Hermann Park and Discovery Green may be spurring an urban renaissance, allowing Houstonians to rediscover the great (albeit, often humid) outdoors, but alternative minds who may deem our city's lungs a bit lamestream will rejoice in the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art's latest initiative, Smither Park.
Stephanie Smither is piloting the program as a tribute to her late husband, John H. Smither, a former partner and management committee member of Vinson & Elkins law firm, board member of The Orange Show Foundation and president of the Houston Ballet. John was instrumental in the Orange Show acquiring the Beer Can House.
Stephanie has called upon one of Houston's most beloved artists — Huntsville-based Dan Phillips — to design the park, which will be the city's first folk-art inspired green space.
"Dan has been building the most amazing houses and pieces of art for about 12 years now," Smither tells CultureMap, citing his unique media, from wine corks to bottle caps to bones. "He has been a friend of ours since the '80s when we moved into and restored a house his grandparents built."
Phillips has been recognized worldwide for his innovative green design, from university lectures to Italian architecture journals to TED talks.
The Smithers are devoted collectors of work by self-taught artists like Phillips. Stephanie adores the inherent spontaneity of work created by untrained hands, saying, "There is a sophistication in a very honest way to it. The soul that these artists put into their work just dazzles me."
In May, Stephanie beseeched Phillips to conceive the park that will rise on a half acre abutting the East End's Orange Show monument.
Some of us are hankering for dynamic park features, and Smither Park will provide an answer to that appetite. One end of the park will be anchored by an amphitheater, with an interior coated in mirror shards contrasting with a colorful mosaic exterior. A meditation garden with a water feature will offer a respite from the avant-garde onslaught, while a 400-foot "Memory Wall" will provide a canvas for friends and families to honor the deceased.
It's not all mindfulness: We can also relish a serpentine tunnel, 12-foot "coin roll" tower and long-sweep swings. Philips has included the requisite hopscotch court and many more mosaics will round out the art-inspired environs. All aspects will be composed of blown concrete coated in recycled materials, such as pottery and seashells.
Smither contends that what will make the park a success is that it's a single artist's vision, rather than a set of parts chosen by a committee. Architect Ed Eubanks and Steve Goodchild of Goodchild Builders will also be donating their technical services. Smither and the Orange Show are still in the thick of the grant-writing process, and aim to break ground in January.
"It's going to be a major addition to the parks in Houston," says Smither, "as well as a destination worldwide."
To donate to the future Smither Park, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit orangeshow.org