The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art

Written by Lauriston Brewster

And anyway, you want weird? Houston has it by the square mile. Not Weird™, either. Like, genuinely strange.

That’s GQ Magazine’s Brett Martin describing our city’s unique culture in his since viral piece  “Houston is the New Capital of Southern Cool.”

If one is looking for institutions of weirdness, look no further than Houston’s own Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, which really is a monument to sheer, unabashed strangeness.

The mission of the Orange Show is to preserve, promote and document visionary art environments, provide opportunities for the expression of personal artistic vision and create a community where that expression is valued.

It was all started by an eccentric character named Jeff McKissack. A native of Georgia, Jeff was a man of many talents and trades, including bricklayer, banker, shipbuilder, soldier, restaurateur, author, nursery owner, beautician and orange trucker. When he found his way to Houston, he found work as a postal worker.

It was during this time, between ’56 and ’79, that Jeff  single-handedly built the Orange Show, the “ultimate homage to the orange,” with random scraps and knick-knacks he collected along his mail route. The 3,000-square-foot walkable structure he birthed was a colorful sprawl of fire escapes, metal and tile and also a pure marvel of Houston folk art.

Right next to the Orange Show is Smither Park, Houston’s first folk art inspired green space. Inspired by the Orange Show’s philosophy of promoting and sustaining self-taught art, Smither Park serves as a testimony to the vibrancy and creativity of the city of Houston.

A picture of the stage at Smither Park

Smither Park (Photo: Lauriston Brewster / Bayou Current ©)

Programming at the Orange Show nowadays is all-inclusive and includes hands-on workshops, music, storytelling and performance, the Eyeopener Tour program, and Houston’s most popular public art event, the iconic Houston Art Car Parade, the first and largest Art Car parade in the world. The foundation has also acquired other iconic pieces of folk art from around the city, including the Beer Can House.