For well over a decade, the elusive Canterbury has been the reigning king of my traveling unicorns. Despite two visits that placed me on the doorstep of the storied cathedral, I have yet to set foot inside. It has been my unattainable destination, and it has quite honestly, haunted me- well, as much as a building made of stone can haunt.
It seems that Canterbury now has a rival. There’s a new site that has eluded me twice and its unattainable status now has a taunting hold on me. What is it that can threaten to dethrone the lore and legend of Canterbury Cathedral? The Orange Show, of course.
In case you’ve never heard of the Orange Show (and if you are any kind of normal, you probably haven’t), let me tell you a little about my newest obsession. The Orange Show is a baffling, kitsch-laden tribute to the fruit that creator Jeff McKissack considered to be the “world’s most perfect food.” Yes, friends, he loved the orange so much he collected junk and created a 3,000 square foot shrine to the fruit. Don’t laugh; this is the kind of stuff I live for.
The herky-jerky conglomeration of twisted metal, mosaics, and whirlygigs is located on a modest street just outside downtown Houston, where it has been on display since 1979. Inside, I am told there are rows of colorfully painted tractor seats that overlook a stage that includes a metal steamboat, as well as many other head scratching oddities around every corner.
I have never had the privilege of going inside the Orange Show, although I have rattled its locked gates and audibly cursed the travel gods of misfortune twice. Twice! During a family trip to Houston in March, we arrived at the Orange Show after seeing the Beer Can House and Art Car Museum in hopes of completing the Houston weird roadside attractions trifecta. The gates were locked and the sign on the door indicated that opening day was just three days away. AAAAAAAA!!!! Imagine a scene something like Clark Griswold punching the moose in the nose and you will begin to catch a glimpse of my inner tantrum.
This is the day my kids refer to as the day mom almost trespassed just to get some pictures for her blog. I have to admit, trespassing was a fleeting thought, as I stood perched on the high concrete wall, hoping to get a glimpse of the crazy goodness inside. So close, but so far away has never been so painful.
I consoled myself by remembering that I would be returning to the area later in the summer. When I returned later for a trip with mom, visiting the Orange Show was at the very top of my list. We drove into city, only to be met by a downpour that must have forced early closure of the inaccessible Orange Show. Once again, I stood and rattled the gate and the kids wondered aloud (to my poor mother’s horror) if I would consider trespassing on that day, as well.
I walked away completely dejected, but as we made a u-turn to leave the neighborhood, the fate that had foiled me twice offered me a consolation prize. There, under the torrent of rain, I saw a dozen workers huddled under makeshift shelters working to add to the colorful mosaics that had been marked out on a grubby urban wall. Upon closer inspection, I learned that the Orange Show Center for Visionary Arts was expanding their influence beyond a tribute to the perfect fruit to include a city park that will encompass the spirit of folk art and community.
The space, known as Smithers Park as a tribute to the late John Smithers, will feature performance and mediation spaces, play areas , and interactive features ornamented with recycled and found objects, and created by local artists. The wall in progress in the pouring rain will be the Meditation Wall, where families can create art to honor their loved ones. An amphitheatre adorned with glittering mirror shards will create a flashy performance space. The Meditation Garden will provide a peaceful escape from the press of the city, where visitors can relax to the trickling sound of recycled rainwater through the artistic features. I expect that my kids will most delight in running through mosaic encrusted Serpentine tunnel, and in watching their coins cascade through the artistically designed 12-foot coin roll.
It looks to be a place where whimsy and wonder will coexist right next the weirdness of the Orange Show. I can’t wait to return to check out both sites. I am sure that the third time will be the charm for the Orange Show, but just in case, I plan to call ahead.