LIKE a medieval village, Butch Anthony’s 80-acre family compound is a self-contained universe, and every inch of it is an expression of his prodigious creative spirit. It makes a tempting destination for folk art aficionados, as well as the sort of art world tourists who’ve already ticked Marfa, Tex., or Joshua Tree, in the California desert, off their lists.
Mr. Anthony, a lanky and laconic 46-year-old who dresses exclusively in Liberty denim overalls (he owns 25 pairs) and a battered straw hat (he has 10), is a self-taught artist, builder and local hero, whom the state of Alabama once chose to make a Christmas tree ornament for the White House — the Bush 43 version. He is also the host of the Doo Nanny, the annual alt/folk art “micro” festival, as he calls it, that started as an “art party” he and two friends gave on the side of the road 15 years ago in nearby Pittsview, and moved to Mr. Anthony’s property here three years ago.
Like Burning Man, the extreme art fair held each summer in the Nevada desert, the Doo Nanny offers both a burning effigy and an exercise in creative camping. Mr. Anthony has thoughtfully provided a tepee, an outdoor kitchen, a solar-powered shower, outhouses and a wood-fueled hot tub, all built from and decorated with the sort of handmade trash-into-art pieces — ethereal chandeliers pieced together with cow bones and twigs gnawed by beavers — that are his specialty.
—Les Blank, the documentarian with an appetite for American originals (he has made films about Dizzy Gillespie and Alice Waters), came 12 years ago, and has been filming Mr. Anthony ever since.
When will the movie be done? “That’s a good question,” said Mr. Blank, who described Mr. Anthony as a kind of “national treasure.”
In any case, there’s much to see here, including the one-room log cabin Mr. Anthony built at 14 and the log house he began in 1988 and is still tweaking, made from heart pine salvaged from an old mill and put together with the help of his homemade rigging — cables and pulleys strung from the branches of pine trees. There are fields of artwork — like Dia: Beacon, but rural Alabama-style — that include enormous “bowls,” woven from beaver sticks, cow bones and old shoes and spray-painted white, and scraps of metal Mr. Anthony weaves together with hog wire to make siding, a material he has used in projects for the Rural Studio, the Auburn University architecture program that creates innovative housing for Alabama’s poorest residents.
(this is a pic I took of one of the Rural Studio projects that Butch did the front of — all those metal pieces)
A truck ride away, but still on the property, is the Possum Trot, a barbecue restaurant and junk auction house run by Mr. Anthony and his father, which comes to life Friday nights. Last week, the auction proceeds, $500, benefited the bands Mr. Anthony invited to the Doo Nanny, which this year cost him $5,700. There were about 1,000 visitors, whose combined donations totaled $1,500. “Maybe someday we’ll make some money,” he said.
Finally, there is the Museum of Wonder, a barnful of curiosities — the “world’s largest gallbladder,” a replica of a human skeleton, a stuffed chicken — and more of Mr. Anthony’s artwork, which includes 19th-century portraits painted over with crisp white images of skeletons and old photographs affixed to paintings of mythical creatures of his own imagining.
Fred Fussell, a former curator at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Ga., and now an independent curator and writer who focuses on traditional Southern culture, described Mr. Anthony as “one of a number of what I would call eccentric artists, which just means he does his own thing and doesn’t have much connection to other things except himself. I don’t like the term ‘outsider.’ ”
“In a whole number of ways that derive from his highly creative imagination,” Mr. Fussell continued, “he comes up with innovative thoughts and processes. He breaks down whatever he’s rendering into these various parts that are part physical and part invented by him. His is a really nice way of looking at the physical world.”
Mr. Anthony has made up his own word, “intertwangleism,” a label he paints on a lot of his pieces, which he defined this way: “Inter, meaning to mix,” he said. “And twang, a distinct way of speaking. If I make up my own ‘ism,’ no one can say anything or tell me I’m doing it wrong.”
Just last week, I saw Butch on an episode of ‘American Pickers‘ on History Channel which is an interesting show although …gosh I hate to say this, but… centered around a couple of the less-likable people on television who explain to the camera how they get people to part with their items, and at times go on about getting their office personnel to ‘actually do something’. One episode, they blamed her for sending them to a location where they wound up not buying anything (how was she supposed to know?).