The Orange Show
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The Orange Show
|Location||2401 Munger St
|NRHP Reference #||06001063|
|Added to NRHP||November 21, 2006|
Jeff McKissack, a mail carrier in Houston, Texas, transformed a small suburban lot near his wood frame house into The Orange Show in honor of his favorite fruit. Between 1956 and 1980, when he died, McKissak used common building materials and recycled junk such as bricks, tiles, fencing, and farm implements to transform his home into an architectural maze of walkways, balconies, arenas and exhibits decorated with mosaics and brightly painted iron figures.
When McKissack died, Houston arts patron Marilyn Oshman formed a non-profit foundation to preserve The Orange Show. The 21 original donors represent a diverse cross-section of Houston: Dominique de Menil, members of the legendary Houston-based rock band ZZ Top and East End funerary director Tommy Schlitzberger. In 1982, the restored site opened and newly hired staff began to integrate The Orange Show into Houston’s cultural life through a wide variety of programs. Artists, musicians and literary figures that make Houston their home bring depth and dimension to programs, and give the public immediate access to creative thinking.
The Orange Show has evolved into the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art and since 1980 is a non-profit organization designed to preserve and present works of extraordinary imagination and provide people the opportunity to express their personal artistic vision. As a form of folk art, The Orange Show captures a segment of late 20th Century American culture. Programming at the Orange Show is for both children and adults and includes hands-on workshops, music, storytelling and performance, the Eyeopener Tour program and Houston's most popular public art event, the Houston Art Car Parade.
The foundation has grown to take in other folk art icons and now possesses and runs the Beer Can House. In addition, it is currently constructing Houston's first folk art inspired green space, Smither Park, in the land adjacent to the Orange Show Monument.
MCKISSACK, JEFFERSON DAVIS (1902-1980). Jeff McKissack, born on January 28, 1902, in Fort Gaines, Georgia, the youngest of five children of Jefferson Davis and Beulah (Hill) McKissack.
McKissack's interest in the orange as a source of nutrients and energy was prompted by his job trucking oranges from the farmers' market in Atlanta, Georgia, through the Southeast during the Great Depression. He served in the army in 1942 and 1943, then worked in a navy shipyard and learned to weld, a skill that proved essential in construction of the Orange Show.
Over the next twenty years McKissack collected roof tiles, fire escapes, decorations, and other architectural refuse from the sites of Houston buildings that were being demolished or remodeled, as well as steel wheels, turnstiles, and tractor seats. With this material he constructed a multicolored maze that covers about a tenth of an acre. Messages written in tile and displays fabricated from items that McKissack purchased at antique stores and junk shops proclaim that the installation is dedicated to the health benefits of oranges. When asked why he built the Orange Show, he responded with a variety of explanations, including Edison's handshake and his own inability to find the perfect orange juicer. He called his work "the most beautiful show on earth, the most colorful show in harmony and the most unique" and estimated that 90 percent of the country's population would want to visit it. When the crowds did not materialize after the show's grand opening on May 9, 1979, neighbors observed that McKissack withdrew; seven months later he died of a stroke, on January 26, 1980.
The following year a diverse group, organized by art patron and civic leader Marilyn Lubetkin and ranging from Dominique de Menil to the rock group ZZ Top, donated money to purchase McKissack's Orange Show from his heir. The Orange Show Foundation, established in 1981 to restore and operate the facility, also sponsors children's art classes, special events, and tours of other folk art environments, thus ensuring that the Orange Show functions as a fitting monument to McKissack's eccentric vision.
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