the quirky, odd and less traveled venues; be they art or whatever. 

Setting aside the art/artist specific sites and sights, the journey itself altered some of my preconceptions and perceptions. I saw things that had been before me for decades as if they were seen for the very first time. The unique angles and perspectives presented by the Oddasee attitude really opened my eyes in new ways. From piles of retail crap in some Florida tourist trap to moss covered angels in a Missouri cemetery, my artistic eye was rejuvenated and perhaps, born anew. From subtle details like a spider web on a rusting gas pump to visual explosions on a grand scale like the "Forevertron", all permeated my artist soul in a manner deeply affecting mind, heart and soul. These realities may never fully be comprehended. I can feel them but need not understand them. 

Some of you have asked if my art will "change". Answer: Probably but may not be immediate or obvious. More accurately, my belief in art and the commitment to it has been reconfirmed, solidified and recharged. Seeing the artwork, meeting the artists and visiting the places and people that honor them was very heartening. These were so much more powerful than any of the many art openings, exhibitions or special events that I have attended (and as you know, I have been around that proverbial block....a lot), I cannot find the words to truly describe my feelings. So, I apologize for my feeble verbal attempts at what will never capture the complexities of my ponderings and emotions in this regard.

ODDASEE Art Perspectives:

The most treasured memories and sights are directly related to getting to meet some of the creators of these astounding sights/sites. The art was amazing but the humans that made them were the true masterpieces. I am wonderfully haunted by a few of these living treasures. It was a gift and honor to get to shake their hands and on occasion, talk with them. Hearing their life stories and about their artistic inspiration was absolutely beyond my wildest dreams. Imagine spending an afternoon with Picasso or having tea with Marcel Duchamp.... these encounters were of similar power, grace and sheer privilege. Though they will likely never have the fame of such art icons, they were no less committed to their art. Their need to express was equal in focus, conviction and sincerity. It often felt like I was walking around in some book or documentary. "Pinch me! This can't be happening."

Keep in mind that most of these artists do not know much about the "art world" or other artists. Few have any idea there are artists with similar devotion and vision. Susan asked me what I thought these people have in common. My response was "They are busy." Given the quantity of the work to be seen, it's obvious these people are not spending hours every day watching TV or updating their profile on Facebook or perpetually sharing snippets of mundane moments on their Twitter page. Most have had art as a passion for many years. Rather than rehash the circumstances of how we got to interact with these wondrous folks, I'll just include a note about how they have touched my art heart.

Note: Below are but eight of the many artists we met. Then there were the art places in which the artist was not available or had passed like  Brother Zoetl's "Ava Maria Grotto" in Cullman, MS and Dinsmoore's "Garden of Eden" in Lucas, NM. That's not to mention the non-artist specific sites such as "Vent Haven" (ventriloquist museum) and the "Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum"; these places touched my artist spirit in inexplicable ways.  

Human Highlights (in no particular order):

1. Vollis SimpsonGetting to see the "whirligigs" of this outsider art god has been on "must see" list for a very long time. I doubted I'd ever find myself in Lucama, North Carolina. Little did I expect to meet the man. During our visit, this very humble and quiet man did tell some of his story. He served in the Army Air Corps where her learned to weld. After the war he and some friends opened a business repairing and salvaging farm equipment. This led to an impressive pile of stuff that proved to be his "art supply store" for decades. At one time, he had a small farm but decided that it was infringing on his art time. So, he mounted large lights on the tractors so that he could farm at night and make art in the daytime. This 91 year man can barely walk now but he gets in his truck and drives to his workshop/studio every day. Yep, according to his wife, it doesn't matter if it's hot and humid or a cold and bleak, he works every single day (including Christmas and holidays). She said the only time he doesn't go to work is if on some rare occasion, they happen to be out of town. Vollis simply must make art to live; a true tole model.
Note: His whirligigs are astounding, whimsical and quite magical. 
2. M.T. LiggittHaving never heard much about Mr. Liggitt's work, I had no preconceptions about what we would find in a field near Mullinsville, Kansas. An amusing moment occurred as we were not sure if our directions were accurate. We came around a curve (one of the few on this Kansas highway) and could see in the distance a massive collection of steel sculptures. This outdoor "gallery" was over a third of a mile long and two or three pieces deep. It is a truly remarkable sight. At the far end down a side street sat the barn/workshop/studio of M.T. Liggitt. He is a very unique and larger than life character. He welcomed us in and invited us to watch him work. At one point, he elicited my assistance as he needed help balancing a piece he was welding; it was an honor.  Another retired military man that discovered his art after retirement. It was immediately apparent that this artist enjoys expressing his political opinion via his sculpture. At first we though "Uh oh! Better not bring up that issue." We saw pieces parodying/hacking Obama and Hilary. Then we saw others having at Bush and Reagan. This guy takes shots at everybody and every point of view. His sculptures are funny and ferocious. As an artist, once again I was inspired by his work ethic but even more impressive was commitment to "stirring things up" and speak his mind. This is done with a fervor and no pulled punches. He not only does he not care what anyone thinks of his art, he seeks, as he stated "to get their attention, make them think and maybe piss them off a bit." He has had over 40 lawsuits from locals wanting his work removed from public view - he has been successful in every case and thus can tell the naysayers to "If you don't like them, look the other way and shut up." 
Note: On our return trip heading west, we made but one repeat/backtrack over the same stretch of highway and that was to go visit M.T. and his sculpture. To our surprise, when we pulled up to his workshop, it was a charred pile of rubble. It had burned to the ground a few weeks after our first visit. He was not around to tell the tale and let us know he was not harmed in the conflagration. Later that night, we did find out that he was fine and that after an extended period of grieving of about 24 hours, he went out and bought new equipment and is back at work. M.T. Liggitt is now even higher up my artist hero food chain. Awesome!

