Posted: Apr 13, 2012 2:10 PM
Updated: Apr 13, 2012 2:10 PM
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) It's been 70 years since David Adickes danced the jitterbug in the old Huntsville High School gym.
Now, at age 85, he pauses at a flight of schoolhouse stairs, uncertain if his knees can stand the climb.
Still, there's a rare bond between Adickes the Houston artist who has charmed and shocked with his giant concrete statues and this 1931-vintage backwoods temple of learning.
Only four years ago, the long-vacant brick building with a leaky roof and cracked walls seemed destined for demolition. Then Adickes, looking for a suitable showcase for a lifetime of paintings and sculptures, learned of its plight and made an offer.
Later this month, he will host a private reception to open the refurbished, 80,000-square-foot school as a gallery for more than 300 paintings and undetermined number of statues. Initially, the site will be open to curators hunting works for museum exhibits. Eventually, the Huntsville native hopes to open the school as a museum of his work.
"If not now, when?, to quote Jack Kennedy," Adickes said. "I've always wanted to do this. . I think every artist is concerned about what's going to happen to his work when he's gone. Permanence always has had a great value to me."
As a private gallery or a museum, Adickes' installation will be a welcome addition to Huntsville's Cultural Arts District, said city arts coordinator Linda Pease.
"It positions the city for representatives of art museums to see David's work and perhaps the work of other local artists, as well," Pease said.
The new gallery will replace Adickes' SculpturWorx studio in a sprawling Houston Heights-area paint warehouse. The artist plans to spend three days a week at the new site, which will include a small studio.
Adickes is best known for his monumental concrete statues of famous personages, works that critics have praised and damned with exceptional fervor.
Motorists approaching Huntsville via Interstate 45 are greeted by "Big Sam," a 67-foot-tall likeness of Sam Houston, who spent his final years in the Walker County town. An oversize statue of Stephen F. Austin stands in Angleton. Other works include giant concrete presidential heads, representations of the Beatles, a woman with flowing hair, a telephone and a mustachioed cellist.
Novelist James Michener once described Adickes as a French painter born in Texas, and the Houston artist's canvasses reflect the influences of the myriad artistic destinations - France, Spain, Japan, Tahiti - where he has resided. The paintings reflect a range of artistic styles. Among them are oils on canvas coated with coffee grounds and on the rubberized backing of indoor-outdoor carpeting.
The oldest painting at Adickes' gallery dates to 1949, the newest to several weeks ago.
Many of the paintings are hung in the school's gym, where Adickes and his classmates learned World War II-era dances. As the son of the town's appliance store owner, Adickes had access to the latest Big Band records and often served as the class disc jockey.
"In my room, I used to play Glenn Miller's 'In the Mood' and stand in front of the mirror and conduct," he recalled.
By the time Adickes bought the old school, district spokeswoman Shannon Duncan said, it had housed a junior high and prekindergarten and alternate school programs and had been vacant for years.
Stepping into the building for the first time in almost seven decades, Adickes said he was swamped by memories. Blackboards still bore handwritten admonitions from long-gone teachers. In the basement were hundreds of textbooks.
The cost of the building was little more than that of a garage apartment in the Heights, Adickes said. The amount of work necessary to make the building usable, however, was far more. Basic repairs included a new roof, rewiring and installation of carpet in rooms that would comprise the gallery. Even as the artist plans his reception, vast portions of the building remain unrestored.
"Everyone asks me, 'Why buy your high school?'?" Adickes said. "The answer is, I have fabulous memories. I was in band. I played clarinet. God, just the band trips on Friday nights - Groveton, Trinity, Cleveland. And then coming back on the bus with all those girls. . It was a natural."
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com