Larry Harris says he loves to see people's reactions when they confront folk art.
One of his favorite stories is about an offshore oil worker from Houston who came along on an art tour. Harris wasn’t sure the trip would be up the oil worker's alley. After five days of visiting Chicago's folk art treasures and scoping out much of the city's modern architectural wonders, Harris got a pleasant surprise. "He was the first one to say, ‘Larry, where are we going next year?’ ” Harris recalls. "He totally got into it and that's kind of what drives me."
For 20 years, Harris has worked as a volunteer for the Orange Show, a folk art environment made of salvaged building materials in Houston. Orange Show creator Jeff McKissack created the space in 1979 as a tribute to oranges and vitamin C.
In 1995, Harris and other Orange Show affiliates decided to organize a different folk art tour each year in various parts of the country. Harris has led outings with around 30 people each to more than 15 states and parts of Mexico. Harris has also gone on several solo adventures, gaining extensive knowledge of what various pockets of America have to offer. This year, New Mexico's artists have a chance to show the tour group what gets them juiced.
"We've always said we need to go to New Mexico," Harris says. "It's always been there because there are just some world-class sites."
Harris' crew will also make pit stops in Santa Fe, Taos and Las Vegas. They'll visit artists, engage with their work and probably buy some of it before heading back to Houston.
Wherever he goes, Harris says the folk art he discovers is unmistakably honest. "It has that sincere, hand-built quality," Harris explains. "There's no wall between the artist and what they're creating."
When Steve White found out Harris wanted to show people his house in the Huning Highland neighborhood, he got a little carried away. The Folk Farm owner wanted to show the tour participants more than just his own work. So he invited 13 other folk artists who dabble in different mediums. "It could have just been me at my house and then 30 people show up," White says. "But I wanted to give them,” the art-tourists, “a taste of a few other people."
White's Folk Farm includes an 18-hole miniature golf course, several signs from the now defunct Bob's Fish and Chips and assorted unusual knickknacks, including his enormous array of modified Pez dispensers. White says he named it the Folk Farm because it has folk art and "because I grew up in Ohio, so I love farms."
After the Orange Show crowd leaves to keep up with its tight schedule, White's inviting the general public to enjoy a free concert at his house. He's calling it Afternoon on the Farm. The Grave of Nobody's Darling, Lisa and Her Cello, DJ Chach aka Burnt Reynolds and Frank McCulloch will get up and perform. White's also breaking out his dispensers for a little “Pez Theater,” starring several of his signature creations in politically tinged mini-stories.
"I'm doing this for love," White says. "This is out of my heart."
Oh, and one more thing—“Maybe use the bathroom before you come," White warns.