3. Joseph Minter: Our trek took us into some areas that felt a bit intrusive or more accurately - "They might not take kindly to visitors." The artists were always welcoming and glad to show us their creations. After all, most of the outsider art is far from subtle or hidden. In a neighborhood found on a dead end street adjacent to a cemetery we found "The African Village in America". This outdoor environment/gallery was inside a chain link fence spread over at least an acre. We were greeted by both Joseph and his wife as they beckoned us in. What at first appears to be a vast pile of junk (some damn impressive junk by the way), actually turned out to be overlapping sculptural vignettes. Joseph takes his inspiration from moments in history. The primary themes involve African-American history, particularly in Birmingham. Specific installations memorialize the 1963 Church Bombing and Martin Luther King's stay in a Birmingham jail. There is also an area where all the installations are based on terrorism disasters such as the Oklahoma MeVey Bombing and the 9/11 nightmare. Mr. Minter talked to us and this gentle man spoke of being a man of peace. He said: "My work is to remember the moments where we lost our way. I want humanity to be at peace with our neighbors near and far." To see such devotion to ideals was very moving. In the midst of what could have been very deep and emotional, there was a lightness to this incredible man. Humor and laughter came easily. It served to balance the heavy themes of his visionary work. Another interesting aspect of our visit was that Joseph could only be with us in spurts. He was so driven/obsessed with his work that he would chat with us for a few minutes and then go back to his workshop and we could hear him (over the blaring Gospel radio station) tinkering, welding and pounding away on some component of works in progress. To see the artistic results of such devotion to one's, convictions, beliefs, dreams, hopes and opinions was a privilege indeed. Joseph Minter was a construction worker that many may judge as being a "simple" man but the truth is that his mind is vast and his heart is deep with a gentle soul as his guide. He reminded me once again of the power of art. 

4. Cecil and Bet IsonAnother of our unexpected travel treasures was meeting the Isons. On a side road off a side road down toward the end of off the beaten path sort of near Morehead, Kentucky, we came upon an "embellished" barn on one side and a "enhanced" fence on the other. All seemed quiet at first and the fear of being intrusive was rising. Then bounding out of the yard was the greeting committee - three overtly friendly canine members of the Ison family. After belly rubs and head strokes for all, we expanded our tour down toward the home and yard. Their were dolls hanging from trees, stuck on fence posts and a porch full of mannequins with various poses, styles and moods. There was a shed covered with, well, cool stuff placed with intent. The desire to get a closer look was growing but I did not feel comfortable marching into such obviously personal territory. Fortunately, my lovely and courageous companion, Susan, just walked right through the front gate and knocked on the door. Oh how little did we realize what that act would present. Cecil and Bet were so very gracious, welcoming and just plain friendly. We got a tour of two barns; one with a large work in progress next to the still functioning tractor (Cecil had just been out mowing hay) and the other an ever-evolving installation of "deceased" dolls hanging from rafters on tobacco drying sticks. Way cool! It was here that we were told of Cecil's current vocation as a "forensic anthropomorphologist". He doesn't just display random dolls but can tell you much about their untimely demise. As the tour continued, we learned more about their lives. Cecil has had significant moments in his past that influence his life everyday. Actually there is an article in "GQ" "The Long Shadows of War" ( about how being a Vietnam War veteran has impacted his life to this day. Due to that experience and our current challenges (aka: war) in Iraq, he has had to find ways to express himself and find inner peace. Part of that process involves making art and his "doll forensics". 
   After the tour of Cecil's workshops and various installations, we were in for a very unexpected surprise...... my research info mentioned his work but said nothing of Bet. Well in another gift from the Oddasee gods and goddesses, it turns out that she is a quilter. This certainly got Susan's attention and we were invited inside and taken upstairs to see some of her work. After seeing some traditional pieces, we got to see the good stuff, her art quilts. They are awesome. Along our journey we went to see quilt collections in museums, quilt specific museums and outsider/visionary museums that showed art of this particular ilk. None were more impressive that those of Bet Ison. They were theme based and quite poignant. So, there we were in a small (and very hot) upstairs bedroom seeing some of the most powerful art of our entire adventure. Her work is worthy of any museum collection and hopefully somehow it soon reaches a much wider audience.
   Bet and Cecil treated us like old friends and their hospitality made us regret ever having to leave. However, their life and art will remain an inspiration for a lifetime. To see the sincere emotional and thoughtful expression of Bet's art quilts was certainly memorable; to say the least. To see how art is a significant part of Cecil's life and perhaps, part of the his healing process, was something that could only have been truly experienced face to face. Again, what a gift they were.         

