Jeff McKissack

 

McKissack created The Orange Show, a folk art environment in Houston, Texas. The site illustrates his theories of health and can be seen as a visual version of his book, How You Can Live 100 Years…and Still Be Spry, self-published in 1960.McKissack has become a symbol of the power of art in individual lives as a result of the work of a nonprofit foundation that preserves and presents community-basedart projects inspired by his work.The youngest of six children, McKissack was born on January 28, 1902, in Fort Gaines, Georgia. After receiving a degree in commerce from Mercer College, he pursued graduate studies at Columbia University in New York while working at a Wall Street bank. During the Great Depression, McKissack trucked oranges fromthe Atlanta Farmer’s Market throughout the South. He served briefly in the U.S. Army, and then built ships in Florida for the duration of World War II.When his mother died in 1948, his family was concerned over McKissack’s increasingly erratic behavior and committed him briefly to an institution. Making a freshstart in Houston, McKissack found work at the post office, where he carried special delivery mail. Years later, McKissack said he was inspired to create The Orange Show by the sight of discarded materials from older buildings in Houston being taken down to make way for new skyscrapers.McKissack purchased some land in 1952, on which he built a concrete house with his own hands. Then he bought additional property. For 25 years he workedwithout formal plans, constructing a 6,000-square-foot, multi-level building site using concrete blocks, decorative tiles, found objects, and industrial castoffs.McKissack imagined vast crowds, and created performance arenas and a gift shop to amuse visitors. Narrative displays near the entrance explain McKissack’s philosophy of longevity, which he believed could be achieved through personal responsibility, hard work, and proper nutrition. Intricate tile mosaics cover bright whitewalls, extolling the virtues of the orange, which he believed to be the perfect food. A wishing well, a boat in a pond, and a steam engine make up the mazelike groundfloor, and observation decks made of colorful wrought iron allow a second-floor view of just as colorful awnings, flags, whirligigs, and windmills.On opening day, May 9, 1979, artists and friends attended, but not the crowds McKissack expected. On January 20, 1980, McKissack died of a stroke—or,some say, of a broken heart. Houston’s art community, led by Marilyn Oshman Lubetkin, formed a foundation to preserve The Orange Show. The site reopened onSeptember 24, 1982, and the foundation’s goal was to integrate it into the mainstream of Hous ton’s cultural life. Through programs that document and educate the public about self-taught artists and that provide the opportunity for a hands-on experience of the creative process, The Orange Show Foundation reaches hundreds of thousands of people each year, finally fulfilling McKissack’s vision.