The Orange Show in Houston

Well-Designed Travel

Houston is a city that often gets overlooked when it comes to art and design. Though it's the fourth largest in the U.S. and has one of the most diverse populations in the country, its quirky side is often passed over by tourists in favor of Austin, its smaller, more eccentric brother to the west. I was lucky enough to spend this past weekend of my travels in Houston under the care of a couple of native Houstonians who showed me the many ins-and-outs of their fair Bayou City. I quickly learned that there is much more than oil and spaceships in this bustling metropolis.

One of our first stops was to The Orange Show. Created by Houston postman Jeff McKissack, The Orange Show is a tribute to his favorite fruit and his conviction that a long, healthy life is the result of hard work and good nutrition. Though the space was clearly intended for a crowd, his work was solitary. McKissack labored alone from 1956 through 1979 when he opened The Orange Show to the public. He continued to work on the project until his death in 1980, turning this East End plot of land into a labyrinth of stairs, corridors, bleachers and rooftops.

After his death, the Houston art community quickly rallied to preserve this amazing structure of outsider art. A foundation was formed to save the space, and the original donors include a wide range of public figures, from renowned arts patrons Marilyn Oshman and Dominique de Menil to members of the heavily bearded rock band ZZ Top. Now The Orange Show is host to a wide variety of programming and events, making great use of the space that was so lovingly crafted.

(Images: Smith Schwartz)

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