5. The Gee's Bend LadiesThis day will be impossible to due justice to; both verbally and visually. Firstly, my trusty art weapon of choice for Oddasee, was not available as no photography is allowed. Add to the lack of "a picture is worth a thousand words" freedom, my limited use of language will simply not be able to adequately express this experience. As was often the case on our journey, there was a symbiotic relationship between your Oddasee guides. At times, my desires led Susan into worlds that she may not have ventured to on her own. The same must be said about her taking me to places and opening doors that I would have missed. Our visit to Gee's Bend is the most glaring example of this wonderful symbiosis. Near Selma, Alabama at the literal dead end of an isolated road sits Gee's Bend (aka: Boykin). This very small town/area is historic largely in part due to Civil Rights issues in the early 60's. It is also known internationally due to the incredible quilts that are produced there. The story is fascinating and I encourage you all to look into it. The reason this day made my list of "most influential" is directly related to not only the quilts but to the women that make them. Though they are world renowned and anything but off the radar, their everyday world is like stepping back in time. We drove into a reality almost completely foreign to our own. People like to throw around words like community and "arts community". Well in this case a more apt terminology would be "art as community". In a very small building that serves meals to the needy and as a meeting place, several days a week a group of ladies get together and quilt. This is the essence of what it means to do a "group project". On average 4-8 women are working on one quilt together. I do not know how they decide which design to work on but from their conversation, it sounds like some sort of rotation and/or group selection. The designs have enough in common to identify them as "Gee's Bend" quilts but each woman has her own design style. To be able to sit and watch like the proverbial "fly on the wall" was indeed a rare opportunity to watch art happen. Susan sat in the ring as they talked and worked like a finely tuned human machine. In time, we blended in and they talked almost as if we were not there. The conversations got personal and even a covered a bit of gossip. One older woman in the meeting hall would occasionally break into song acapella and dance around the room. A time machine it was. To see art being produced in such a communal way and with virtually no technology much beyond needles and scissors, was mind-boggling and refreshing (not a Mac or PC within sight). I truly felt like I was allowed to step into a time from long ago. To be afforded such an experience was a privilege that touched me deeply. My heart and eyes will never be the same. Note: Due to the photo limitations, there is little I can share with you. I did take the liberty of finding some pics on the internet (my Mac does have it's moments).    

6. Casey MarquezThis is a case (so to speak; my apologies to Casey) where the human was more noteworthy than his actual artwork. Mr. Casemiro Marquez is more of a creative interior designer and lifescape architect than mere artist. His yard is a humorous and slightly macabre tinged installation. Hanging in trees, heaped on the ground, suspended on a clotheslines and nailed to walls are hundreds of stuffed animals and characters. Another aspect of "Casa de Colores" in Las Vegas New Mexico is how he uses spray paint. Objects are enhanced by wild colors. There are dots, stripes and squiggles everywhere. As mentioned, it's amusing to see Warner Brothers and Disney characters hanging in trees and lumped together in bizarre scenes. Add to that the ravages of weather, dust, bright NM sunshine and the loudly crackling radio tuned into a Spanish station and you get quite a remarkable sensory wonderland. Yet all of this pales in comparison to the creator of such a magnificently unique environment. In a very real way, Casey is an integral part of his art. He is part of a kinetic sculpture of his own making. Part unintentional theater and part just living life, neither he nor his art exist completely independent of each other. This gentle man truly has a sparkle in his eyes. He is friendly but so much more than that. He is open, authentic and sincere on a level I am not sure I have ever experienced. When he invited us into his home, I felt very privileged but not intrusive. He wanted to share part of his private life/world with no fear or expectation. To see the domain of a man that has so little and yet so much, was deeply humbling. He lives in such a simple way but has once again allowed his art to embellish his living space in a manner that is not separate but integral. It came as no surprise that this engaging soul has people in the community helping him with some of the essentials like food, cleaning and other mundane life requirements. That said, there was absolutely no sense that Casey wanted anything from us. He never uttered a negative word about his life. He was a genuinely proud but humble man - try that someday. He shared tales of his life and there was no sense of regret, resentment or entitlement of any kind. I can't recall ever meeting anyone that made me wish I had something to give him. I wanted to give something to this precious soul but was at totally baffled as to what that should/could be. The little gift I did give was so sincerely appreciated that I was taken aback and deeply moved. Never have I been so touched by someone saying "God bless you" than when Mr. Casey Marquez looked me in the eye and uttered those oft used words. Once again, it was art that served as the link that brought me to one of the most memorable experiences in my life. To have met this man speaks to the magic of art. My oh my oh my......   

