…Another Man’s Treasure: The Cathederal of junk

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Behind his house in a residential neighborhood in Austin, TX, Vince Hanneman has been building his aptly named Cathedral of Junk going on over 25 years. Most art environments are built using reclaimed materials, found in the surrounding area. Including broken plates or shells used to craft mosaics, or giant rocks from nearby fields, but perhaps no one so eloquently has turned true random bits of everyday discarded trash into a amazing sculpture.

It is a hodgepodge of detritus, totally random outcast objects fit together in some mad brilliant way. It is one of those places where there is so much to see in such a small area, you will surely miss something. Hanneman crafted an amazing feet of craftsmanship and structural engineering. The Cathedral holds up, you can walk in it, around it and there are multiple stairways and paths, so you can even walk on it.

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Hanneman started building the mega sculpture in 1989, and besides a bureaucratic tussle a few ago when the Cathedral of Junk was almost returned to that great trash compactor in the sky, he is working on it to this day. The city declared it is a building not a sculpture, they declared that it is unsafe and it is located in a decidedly cathedral of junk-free zone. Additionally, one news article I read said that some of the neighbors were unhappy with the crowds that were pouring in and out of Hanneman’s yard.

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But by discarded hook or by recycled crook, Hanneman was able to save the site. And it was a close call, several articles from June 2010 declared that the city won, and the Cathedral was going to be junked shortly (in the traditional sense, not turned into an amazing giant outdoor sculpture). However, a last minute agreement was reached. Parts had to be removed and over several months, volunteers helped him stabilize the site and removed tons of debris. A structural engineer signed off on it and a few rules were set limiting tour groups. This is another great site and it wonderful how the community came together to support an artist in a dark moment. Now you get to go there. Austin prides itself on its weirdness and sadly, over the decades, that weirdness is diminishing. This is a true piece of American tenacity, perseverance, creativity and independence.

Don’t mess with Texas, but if you do Vince Hanneman will take parts of that mess and build an awesome mega sculpture in his backyard. See the visitor rules below and get to dialing.

 

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How to visit:

This is open to the public, but there are no set days or hours. If you want to visit, THERE ARE RULES. Due to several issues, including the need to placate the neighbors and the city, and also due to Vince’s desire for privacy as he is still working on it, and the fact that he is a bit of curmudgeon (in a good healthy way), there are a few discarded hoops to jump through.

You must make an appointment!

He will not let you in if you just show up. Call his cell at (512) 299-7413 . Odds are he will not pick up, in fact he described it as a roulette – you call and if he is in the mood he picks up, if not it goes to voicemail. Keep trying though. I called four or five times per day, for just shy of a week before he finally picked up. Other people I spoke to got picked up on the second or third try (lucky jerks). I spoke to Hanneman for a few minutes, at first I could tell he did not want to deal with some of my dumber questions (“what was your inspiration?”) but then he loosened up and was great to talk to.

  1. Call Hanneman at (512) 299-7413. Do not bother leaving a message, he will not call you back.
  2. Once you finally make it through and agree on a time to visit, Hanneman will give you specific parking instructions. The reason for this is to keep things nice with the neighbors. He will most likely ask you to park a block away from his house, on W St Elmo Rd, and make sure to not block the bike lanes. The cathedral of Junk is located at 4422 Lareina Dr, Austin, TX (it is located in a residential area of south Austin).
  3. He will ask for a paltry donation that covers everyone in your group.

A lot of the sites I write about are basically museums, the artist has passed on and it is being preserved for people to enjoy. This is a living art environment, Hanneman is still working on it and the Cathedral is just getting bigger by the week. It came very close to being shut down – So please, respect the rules, respect the neighbors and respect the artist, and all will be well.

This place is absolutely amazing, it is worth playing by the rules.

 

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The Point of Despair – there is a bench outside the backyard where people without an appointment can sulk

In The Area:

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Huntington Sculpture Park

Austin is an amazing place; in fact, it may be my favorite city in America (sorry Portland). I lived there for four years, over a decade ago and other than a cruel summer sun I absolutely loved it. In fact, popularity is one of the issues it is dealing with as it is leading to more and more people moving here and more pieces of the city being swallowed up by over-development. Seriously Austin, get your act together.

For fans of offbeat attractions, wunderkamers, PT Barnum, and dime museums, Austin has three places to transport you back to a time when museums were strange entertainments filled with oddities from other worlds. First off there is the delightful, Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata, a small old-fashioned cabinet of curiosity. I don’t want to give too much away, just check it out. It is a house museum so check their website for posted tours or email/ call them to make an appointment. This place is great.

 

Also, check out the Museum of the Weird on 6th st. and Sfanthor, on S Congress. I recommend both, especially Sfanthor which is a wax museum of old sci-fi and horror characters and is really well done. The same feller owns them, so you can get a discount ticket to visit both.

Also, do you like barbecue? Austin is the new barbecue Mecca with people literally waiting in line for three or four hours at some places just to shove juicy brisket down their gullets. But you really don’t need me to get you to these places, instead let’s get in the car and drive to the hills.

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Giant beef rib at Louie Mueller

In the land around Austin is where amazing barbecue meets history and tradition in old meat markets. Everyone has their favorite spot, but I personally recommend Louie Mueller, which is about 30-45 minutes outside of Austin in Taylor, TX. The brisket and stupidly large beef ribs are some of the best I have ever had. The barbecue is weighed out and placed on wax paper, with minimal accoutrements, then you take it back to the table. Word of warning, since it is by weight and beef ribs are huge, they can get pricey quick – that rib in the picture above was almost $40 alone.  Also, consider heading south to Lockart where you can find three beloved old school bbq joints, Kreuz, Smitty’s, Blacks, or east for Southside Market or Snows. Or Southwest to the Saltlick. There are seriously too many amazing historical barbecue within 45 minutes of driving.

There are amazing art environments in Houston and San Antonio and I plan to get to them sooner or later. But for now I want to mention a very modern sculpture park located near Louie Mueller .The Huntington Sculpture Park located at 212 N. Broad St., Coupland, TX at the corner of Broad and Hoxie. All the pieces are by artist Jim Huntington who crafted these giant granite monoliths. Huntington is a respected artist with pieces in many of America’s premier sculpture parks, including Storm King in the Hudson River Valley of NY. It is open every day (24 hours) and there is a small donation box. It is the type of sculpture-park you expect to find in a big city and not a small rural town.  Louie Mueller barbecue and the Huntington Sculpture Park make for a great day trip.

There’s gold in the thar hills!

 

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