In an ordinary place, one of nature’s warning signs is a guy in overalls with a deepwoods accent and a knack for amateur taxidermy.
But, Alabama is not an ordinary place, and Butch Anthony is not an ordinary man. If anyone epitomizes the notion that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, it is Anthony. He has combined a penchant for hoarding, outstanding DIY skills, an interest in the old freaks and sideshows, as well as the discarded remnants of life — down to bodies themselves — and created art.
And, there really is no other way to describe Butch Anthony except as “folk artist” — though a character out of a Shirley Jackson tale would be just as apt.
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.
“There’s a 100-foot vagina we’re fixing to burn,” Mr. Anthony remarked recently while filling a garbage can in the back of his battered truck with water, a precautionary measure, one gathered, in case things got out of hand.
But why a vagina? “They’ve got a burning man, why not have a burning woman?”
It sounds a lot creepier than it is, though. Butch is just...a different breed. And I mean that in all the positive ways. Not everyone is or can be wired like Anthony. And, when he taps into his innate creativity and boundless energy — coupled with a lot of scrounging — he can do some wondrous things.
But, perhaps what Butch is best known for is his Museum of Wonder, an homage to the freak shows and traveling fun fairs of a century ago. As he has described his shrine of macabre bric-a-brac, it is “PT Barnum on crack.”
Part art gallery, part landfill, part taxidermy, the Museum of Wonder should be a lot creepier than it is: Two-headed chickens, ornamentation of bones and furs and teeth and femurs, scraps of fabric, repurposed junk — the effect is charming, not repugnant.
You really do leave filled with a sense of wonder, even if it is an unsettling one.
There’s no place quite like it anywhere else in the country. The House on the Rock comes to mind as the closest comparison, but that was an intentional monument to kitsch; the Museum of Wonder has to be seen to be believed. Because, at its core, Anthony’s museum is the product of a man’s need to create and the soul of an artist.
Located on 80 sprawling acres in tiny Seale, near Columbus/Phenix City, the Museum hosts a Possum Trot auction every Friday at 7 Eastern
“If you come down here often enough, you’ll probably find what you’re looking for. The Possum Trot is not just an auction, it’s a place where the people come to relax and tell stories. ‘Bring a Truckload to sell’ or ‘Buy a truckload to take home’.”
If you have questions about the museum or auction, Butch is always happy to hear from guests and visitors. He sells commissioned pieces as well. Drop him a line. You can swing by the Museum of Wonder at 970 Highway 169 Seale, Alabama 36875, and the Possum Trot is located at 4776 Old Seale Hwy, Seale, Alabama 36875.
I wish I could capture what a visit to this place is like. However, words fail me. It is worth the trip though...no matter where you’re coming from.
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