 7. Tom EveryMy research did not offer much in the way of visual info about "The Forevertron" by Dr. Evermore. I did not have high or low expectations. This site just appeared on a list with an address. Aside from a couple of small found object steel sculptures, the drive down that nondescript dirt road led our weary Oddasee spirits to not expect anything all that special. Oh how very wrong we were...... The next bend exposed a sight that absolutely blew me away. When asked by friends to pick an Oddasee trip "favorite" the one that comes to mind is the "Forevertron". How many times as an adult have you had an actual "jaw dropping" moment? How many times in your life have you seen a piece of art that was so incredible that it left you completely thunderstruck (definition: overwhelmed by a flood of emotions)? Well I almost drove off the road. I was in total awe. The truck almost had to park itself as I had to get out and see this creation NOW! Like an moth drawn to a flame, I had to get closer. It was such an amazing sight that I even forgot to get the camera. Oh my Gawd! Well as memorable as that sight was, it only got better and I will always be grateful for getting to meet and spend an afternoon with Tom Every (aka: Dr. Evermore). As we sat under that tarp and talked with this artist, we learned much about his life, family and art. Mr. Every seemed very comfortable in sharing details from his life. A sad reality is that as the result of a recent stroke, his health has severely limited his ability to make art. So, two or three days a week his wife/ex-wife/remarried wife/friend/soulmate (their current relationship was a bit vague) brings him out to the site so that he might sit and watch people see his art and perhaps chat with them. Though conversation with Mr. Every can be, well, tangential, it also is multi-leveled. Of all the conversations I had with artists along the way, the one with Mr. Every was special. When he found out I was an artist (I gave him some of my business cards that have paintings on them), he shifted into another gear. He talked to me eye to eye about artistic passion and vision. We swapped stories and found much common ground. He spoke of an underlying "message" and/or spirituality as an intentional part of his work. He said "Like you, we seek to open doors and pose questions. There is much more than thought under the rusting metal or in your case paint." For me he is an idol, mentor and colleague; all at once. There was much said between the lines. Looks of understanding passed between us. Over time, memories of the exact words may fade but the sense of kindred art hearts will not. My time with Mr. Tom Every in the midst of his other-worldly creations was more than inspiring - it was reaffirming and was a gift that will have deep impact on me as a person and as an artist... "forever". 


In summary: This artist and Oddasee traveler was truly shocked and blown away by getting to meet these wondrous living treasures and seeing their art creations. I hear people throw out the trite missive "Art for art's sake." as an effort to explain something that perhaps has no "function" beyond the object/idea itself. Now I believe in another level of that concept. These people make art as life. It is not outside of themselves but rather who and why they are. Again, keep in mind, most of these artists have no academic training and little exposure to what we call "fine art." Do not misunderstand, these people are gifted, brilliant and many qualify as genius but simply did not have formal art education. They also, to a person, are NOT creating to a market. Many of them don't even have objects to sell. Most could not have a gallery or museum exhibition because their entire life would have to be transported to some far off locale. Not only do most of them not even know what other artists are making, it simply doesn't matter.  They each find their inspiration in their own unique ways with no art history or trendy art magazines or special events/shows to influence them. They possess an impressive work ethic, focus and commitment to their art. Some live in environments that we might find very limiting but they have a freedom most artists would envy. Interesting also is how many of these artists are not trying to impress anyone. Another common and simplistic assessment of art is that it is about "personal expression." Most of the outsider artists we encountered are that ideal to the extreme. Be they making political, social or religious statements, they do it with such conviction and sincerity, it is hard to not be affected as an artist and human being. There was poignancy and humor but all was so genuine, it made me take a hard look at my own dreamss and aspirations for not only art but life as well. These folks seem to care little of fame but do very much enjoy sharing their work with anyone fortunate enough to visit their home/studio/workshop/yard. If notoriety comes, the greatest benefit is getting to share their creations with more people. Though many are shy, their art serves to break down barriers and that interaction seems to inspire them to keep working and bring awe to others. Their was no elitism or sense of competition. I know many artists, including myself, that can learn much from these art souls. This is real art. This is art for life's sake. 

Therein lies a very abbreviated taste of some of the Oddasee people have impacted my art and deep parts of my heart, mind and soul. I wish only I had the skill to share this experience with every artist I know. Such a gift would also be of great value to everyone that not only loves art but how art could benefit the world in which we live. It made me grateful to have a voice. I will now paint with a sort of joy, experimentation and reverence that I did not know was possible.

Your committed (and perhaps commit-able) artist and Oddasee traveler,


ODDASEE - Rodney's Synopsis (part one)

Hello Oddsters,

Our grand journey has been complete for quite some time now but the glow has not yet faded. As I try to make sense and create order from my daily missives and pile of photos, I still get a rush as the memories of days and moments are revisited. In the process of organizing the rather daunting pile of info and images, there are many thoughts about the overall adventure. 

