Shack

The Art-Filled Home of Gallerist Hiram Butler


With only a little digging, one finds the origins and etymology of the word 'shack' to be far more nuanced than initial impressions might suggest.  It took, however, quite a bit more digging on the part of gallerist Hiram Butler to make and preserve a home out the immigrant worker’s shack he claimed near his gallery in Houston.

Upon finding the property, he discovered no indoor plumbing and pecan shells filling the interior walls like some kind of natural insulation, having been literally squirreled away there by animals for years.  What he also found (and mercifully retained) was a simple, unassuming, and straightforward vernacular structure, built in 1880 for German workers and of the type rarely visited by high-flying preservation efforts.  And therein lies its allure. 

Of course, he remedied the plumbing lack and built a kitchen suited to making Southern suppers for friends and associates.  He even replaced the insulation with something, well, more efficient and suitable to Houston’s Gulf Coast weather extremes.  He also brought his passion and insight as a curator to bear, creating an unexpectedly perfect home to an eclectic collection of modern art, design and furnishings.

Although far-flung in origin and style, Butler’s collections are harmonious, held together by his disciplined aesthetic, and the plain bones of the structure itself.  The combinations are muscular and thoughtful.  The bedroom combines an American quilt spread over a 19th century spindled rope bed opposite two minimal-yet-stately chairs by Donald Judd and a simple task lamp.

An Arts and Crafts fruitwood cabinet holds antiquities dating to 3000 B.C. surrounding a portrait by artist Sherri Levine that was inspired by Walker Evans’ iconic photo, ‘Sharecropper’s Wife.’  It’s as if the weathered matriarch of the family of original inhabitants is looking directly in the face of her home’s new residents.

And, among the newcomers, is a crop of the 20th century’s masters of Modernism:  Breuer, Rauschenberg, Johns, Twombly and Warhol.  Good company, indeed.

The Hiram Butler Gallery can be visited here.

posted : Friday, June 22nd, 2012

tags : hiram_butler donald_judd interior_design rauschenberg warhol modern_art sherri_levine walker_evans shack vernacular architecture historic_preservation cy_twombly southern_living houston_texas hiram_butler_gallery