I set out this morning looking for something different. Something in my back yard that I'd never seen before. Something to break me out of my comfort zone, to explore a new part of this city I call home. I'm planning on making this a regular thing, and in doing so, I wanted to name the process and subsequent posts. I'm calling this series Neuston.
Houston has an eclectic sense of art and identity. This identity takes center stage at exhibits such as the Beer Can House, and the phenomenon known as The Art Car Parade. Sprinkled throughout the city are examples of this idea, that you can take society's leftovers and make something beautiful.
I found myself in search of this strange art that has become Houston's fingerprint early Saturday morning. I came across an Atlas Obscura posting for a quirky exhibit in a part of town I rarely visit where you can watch as artists transform trash and a city block into an other-worldly experience. The article's brief write-up didn't shed much light on the locale, but it was enough to peak my interest.
The place, The Orange Show, and the neighboring park, Smither Park, felt like the perfect location to kick off my journey deep into a Houston I've yet to see or experience. The park is located southwest of Downtown Houston, just past the University of Houston along Interstate 45.
I arrived early in the morning, trying to beat the Houston heat and failing miserably. Just like many of Houston's interesting finds, Smither Park is located in a residential neighborhood, across the street from a series of homes that were decidedly not funky or strange.
The park sits on a long, narrow piece of property, with no discerning geographic features. When parking along the street, the first thing that caught my eye was an elaborate, winding, colorful wall that ran along the far side of the lot. At one end was an amphitheater, and in the middle stood a pavilion with the park's name boldly plastered on the front.
One of the reasons I wanted to visit Smither Park on this Saturday was to meet some of the artists who are working on the structures throughout. Upon arrival I noticed a half dozen or so patrons tending to the sculptures. Some were adding new elements of glass and debris, while others scrubbed and cleaned the existing works, making sure they looked their best.
I met a couple, touching up an elaborate pair of Tigers, who shared some details about the unique destination. Artists have been working on the many features of the park for over six years. Most of the artists are local, and most of the materials are found or recycled. Each area of the park and element on the wall has been created by a different artist, something that is evident when walking along the Memorial Wall.
This place left me with a feeling of excitement and wonder. I'm looking forward to returning, hopefully when The Orange Show is open, and checking up on the progress of the artists. Little gems like Smither Park and The Orange Show are sprinkled throughout Houston, and I'm looking forward to discovering more quirky art exhibits in the future.
On my way out of the park, I noticed a dormant art car in the lot next door. I haven't had the opportunity to attend the Art Car parade yet or visit the museum, but I've spotted the decorative cars throughout the city (and enjoyed Saint Arnolds Art Car IPA). The ingenuity and creativity of the men and women who build these cultural curiosities never cease to amaze me. I'm confident that I'll be in attendence at next year's parade.
Just before noon, while wrapping up the experience at Smither Park, I got a text from my buddy looking to grab a bite to eat. It's no secret that I love food and exploring Houston's diverse culinary scene a bit too much. I wasted little time making my way over to his apartment, and we quickly decided to go to The Conservatory.
The Conservatory is an underground food court style outpost located just off Main Street in Downtown Houston. This wasn't our first time eating here, but since our last visit in the spring several of the shops had changed, along with the beer selection. With our priorities clear, we made our way to the rear of the open dining hall where a long white wall is covered in beer taps.
My favorite part about The Conservatory is the diverse selection of food. From Texas BBQ to Hawaiian Poke and French crepes, there's something for everyone in this hidden gem. You can't visit this place without grabbing a few plates and sharing them amongst yourselves. The Conservatory should be at the top of any visitor's list of places to eat while in Houston.
the art wall
On our way home from lunch, we took an impromptu detour through the First Ward, and the art district. There was some commotion around the old rice silos, so we decided to explore a bit. I had heard of the Art Wall. Houston's external mural scene is thriving, so the idea of a large dedicated space for artists to create elaborate murals was a given.
I wasn't fully prepared for the size and quality of the artwork, though. The artwork was truly incredible, with a variety and depth that I'd never seen at this scale. There are probably ten individual murals, all created by different artists, each with their own style and message. The unique setting, coupled with the fantastic murals, left me truely stunned.
Needless to say, this won't be my last visit to the Art Wall (it's also right behind one of my favorite breweries in the city right now, Holler). I'd love to come out with the drone and capture a sweeping shot of the entire wall. For that' you'll have to wait until another installment of Neuston.