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Last updated 2:51AM ET
March 9, 2021
Alabama
Alabama
Arts Community Grows in Gordo
(2007-08-13)
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Within arms reach of the front door at the Art store on North Main Street are a rearing metal armadillo and paper made of mule poop. A pair of rocking chairs sits off to one side, surrounded by radiant photography, painting and sculpture, with an aloe plant that looks about ready to leap out of its pot and start singing.

Next door is a space for alchemical dirty work, where hand-dug clay gets molded into faces out of Hieronymous Boschs lighter nightmares, and odds and ends turn to dazzling frames as if by magic. In between workspaces are newspapers, boxes, tools, computer leftovers ... detritus.

Across the street in a former hardware store are stored antique printing presses, looming 19th century hulks, fronting for more modern versions with blocks from recent jobs still in place. And stored furniture.

Up around the corner there's a store about to become vacant, and someday to be the new home of printmaker Amos Paul Kennedy. And possibly a young couple of book arts students.

The House family a convenient name for a trio of eclectic artists spawned from the late great Ma 'Cilles Museum of Miscellanea started with the Art store, properly known as Gallery 121 North Main, and has been slowly growing space for a community of artists, in the perhaps unlikely setting of the narrow downtown strip of this Pickens County city of 2,500.

But Gordo is where Glenn House Sr. was born and raised just outside of Gordo, to be precise amid his mother's museum, noted by University of Alabama photography professor Gay Burke as "the mind of an artist." So it's where he and his photographer wife Kathleen Fetters and photographer/framemaker Barbara Lee Black, a friend of such long standing she's family, have decided to take root and thrive.

Visitors can spot Gallery 121 North Main by looking around for the first sign of art. When the trio bought the space, it had been a NAPA auto parts store. They couldn't get the old sign down for opening day, back around the turn of the century, so Glenn's son Butch got up and painted over all but the letters A-R-T in the sign.

That knack for finding art within the mundane, married with a lack of pretension and a sense of the lightness of things, is emblematic of the spirit at work. Now that the three have become comfortably ensconced in the Art, they're seeking to expand the reach and include more like-minded folks. They're recently "kidnapped" Tuscaloosa photographer and collage-maker Suzanne Gray, who as of this week will become another Gordo resident artist.

UA book arts student Sarah Bryant is among those actively cranking out work on the printing presses across North Main.

"My dream is to surround myself with happy, intelligent, energetic and creative people," House said, "then I can just sit back and watch the work."

His mother was famous for never throwing anything away. But Lucille "MaCille" Hollingsworth House went much further. She sought out what many would think of as junk dug-up bottles, dolls, farm implements, taxidermy, fossils, even whole buildings, such as an old country store and gathering and displaying them in such a manner as to create an almost hallucinogenic collective effect.

In an interview with The Tuscaloosa News in 1998, Ma 'Cille House said, "I never threw anything away. My husband used to tell it he had to climb in the window to go to bed.

"You wouldn't think about doing it. You just get kind of caught up."

Opened as MaCilles Museum of Miscellanea in the early 1960s, it took on legendary status as a kind of indescribable roadside attraction: You really had to see it firsthand to get it, to crawl around inside the several buildings worth of miscellanea to feel its beguiling, dreamlike power.

It drew the eyes of photographers, for obvious reasons, among them UAs Burke, who began taking her classes to the museum back in the '80s. Black first laid eyes on the site in the summer of 1989. She met Glenn House that fall, when he audited one of Burkes courses.

"The first thing she said to me was not 'Hello, how are you, she said, 'Is that your mother who's got the museum out in Gordo?" Glenn House said, laughing.

Also well-met in that fateful group were Fetters and another close friend and artist, Dr. Jim Morris, who just closed an exhibition at the Bama Theatres Junior League Gallery.

"I took that class with the full intention of becoming a world-famous photographer in the next few weeks," House said. By this point in his life, he'd been an illustrator probably his most-seen work, the Moon Winx Lodge sign, turned 50 recently painter and professor in the book arts program. Then he realized he was better at critiquing photography than making it: Black was shooting the kind of photos he'd have been shooting, he said, so why should he? Besides, it turned out he was allergic to darkroom chemicals and claustrophobic, to boot.

"We learned to work together, show together, encourage each other," House said.

At the Kentuck Arts Center in Northport, they've had several group shows, mostly in midsummer. The most recent featured Fetters hand-tinted photos and House's small books. They're also among the most sought-after artists at the annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts and other events. Black's work has been sold and displayed around the United States and Europe. Much of Fetters and Black's work still stems directly from visions or objects from the Museum of Miscellanea.

As popular as their art works are, they're not rich. But both House and Fetters have pensions from UA and Bryce Hospital positions, and Black shoots select weddings to supplement income.

As MaCilles health declined in the late '90s, the House family had to move the matriarch into assisted care. Facing heavy financial burdens, the decision was made to auction off the museum's contents in 1998. MaCille passed away Dec. 31, 1999, with her family collected around.

"When she passed away, the museum really died with her," Black said.

But while the Museum of Miscellanea collection is scattered, its eccentric, wild thriving heart beats on in downtown Gordo.

In 2001, Fetters, Black and House pooled efforts to buy and renovate Gallery 121 North Main. They had bid on a couple of warehouses, but wound up buying the former auto parts store from a cousin of Houses.

"We're surrounded by good, friendly people here," House said. "Everybody minds their own business.

"And it's fairly quiet. The train runs through about four times a day to wake us up."

They kept the stamped-tin ceilings, but added tract lighting and other niceties to highlight the artists work in the gallery space, while the back of the main room includes some work area, and further back, a kitchen and bathroom facilities. The adjacent workspace next door, also part of that original purchase, is cluttered but clearly in frequent use.

"We have the pleasure of our creation all around us," Fetters said. "We're all becoming more like the House family."

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Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com


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