I am sure most of you have much better things to do than read this lengthy tome but as requested many of you asked for a "wrap-up" of some sort:

First the facts: 

1. MUSEUMS - we visited 103 museums. A few were of the large institutional and/or non-profit variety. Many were small little locally supported repositories of oddly specific collections. There were also some focused on historic events, places or people. A not small number of these were very off the beaten path homages to art and artists that would not be considered "traditional" in any way. 

2. OUTSIDER ART SITES - this being one of our main targets, we are grateful to report we saw 52 sites. This ranged from yard environments to homes/studios to parks and even garages. Though most sites featured the work of one specific artist, there were a few that featured the work of numerous outsider artists.

3. OUTSIDER ARTISTS - Being absolutely blessed by fortunate happenstance, we actually got to meet at least 20 "living treasures". These people are not only unique artists but some of the most inspiring human beings I've ever met.

4. ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS - In the arena of absolute silliness, we searched for and found over 50 intentional "Roadside Attractions". From gargantuan fiberglass sculptures to mini-golfs and on to silly restaurants and motels. The only common ground was the desire that the creators of these destinations was simply to get the highway traveler to notice and stop the car. There was a consistent and undeniable local pride in such attractions as the "largest/smallest/onl-iest" held within their domain; be it ball of string, porch swing or giant armadillo/fire hydrant/Madonna. 

5. MISCELLANEOUS SITES - There were many things and places that defy categorization. We went to cemeteries (large and small), asylums, abandoned structures, prisons, the architectural ruins of massive estates and long deceased drive-in theaters. Some of these spots were on our list and others were purely accidental. Our path was anything but a straight line and our itinerary had few deadlines. This allowed us to the freedom to simply "see what we might see" and this presented daily side trips and marvelous discoveries.

Insights and Ponderings:

This was truly the trip of a lifetime. It has changed, my view of art, America, politics, travel as well as opening new parts of my own head and heart. Though this adventure served up many surprises and compels us to plan future explorations, the most unexpected for me is how it has become so life-altering. It is hard to know where to begin. It seems the best thing to do with this flood of thoughts is to keep breaking them into categories. So, here we go.....

1. GRATITUDE - First and foremost comes how thankful I am for having gotten to take this grand adventure. Simply put, Susan made it all happen. Her willingness and commitment to sharing such a wacko journey with me can never be fully repaid. Not only was her spirit and tolerance of my "idiosyncrasies" vital, her financial backing for "The Oddasee" is the only way it even occurred. Without getting too personal but in the name of satisfying some of your curiosities, we owe it all in a significant part to Susan's mother and her generous contribution from the "Great Beyond." We did our best to keep to a budget with the goal of making the trip last as long as possible. That said, the choice to spend the moolah and the time for such a off-center trek fell upon Susan. For every one of the 112 days/nights (and the long term impact of those days as well) I will forever seek for ways in which to honor such an incredible gift. So, thank you Susan and thanks to your mother.

