I like art.
My husband says he did not know this about me, like it’s some nasty habit I’ve developed since we married almost ten years ago, or the harbinger of a mid-life crisis. But that’s not true. I’ve always liked art. In fact, a piece of art features in the story of how we met.
He was working for a marine contracting company, traveling up and down the eastern seaboard – building bulkheads, bridges, ferry terminals, and other structures. He spent his days cursing like a sailor and playing with giant building blocks.
He was just supposed to be in town for six months or so, replacing the bridge fender system. Then, he would move on to the next massive sea wall, the next fully furnished house all to himself.
His company had rented an old building by the bridge to use as their work shed, where they could store equipment and fabricate the fenders. The building had once been a seafood market called Sandy’s.
I know it was called Sandy’s because someone had painted “Sandy’s” across it’s metal roof, so big and bold, you couldn’t miss it. Sandy’s was part of my daily drive to and from work, part of the best part – the view from the bridge. I loved Sandy’s.
So, I was devastated to learn that my new boyfriend was going to destroy Sandy’s. He was contractually obligated to knock it down and throw it away at the end of the job.
I had second thoughts about that boyfriend. In fact, it might have all turned out very differently, if not for one saving grace.
In the months that we were dating, before the fenders were ready to fend for themselves, while Sandy’s was still standing timelessly by the bridge, I found a little watercolor painting at a yard sale, of a weathered brown building with the word “Sandy’s” painted on its roof.
When the fender job ended and Sandy’s was no more, I still had two mementos of its existence.
One was my husband, the wrecking ball. The other was a painting, hanging near my back door, where I could see it every time I came in from the yard.
So you see, I liked art then, too. But I’d go a step further – I’d say the real art wasn’t that painting, but Sandy’s itself. The reason my love for art may not have been clear, is that the art I love doesn’t always look like art.
Or this beautiful seahorse I found in an old boatyard last month, made of a caulk blob and drips of paint and grease. Or the graffiti that I saw by a creek near my mother-in-law’s this week.
My favorite piece of art in my house is a rendition of Van Gogh’s Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saints-Maries-de-la–Mer, made entirely of string. It makes me feel like anything is possible.
And all this talk about odd art reminds me of Mary’s Gone Wild.
Back when I lived near the NC-SC border, back before kids, I was out driving one day – you know, just fooling around, no big rush to be anywhere, in my leisure time, when I spotted a roadside sign with the word “art” on it. It had a lot of other words, too, hand-painted close together and impossible to read from the fast, winding, two-lane road. I turned around.
I pulled into the driveway and parked around back, behind a not-so-white wooden house.
There was stuff everywhere – 100% hoarder conditions, but there was also a bottle boat – a boat made entirely of bottles, cemented together. There was art amongst the junk.
Following the welcome signs, I walked around a string of little storage sheds, painted in cute colors and trimmed with gingerbread details. Each building was slam-packed full of stuff.
Next was a series of ramshackle houses, joined together by breezeways and porches, the walls mostly made of windows. On the porches hung paintings on windows – of mermaids, flowers, and animals – in bold colors and thick lines. I went inside.
It was like being inside the rainbow – on the walls, ceilings, floor, tables, everywhere, were these colorful paintings. Since much of it was on glass, the light shone through. It was like you’d finally found the end of the rainbow, took one step, and found yourself standing inside its arch, looking out at the whole world colored and transformed by prismatic brightness.
Here is a video tour of what I saw:
In one of the rainbow worlds, I came upon Mary Paulsen herself, painting. She welcomed me, then went to back to work. When I asked if the art and objects around the place were for sale (nowhere was this obvious), she said yes, and pointed me to an article on a welcome table, telling of her history and mission.
Mary had a vision from God to build a children’s village, in order to raise money to feed children worldwide. She built the village, and the visions continued, leading to the current paintings and bottle structures.
It had been vaguely visible from the road, a jumble of wooden structures half-hidden by trees and shadow. Now, I rounded the corner of the front porch and saw it in its full glory.
There were a dozen small buildings made for children – the library had real books, the school had a chalkboard. Everywhere, decrepit baby dolls posed and slowly decayed. It was creepy. I loved it.
There was a second story, with bridges joining extra rooms and lookouts. There were stairways a foot across and with a foot rise, pitching you into two-foot tall fences and dead ends, and junk scattered everywhere. It was all painted in greens, blues, yellow, purples, reds – all the colors – with those same animals, flowers, and mermaids.
Here are more pictures.
It’s creepy, yes, dangerous, and crazy.
But Mary says: “I’ve talked to all kinds of people. Magazines and reporters come out here, they always say I’m crazy…Folks say, ‘Why would you do all this?’ But people come here, and it makes them happy. And if it makes people happy, it’s not crazy now, is it?” (PortCityDaily)
Before I left, I bought a set of flower pot stakes, for no real reason other than to own a piece of that place. And I took my husband there when we were dating, around the time he knocked down Sandy’s.
Yes, I’ve always liked art. How about you?
3 thoughts on “Art Gone Wild”
Me, too! And I love weirdo art installations! They’re my favorite. In fact, I’m making my third or fourth pilgrimage to the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore this May. Roadside art is my favorite, so thank you for introducing me to a new place to add to my local road trip list! You’ve got such a great voice – and “ramshackle” is one of my favorite words.
Thank you, Autumn, and I insist on seeing pictures from the Visual Arts museum. Thank you for your kind words, and happy tripping!