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Real Estate / Houses

A Secret House of Curiosities

This Art Couple’s Wonderfully Weird Lair Deserves Attention

BY // 11.05.15
photography Jenny Antill Clifton

And wonders they are, indeed – also uncanny, charming, disturbed and at times the closest encounter we’ve ever had with a Wunderkammer as living space. Talents such as St.Vincent, Cindy Sherman and David Byrne have sought out and collected from Julie and Bruce Lee Webb‘s celebrated Webb Gallery, a frequent exhibitor at the Outsider Art Fair (and also occasionally the Dallas Art Fair). But the Webbs’ house — footsteps from Waxahachie’s majestic historic courthouse, located above their turn-of-the-century storefront turned art space in the hamlet’s town square — has never before been written about.

Until now. Herein, we take you up two (creaking) flights of stairs and into the domain of the very curious Webbs, who number among America’s pantheon of visionary art dealers. Just watch out for the shrunken heads, the spanking chair and the closet full of Odd Fellows’ robes.

We posed some questions to the proprietors and received some scintillating answers. Read on:

HOW, WHERE AND WHEN DID YOU MEET? I REMEMBER A STORY ABOUT A SKATE PARK IN DALLAS …
BLW: We met [in 1984]. I was skating at the Blue Crown ramp one afternoon near Love Field. We recognized each other from the punk-rock scene. Julie was there with her friend, photographing skaters. She invited me home for a turkey sandwich the next day. She played Adam Ant and Police records. I played T.S.O.L and The Big Boys.

HOW YOU CAME TO BE IN WAXAHACHIE.
BLW: I was born in Waxahachie but moved to Oak Cliff and then Richardson. My grandparents came to Waxahachie from Kerala, India, in the 1950s. The massive courthouse and the old buildings loomed tall, gothic and shadowy and still have a sense of mystery to me. We inherited my grandparents’ house in 1987, and Julie and I moved from Richardson to Waxahachie.

JW: When we moved to Waxahachie, we had already been doing some flea markets, so it made sense to open a shop here. As we were visiting folk artists in the South, we realized the best places took some effort to get to and decided Waxahachie was perfect for us.

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Main room of the Webb residence with a 1940s-era Freaks banner by Snap Wyatt. The gallery has shown circus and sideshow banners – a hot collecting field — throughout the years.

ON LIVING WITH MA BELL.
BLW/JW: Our building was built in 1902 by Waxahachie resident E.S Campbell. Originally, Mr. Campbell’s law offices and an armory were upstairs, and a dry-goods store was downstairs. Later, the Bell System Telephone Co. moved in upstairs and a paint store downstairs. Shortly after World War II, the phone company moved, and it sat unused until we moved our living space there, in 1995. The paint store closed in 1985, and it sat with all of the stuff still in it until we purchased it and moved our gallery.

ON LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.
BLW/JW: When we moved to Waxahachie, we rented the upstairs of the connecting building and always looked in the windows of our building and dreamt of owning it. We purchased it in 1994 when we heard the family was selling. We agreed to buy it before we even saw the inside.

ABOUT THE FOUNDING OF WEBB.
BLW/JW: Webb Gallery started in 1987 in an old barbershop building down the street from our current location. We had been buying on trips, first across north Texas and Oklahoma, then as distant as the New England antique markets, where the best tramp art, folk art, early Masonic and Odd Fellows artifacts, and early occult books were plentiful. We have loved and sought out a diverse array of old handmade, hand- painted signs; carved and painted items; and vintage clothes. We started traveling to set up at antique shows across the country and Deep South, where we sought many self-taught artists to meet and collect their work

In 1991, we moved to a larger space that had been an undertakers’ parlor, where we showed artwork in the front, and a back room of carnival banners, fraternal lodge pieces, vintage folk art and other odd items. In 1994, we purchased and moved to our current building, where everything came together.

STANDOUT SHOW.
BLW/JW: We once curated a show here in the gallery of the late blind sculptor Hawkins Borden of Memphis, Tennessee. We draped the gallery with black plastic to create total darkness, filled the space with Bolden’s haunting masks composed of hole-pierced pan sculptures and allowed people to feel the sculptures before seeing them.