2. AMERICA - Having traveled through at least parts of 23 states, it's impossible to not have gained some new insights to what some call "The Heartland of the Good Old USA." Our path was dominated by back roads and small/smaller towns but we also spent time in Houston, New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Washington DC and other far from rural locales. While there were many commonalities, there was much noticed that served to remind us of the uniqueness of even the smallest 
towns/villages/burgs. The range from extraordinary wealth (Marland Mansion, Fonthill Castle, Winterthur etc.) to the undeniable poverty (Gee's Bend, parts of Chicago, much of Mississippi and the ubiquitous immigrant workers) made it impossible to not be deeply affected. Truthfully, at times, I felt myself slipping into some sort of Socialist mindset as the disparity seems only to be growing. Also we were increasingly nauseated by the generic-Stepford-Truman Show-like communities that have taken over America. These collections (can't really call them cities of towns) of consumers are absolutely interchangeable. Given telekinetic powers on a grand scale, one could switch one "strip mall community" in Kansas with one in Pennsylvania or Colorado and aside from a faraway mountain or the trees, no one would ever even notice the difference. It is the opposite of pride to experience such things about this great land. Our country's seeming indifference to losing local flavor/color/style and history is far from inspiring and a bit disheartening.
     a. "Generica" - our desire to stay in small/non-chain motels and eat in local eateries/cafes/diners was improbable at best and usually impossible. The ever present Walmart was equaled by endless Subways, Dollar Stores, Family Dollars, Mac Donalds, Pizza Huts, Kentucky Frieds, Domino's, Motel 6, Super 8, Holiday Inns and the other big box/chain competitors in every speck on the road map except for but a very few small far from an interstate backwoods time warped lost in space little hidden rural towns. To be painfully brutal, it made us physically ill and spiritually sad. Where has local character and community pride gone? Where's the joy in being special, unique and interesting?
    b. "Building Lust" - as a result of many communities losing local businesses, there were numerous towns that were virtually ghost towns. Street after street of abandoned buildings with a smattering of survivors in their midst. Some towns are working hard to revitalize their downtown and/or preserve the history of commercial buildings. Towns like Paul's Valley, OK are being creative (they fund and promote the "Action Figure Museum") at saving their neighborhoods and centers of commerce. Others have surrendered completely. Take Port Arthur, TX - this sad spectacle is indescribable. It looks like the set from the "Mad Max" post-apocalyptic movie fare. This genuinely haunted area is the hometown of Janice Joplin, Robert Rauschenburg, Jimmy Johnson and Babe Zaharias ; pity. One side result of this fact was how often your Oddaseers lusted after architecture. From former glorious estates to schools to churches and endless commercial properties, our imaginations ran wild with visions of what could be done with such appealing spaces. Even when we put aside our delusional thoughts and ideas for bringing back these architectural wonders, we selfishly dreamed of just moving in and setting up a "home" and studio. God..... When I looked into the windows of many of these empty unused spaces, I practically wet myself with uncontrollable desire. Note: there were hundreds of these buildings falling into total disrepair; what a waste. 
    c. The "News" - Along our travels we came upon a few unexpected redundancies. In motel lobbies and rooms that feature those highly nutritious tasteless "free continental breakfasts" (mushy mini-muffins, rubber hard-boiled eggs, caulking gun dispensed waffle mix, brown bananas or stale Cheerios) there was almost always a television muttering away in some not hidden corner. In many restaurants and even numerous retail establishments there was a TV blasting visual and audio information for all but the blind and deaf. Now comes the amazing (and scary) fact...... inevery situation, the TV was tuned to...... (wait for it)....."FOX News". Yes you read that correctly, on every single boob tube opportunity the FOX faces and yammering loomed. If there was a television in a public place (aside from sports in bars), that sucker was tuned into that network fountain of fact and impartiality. Just think about that for a moment........ that would be weird even if it were CNN or the Gameshow Network - the sheer consistency of it boggles the mind. Then add to that fact that this was the choice of America's proprietors as to what information and entertainment they deem worthy of sharing with their clientele. YIKES!
   d. The "Illegals" - the immigration situation in our country is complex and offers many challenges to even the great minds of economists, politicians and social scientists. They possess far more information, data and knowledge than I but one can't help but wonder if they have actually seen this reality face to face. Putting aside political views, this issue is not one confined to California and Arizona. Our travels put us in some fairly remote rural locales as well as heavily populated major cities. The presence of these individuals and groups were to be found literally everywhere. The sheer number of these people (yes they are people not just statistics) was surprising. It is our belief that there are many communities that would be truly lost without these residents; be they legal or illegal aliens. If one were to simply remove them from many of these communities, the economic impact would be immediate and many cases, the death knell, for those communities; especially the rural ones. This possibility was frequent, surprising and then unavoidably obvious. 
  e. "The Construction Crews" - another constant reality was that in practically every motel we stayed in, we found numerous trucks belonging to construction workers. Assuming that the draw was not the allure of the "free continental breakfast" we were baffled at what was going on. How can there be so many workers of this ilk temporarily residing in these roadside crash pads? This was not limited only to small rural towns or locally owned motels but in virtually every place we stayed. At first my thought was that there was some nearby project that requires specialized skill-sets - like an oil well/pipeline or dam or alternative energy plant (dreamer) or ??? If that is not the case, why aren't local workers filling the needs? Well with a little research and asking around, the truth was very unexpected. The real story is that these guys (mostly) are working for large contractors that are based in faraway cities. These large companies have projects that in many cases are spread throughout the nation. They simply hire their own workers/sub-contractors and send them to wherever the job requires. We were told that these big companies prefer hiring and controlling their own workforce rather than hiring/interviewing/managing unknown workers that live near the project. Hmmm? The itinerant construction worker is apparently common in the world of the building business in America. Who knew? Not us.....
  f. "God Bless" - the little white church is ever-present. Especially in small rural towns, there seemed to be more churches than the small populations of such areas warranted. There were times we would see ten or more places of worship in a place with very few residents. All I can say is that they must have some pretty hardcore softball and basketball church leagues. And, why 99 times out of a 100 are they white - must be one hell (oops! I mean heck) of a white paint lobbyist that made this some sort of law. 
  g. "Whirrrrrrr" - okay, let's talk....... In these times of economic stress and thinking "green", what is going on with so many of the mid-west homeowners mowing vast acreages of "lawn". I mean come on - many of these "yards" are so enormous that by the time they get to one end, the other end has grown and needs to be mowed again. It's as if these folks all (I mean every friggin family) want to live in the middle of a PGA course. Really, do these people (this seems to be a non-sex biased chore) actually enjoy this activity. If I ever feel the urge to get back into the business world, I will open a mower sales and repair shop in mid-America. Maybe we should try and get mowing into the Summer Olympics; we would be sure bet gold medal contenders.  

