I’ve been wanting for *so long* to do a post about my friend Scott Stevens, who grew up in Alabama and has his own art environment in Austin. I figured the easiest way to talk about it would be to do it like a q&a, so…
(me:) Why the name “Smut Putt”?
(Scott:) In the 80’s I did comix for punker zines and as little “8 page bibles”. My main character was named Mr. Fix. Mr. Fix, when not causing mayhem and cracking non sequiturs, played miniature golf at a place called “Smut Putt”. Many years later my friend Jasun Huerta brought that up and said that everything I did was “Smut Putt”. I had a solo art show in April 1997 called “Smut Putt Heaven 1997”. Originally my place was called “Horseradish Dunes Proving Ground, Mannequin Farm, and Smut Putt Course”. I consider Smut Putt to be surrealism with a hillbilly twist.
(me:) Did you just wake up one morning and decide to become a ‘yardist’, or were you tinkering with making one assemblage in the back yard for your own personal fun and it just grew & grew?
(Scott:) 14 years ago on Labor Day weekend Sunday I put 6 plants in a sunny corner of my backyard. Every year I would go to a cactus nursery and buy cuttings. There was no plan and there still isn’t one. I add something and then I’m inspired to build something else. So it grows… I had maybe 10-16 baby doll heads on sticks in the yard when i had a friend over to hang out one night. Veronika was from Munich Germany and did the wildest expressionistic art I’d seen. She was really freaked by the dolls and said so. I thought “if 10 or 15 heads get such a reaction..what about 50 or 100?”
(me:) What was your inspiration for adding the “…Holiness Church of Wonders and Signs Following” – is that the significance of the snakes hanging in the yard? Were you already familiar with the ‘Church of G-d With Signs Following’ in Section, Alabama, where part of the service
included snake handling (and was the location centered around a Dennis Covington book)?
(Scott:) Yes the bottle cap snakes are definitely the reason for the “Holiness Church Of Wonders and Signs Following.” I had the name before I read the book”Salvation on Sand Mountain”. Big Chief recommended the book to me after hearing the name of the yard. One of my friend’s moms (in Somerville, Alabama) grew up in the Holiness tradition. There is a Holiness Church in Valhermosa Springs between Cotaco and Lacey’s Springs. I saw the sign out on the highway last December.
(me:) Where did all those mannequin heads come from, and does it ever spook you out at night?
(Scott:) The first two mannequin heads came from the Cathedral of Junk when Vince was disassembling it in early 2000. I came home to find them on my front porch. The next day when I went to work there was a cardboard box on my desk with a mannequin head in it! A coworker had seen it on the side of the road and picked it up for me. Most of the heads come from a local beauty college. The only time I was spooked by the heads was when I caught them talking about me in the 3rd person.
(me:) Do people call before coming over to see SPH generally, or do they just help themselves to a tour?
Most people call or send an email before they come over. The gate is locked. People can look over the fence and get a taste but will miss a lot. When people go to the Museum of Ephemerata or the Cathedral of Junk they will usually be recommended to see my place too. For a town of 750,000 Austin is still a small town, everybody knows each other, and there is a lot of word of mouth.
(me:) What’s the best part about having an art environment right in your own yard?
(Scott:) How can you beat having your own artpark to do with as you please? There’s wildlife…all kinds of insects, anoles, snakes (actual reptiles), skinks, are there and possums pass through at night. I have giant goldenrod spiders from time to time too. They’re beautiful.
(me:) Is there a worst part?
The worst part is people showing up unexpectedly on broiling hot summer afternoons when I’m cranky and more in the mood to stay inside. People who want to second guess the why and wherefore of the place bother me. If you don’t have a taste for the unusual and personal artistic expression why come by in the first place?
(me:) You’ve talked before about attending exuberant revivals growing up here in Alabama. Can you explain the connection you made between Marjoe Gortner and Alice Cooper? Did that have anything to do with you becoming ordained to perform weddings?
(Scott:) Revival time was a very, very important part of my upbringing. Church in general was very important. I went to a very small congregation Methodist church in Somerville. But I loved rock music, especially Alice Cooper. He was the first rock concert I ever attended. For me attending an Alice Cooper concert is like going to a very, very good revival meeting. The last one I attended, last year in Houston, I was taken by the Spirit and was shaking uncontrollably.
Steven Gaines wrote both the book “Marjoe” and the book “Me, Alice”. That’s the connection in my mind. Plus Alice was a very serious Bible student as a child as he accompanied his father when his father was undergoing the training for pastorhood. From his very first album “Pretties for You” in 1969 his music has religious themes. He does Bible studies on his tour bus these days.
In 2005 my best friend was electocuted in a swimming pool. In hindsight I realize the eulogy I wrote for him was a sermon. Two other friends of Dixon who were present at the memorial planned to marry. After his passing they asked me to perform their ceremony, saying that I had the presence of a minister. I was honored to be asked to do this and became ordained online in the Universal Life Church. I’ve performed 3 marriages in all, the last one being of the curators of the Museum of Ephemerata on the 3rd of April. The first couple have a yard full of blue bottles…a hundred or more.
I have a namesake from each side of the family. On my father’s side Orange Scott Wight was a circuit rider for the Methodist Church and started the church in Cherokee Iowa. Many times in my 20s my mother told me I was missing my calling by not being in the ministry. Honestly, I enjoy being a minister and helping people more than I enjoy preaching. But I have done the latter too.
(me:) Who are your other favorite yardists?
Vince Hannemann of the Cathedral of Junk here in Austin. Dr. Robert Mace of the blue bottles. The Flower Man Cleveland Turner in Houston. Those are people that I’ve met. I love Ave Maria Grotto. I went there in 1968 with my church youth group. It was the first environment I’d seen. It was made by Brother Zoettl right? I’d love to go to Salvation Mountain and meet Leonard Knight. He seems to be really spiritually in tune and a really nice person. I wish I could have met Howard Finster. There are a lot of places I’ve only seen in books but would love to see firsthand.
(Scott:) I’ve noticed that whenever I give strong thought to wanting or needing something for my yard it manifests itself in my life shortly thereafter. This has happened time and time again. I suggest that everyone get the most they can out of every day, treat others the way they’d want to be treated, and be the best person they can every day.