"The Beauty Box" Pretties Up a Third Ward Lot

Categories: Visual Arts

Photos courtesy of Robert Hodge and Philip Pyle
"The Beauty Box"
Rain can't wash away "The Beauty Box."

A day after an unexpected noon deluge, the rug is a little soggy, but the rest of the pieces in "The Beauty Box," an outdoor public installation, have dried. "The Beauty Box" is the brainchild of local mixed-media artist Robert Hodge, who, with partner Philip Pyle, a sculptor and digital artist, has converted the open-air space into a replica of a living room, like "your grandmother's living room or dining room," said Hodge.

The front door, located on Dowling Street, opens into a cozy home setting. A wooden dining table with two antique chairs upholstered in deep burgundy fabric greets you first. A golden clock glows against red wallpaper. On the floor sits a 1970s Quasar television; above it, pictures of anonymous family members. On the top shelf of a wooden case sits a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta; farther down, a portrait of John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Jackie. About halfway through, that red wallpaper changes to blue, with a white couch seated between the two. A lamp glows. A chair sits. A mirror reflects.

A Houston native and Third Ward resident, Hodge chose to create "The Beauty Box" as a way to connect with the community's rich past. Starting in the 1930s, Third Ward became the pre-eminent neighborhood for affluent and aspiring African-Americans. After the oil bust of the 1980s, however, the economy of the area declined, families moved out and a culture of drugs and homelessness moved in. Thriving businesses and homes turned into drug-ridden lots infested with looting and crime.

"The Beauty Box" was another of those Third Ward eyesores, then an empty lot filled with weeds and weed, emblematic of a neighborhood in decline and used, according to Hodge, "as a public restroom." Equally horrifying is the lot's centimeter-close location next to a children's playground.

Starting July 5, it took the pair approximately six weeks to acquire the pieces for "The Beauty Box" from thrift and dollar stores. Grants from the Arts Alliance, The Idea Fund and Everything Records, Hodge and Pyle's artist collective, funded the purchase of needed items. Before they started decorating, the pair spent three days clearing the lot, mowing overgrown grass, tossing out used needles, and removing human and animal feces.

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