Well if any of you are still reading..... That's enough. There are more thoughts that the artist in me wishes to discuss but I'll save that for another message. Thank you for reading my Oddasee thoughts and mental meanderings. At some point, Susan will also share her perspective. She's in the midst of Massage School and her plate is very full but look forward to her personal thoughts and feelings about our adventure.

Never the same shall I be..... Oh the things I have seen,


Day 113 (addendum)

Hello Oddsters,

As you may have surmised, Mr. Casimira (Casey) Marquez got our attention. Honestly, just yesterday we were talking about how Casey continues to cross our minds and hearts. It's been a couple of weeks now but for some reason, this gentle man of stuffed toys and spray paint just haunts us and confirms that he is one of the highlights of Oddasee.

Here are some photos of Casey and "arty shots" from that amazing day. I really try to avoid the posed shots and don't just hang around for hours trying to get the perfect photo. These are intended to just be quick and in the moment; kind more like studies than portraits. Just trying to capture a bit of this remarkable human. 

Love and stuffed toys,

R. and S. 

Day 113


There is an ending to all great novels, every painting gets it's final varnish and even the most memorable symphony eventually ends. Though each may be revisited and the parts remain alive in our eyes/ears, hearts and perhaps, even souls, a conclusion must be reached -- Oddasee One (note the potential for a sequel is looming) has been completed. There is talk of possible books and we're deciding between Scorcese, Spielberg and Cameron for the movie/film. It will take time for it all to kind of sink in. While there may be few Oddasee photos appearing in your daily email, watch for some sort of synopsis and our individual takes on the experience. Once this moving (we found a home and are in full on schlep and organize mode) blitzkrieg gets more under control, both of us will have thoughts to share. We really do believe this is but "Phase One" with more to come. After all, we only passed through 23 states and a few of those were not sufficiently covered. Why there's New England, the Northwest, California, Arizona, more along the Great Lakes and the North (shoot we didn't even make it to Fargo). So fear not Oddaseekers, there will be more.
   For days leading up to the inevitable "end of the road" we had discussed how it's a shame that it will likely end with a whimper rather than a roar; seemed wrongWhat about a "Grand Finale" with shouts and cheers from the Oddience begging for more...... Encore! Encore! -- Imagine the thundering applause amidst the internet standing ovation. How dare we end with an anti-climax? Well once again the Oddasee gods and goddesses favored us with an absolutely wonderful swan song.

   While sticking to our guns and following proven methods and information gathering, we turned to our list to see what might be along our path between here (Santa Fe) and there (Ruidoso). There in a rather unimposing and vague note were the words "Casa de Colores by Casimiro "Casey" Marquez, Las Vegas NM. So with hope in our hearts and wind in the Toyota's wings, we set off for the last site on our odyssey. 

   Susan had never been to Las Vegas, NM (the complete opposite of that culture soul sucking hole of greed and tackiness in Nevada) Maybe many of you I-25 travelers have done the blast by or at most pull over for a rest stop and fill-up. Over the many years and treks south, R has wandered around this quirky little NM town often.
Recently, Hollywood has rediscovered the charm (and cheap use) of this oft ignored step-sister of Santa Fe. In addition to "No Country for Old men" there were others:

Seemed like S. was due for the tour. 

   Well not far off the plaza was the address of our latest target. As must often be common for GPS systems, NM's street conundrums and enigmatic roads can baffle the even the most satellite informed. It took a few attempts but eventually we found our way down the correct street/alley..... at the dead end we saw an explosion of color; guess that's why it's called "Casa de Colores". We parked and if one can actually walk cautiously and with exuberance, your Oddasee duo found their spirits afire with that oh so familiar joy and curiosity. R. said out loud "Oh, I hope this guy is home; we simply need to get inside this yard." 
   Our wish was granted shortly thereafter as sitting in the shade of a large cottonwood was the creator of a truly unique world and he greeted us with a "May I help you?" In unison we said we were just there to see his creation/yard/house/shed. Casey said "Well come on in and see what you can see." Little did we know..... The first thing we noticed beyond the fence of various old bouncy carousel kid ride-toys (not the type found at your local amusement park but rather the ones bought at Sears or Wards many years ago). was one of the recurring themes of Mr. Marquez' yard of enchantment.... there were hundreds of stuffed animals and cartoon characters everywhere. They were hanging from trees, on clotheslines and even nailed to doors and walls. Wow! Disney meets Warner Brothers meets Walmart. Some seemed haphazard and others were placed with some mysterious relationships at play. It was hard to take in all at once. R. was shooting away with the little point and shoot camera and then he apologized as he scampered away to retrieve the mighty Nikon; this place and artist warranted the best equipment within reach. 
   All the while, Susan chatted with Casey and got his life story. Born and raised in Las Vegas. His career was varied with a long stint in an auto body and paint shop followed by years as the janitor for a mortuary. He shared much with the now highly skilled interviewer. Many stories of his life, family and special memories. R. was doing his best to capture the unbelievable unique visions of this remarkable man. The other ever-present reality was the use of the tool of far less inspired graffiti/taggers -- spray paint. It was definitely his media of choice. Jeez, Krylon should sponsor this guy; amazing. Also I must mention that sitting in a corner of the yard was an old speaker blaring (more accurately, loudly crackling) Spanish music from a local radio station; the general ambiance is impossible to describe.  
   Then in what will be a very memorable moment among the many from our incredible journey, Casey invited us into his home. This was to be a rare treat indeed. As R and S exchanged excited (oh poor poor pitiful understatement) glances, the obvious sense of privilege was not lost on these strangers. To what Outsider art gods do we owe such debt for this very very special honor? 

