Pretending his student days were not long ago, 85-year-old artist David Adickes ambles through the halls of the former Huntsville High School building in Walker County, reminiscing about teenage shenanigans. His stories, not far from what would follow after the preface "This one time at band camp," flowed as if they happened yesterday.
"This is where I learned to jitterbug," Adickes recalls. He is standing in the middle of what used to be the gymnasium, where he would belt out Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" from his reedy clarinet.
The smirk expression on his face says it all: He's a troublemaker, and he hasn't changed (much) since he graduated in 1943.
His alma mater is on the corner of University Avenue and 8th Street; it's nestled within overgrown foliage from the neighboring lots. Across the street is a functioning school, on the corner is where his brother was born and a few blocks away is an apartment complex built by his grandfather. Yes, this is home, he says.
"I don't know if I learned much here, but I had a great time — and there were a lot of cute girls," he continues. "I remember most of all the band trips on Friday nights; we would go to Groveton and Trinity and play all those muddy fields. We would always lose all those games; I don't know if we won three.
"But coming back on the bus with the band, that's where you would try your best to see how far you could get (with the girls)."
This 1931 historic building now belongs to him. It's the home of the David Adickes Foundation museum, a collection that holds more than 60 years of his métier through more than 300 paintings and sculptures.
This 1931 historic building now belongs to him. It's the home of the David Adickes Foundation museum, a collection that holds more than 60 years of his métier through more than 300 paintings and sculptures of the approximately 6,000 he has produced to date. The galleries are arranged chronologically, starting with paintings dating back to 1949 to works finished within the month.
Some of the pieces he owned — paintings that never sold — and others he bought back from collectors.
Parsing through each installation with Adickes, where every vignette is a mirror of an epoch of his life, there's strong evidence of his French teacher Fernand Léger's influence, monochrome minimalist works that nod to a Japanese aesthetic and colorful, vibrant contemporary pieces that focus on geometry. A few exhibition catalogs are scattered in credenzas and tables; collectively, they trace his artistic journey.
As Huntsville expanded from 5,000 to 38,000 residents, new larger schools were built on the loop around town to accommodate the growth in population. The 400-student capacity rendered this facility too small for high school use. It changed into a junior high, but then it became obsolete. It was scheduled for demolition.
"When I heard about that, I thought it was too nice a building to tear it down," Adickes says. "When the city got the estimate to bulldoze it — it was $95,000, which was more than the small school district wanted to pay — someone suggested that it should be put up for sale. I raced up (from Houston) at 60 MPH and bought it right on the spot — the price was cheap.
"I could see the building could be renovated and restored easily. Structurally it's very sound, though the roof needed some work."
In the future, he plans to build a smaller branch in Houston with rotating exhibitions.
Adickes first impulse wasn't to set up part of the 80,000 space as a museum. He envisioned the gym as his artist studio, where he would stretch large canvasses across all three walls, step on a Segway, attach art supplies, scoot around and paint to his heart's content a bit here, a bit there.
As he examined other possibilities — and after renovations that exceeded the purchase price of the building — he changed his mind.
Unlike the 60,000 pounds of concrete that make up his 67-foot tall homage to Sam Houston, which thousands of drivers admire speeding by on I-45, he's fully aware that choosing Huntsville over Houston means less exposure for his body of work. But it feels like the right thing to do, he says. In the future, he plans to build a smaller branch in Houston with rotating exhibitions.
He hasn't yet secured a certificate of occupancy for his foundation. Adickes hopes to iron out all those details by the fall and open the doors to the general public. When that happens, his vision is for his output to be an attraction to boost tourism in Huntsville.
Watch the video interview (above) and take an exclusive tour of the museum and the area with David Adickes.