ON THE IMMORTAL BEAT WRITER WILLIAM BURROUGHS.
BLW/JW: Yes, we first did an exhibit of William Burroughs’ artwork in 1994 as our inaugural exhibition in our current building … William’s paintings and Bill Daniel’s photos of train-car graffiti. We met William and asked him what he thought of having a show in Waxahachie, Texas. He said, “It’s as good a place as any.”

ABOUT THE JUG MAN FROM WAXAHACHIE.
BLW/JW: We were the first folks to show and sell Carl Block’s face jugs back in 1990. We have been lucky to discover many artists over the years. Some were discoveries in which we were the first folks to show their work to the public, and some were just personal discoveries. Plus, for us, discoveries of great food, places, people and artwork all rate the same.

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THE LURE OF LODGES.
JW: We both always like the symbols and the stuff used in fraternal lodges, and first began collecting it in the late 1980s. I joined the Eastern Star lodge here in Waxahachie about that time, too, but didn’t care for the older ladies bossing me around. I joined IOOF #44 in Oak Cliff about a year ago.

BLW: I was led to Freemasonry by old books. A book I bought at the Canton flea market in the early 1980s put the words Freemasonry and Rosicrucian in front of me. In 1987, I saw a Masonic symbolic lithograph framed and hanging in the jewelry store of one of my granddad’s friends who was a Mason, which led to a conversation about Masonry. I asked to be initiated and was the youngest (age 21) Mason in Texas at the time. I have been a Mason and Odd Fellow since.

FIRST PIECE OF ART.
JW: I collected hand-knitted sweaters from thrift stores when I was a teenager. The more jacked-up, the better. We’ve collected many things together, but our earliest art collecting together was for pieces by Rev. J.L. Hunter of Dallas. He changed how we looked at things.

BLW: My grandmother gave me a dramatic Indian wood-carved sculpture of an elephant being attacked by a den of panthers.

THE MOST CURIOUS ITEM YOU COLLECT.
JW: Mine are surely the resin kit clocks from the 1960s-1970s, which I lovingly refer to as “vomit clocks.” BLW: I collect and study 19th- and early 20th-century spiritualist and occult books, such as Paschal Beverly Randolph, Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Prentice Mulford and Freeman B. Dowd, and lurid secret society novels by George Lippard. Mayan/Masonic texts by Augustus Le Plongeon. Books by Peter D. Ouspensky, George I. Gurdjieff, and Alfred Korzybski.

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Sculptor Charley Brown’s carving of Dr. King and Coretta King resting on a vintage Ellis County cabinet from the state asylum.

FAVORITE PAINTING/PAINTER IN THE WORLD.
JW: The Cheat With the Ace of Clubs by Georges de La Tour [Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth], for the lady looks like me. Plus, anything by Milton Avery or Johnnie Swearingen.

BLW: Works by George Paul Kornegay, an African-American folk artist from Alabama.

ON YOUR BAR CART.
JW: Mezcal, mezcal, mezcal.

BLW: About six different mezcals.

GO-TO SOURCES FOR ANTIQUES/FINDS.
JW/BLW: We always find great stuff in Dolly Python (Dallas) and Uncommon Objects (Austin).

LAST FABULOUS ANTIQUE FIND.
JW/BLW: We bought a stuffed bear cub a few summers ago in upstate New York, which we outfitted in a lodge suit. He’s seems really happy here, and Dexter, our pup, likes him, too.

YOUR VERY FAVORITE AMERICAN ROAD TRIP.
JW/BLW: What you see along the way. The most recent one to Upstate New York was filled with flea markets, great food, visiting Olana, interesting people, staying in a yurt on 80 acres once owned by the Loomis gangster clan and even seeing crazy redneck road rage in Connecticut.

PARTING THOUGHTS.
JW/BLW: Think that about covers it. We are lucky to have each other, our gallery full of stuff we enjoy and getting to share it with others.

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