It is here I must pause and take a breath...................................................

This remarkable and kindhearted man invited us into his most private environs. Perhaps earlier we could not help but wonder what may lie behind that door but little could we dare to hope for such an opportunity. It happened so unexpectedly that we really had no pause, only curiosity and gratitude. 

   Inside this very small two room house/shed was this sweet man's home. There on the bed lay clothes atop an old wool blanket. The ceiling was covered with stars; some of them the Day-glow variety. Not surprisingly, the ceiling was also alive with little stuffed animals. The walls were embellished with the ubiquitous spray painted dots -- the metal bed frame matched the wall behind it. Now keep in mind this was a very hot summer day and it was kind of dark in there. It was clean and even tidy (S. was so happy) if not what you could call organized. The other room contained no kitchen sink environmental disasters nor were there any malodorous smells. It really was not what you might expect from a person of such minimal means. Casey just sat in his chair and lit up a cigarette. He told us of his recent heart valve stint operation and his not great health. "I am eighty some years old. Why change now? I can't drink no more but I do love meat." We were touched not only by his hospitality and genuine kindness but by his infectious smile. He reached deep inside our hearts so effortlessly; it was a truly remarkable experience. Seldom on this journey or throughout life has a person so genuine touched this part of my heart; I was blown away. Susan was equally effected. A true gift that will never be forgotten. 

  It started to feel that we must intrude no further and begrudgingly made our way out the door. Outside in the fenced yard sat two new local characters had appeared as Casey welcomes them to sit in the shade and pass the days. They both seemed to be of limitations; either mentally and or physically. They too were very welcoming. It was greetings, smiles and handshakes for all. Then Casey noticed his little dog was not afoot. "Hey where's Agnes (or something like that)? He immediately went into the fear mode. Apparently, this little dog truly is his best friend and the thought of losing her was not a pleasant one. He asked if the two shade sitters had seen her and who was the last one through the gate. A bit of panic ensued and we headed out to the alley to assist in the hunt. Then from behind came the sought after canine bouncing out inside the house.... a collective sigh as the raggy little creature sauntered out to see what all the hub-bub was about. This was the final sign that we should move on. With sadness and joy we shook hands again and bid adios to our new found friend.

  While this may seem to be the end of this tale, there is still one more chapter. As we drove off and in need of some food, we pondered the fate of Mr. Marquez. We were about to stuff our weary faces but what might Casey have for his Sunday dinner? It seemed that there must be some local folks keeping an eye on him by bringing him food, helping clean the place and even do laundry but there was no sign of excess of any kind. We hoped that one of the two refrigerators were functioning but could not be sure. The bathroom was in reality the "port-o-potty" out back. Once we thought of this, there was but one thing to do. Now keep in mind this humble man asked for nothing. He even gave Susan a small stuffed Marvin the Martian but with no expectations of anything in return. So we went off to find a market or grocery. A bit baffled at what to buy, we decided to go for special treats instead of common sustenance. After all.......Hey he "likes meat"! We also learned he has a sweet tooth (of course he does). This led to the purchase of a nice big juicy t-bone and a bag of chocolate Hershey mini-candy bars. 
  When R. walked back into his yard, he seemed quite surprised to see him. Sitting in his shaded chair with Agnes beside him, he was taken aback when offered the plastic bag. R. thanked him for sharing his art and showing us his home and that we wanted give him a small token of appreciation. His eyes brightened as he found the treasures within the crinkling bag. I said that we just wanted him to have a good Sunday dinner. He looked so deeply into my eyes, that the tears were starting to form. He said "God bless you" with such sincerity that it felt that if anyone could grant such a blessing, it was this very special man. I said "God Bless you" in return. I cannot remember if I had ever said that to anyone. I was and am still in awe of that moment. As I looked back one last time, Casey was stroking, almost caressing, the steak package with a smile on his face; a photo I did not need to take as it is etched in my mind and heart forever.  

Well how's that for a grand finale? It was off to lunch and the final two and half hours of driving through the wide open spaces of New Mexico. It was a grand day that was made more so by those incredible clouds and sky.

Love and gratitude,

Rodney and Susan -- never to be the same after days such as this and the 112 that preceded it.