The Good Life in Austin Texas


The Chicken Farm Art Center-Sanctuary from Black Friday and Holiday Shopping Madness

Chicken Farm Art Center

Chicken Farm? Art Center? Yeah I know but remember this is Texas and hear me out. Though I usually write about The Good Life In Austin Texas, there are many places, events and attractions near our city that are NOT TO BE MISSED. A little over three hours drive north west from Austin near the heart of Texas lies the community of San Angelo, Texas. Some interesting tidbits about the town include: the largest city under 100,000 population NOT located on an Interstate Highway, being my home town (38 years ago), location of historical Fort Concho and a surprisingly robust art community that includes the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts and the Chicken Farm Art Center. To give you an idea of just how relevant the art community is in San Angelo, I have attended exhibits there that were available in limited release. I know this must sound strange but here is an example, a recent show was only offered for preview in New York, San Francisco and...San Angelo?!?

Roger AllenThe Chicken Farm Art Center is the brainchild of one of my closest friends and teachers; sculptor, potter, and multi talented Artist Roger Allen. After teaching art for a few years in the 1970's (yeah I know it's dating us but history is important) Roger found an abandoned Chicken Farm  and processing plant on the north side of San Angelo consisting of 8 buildings on 3 acres of land that was perfect, well at least cheap enough to move and expand his art studio and establish a compound where artists in all media could live and work. I know what you are thinking, an artist's compound in the middle of West Texas? But for some wonderfully weird and creative reasons, San Angelo was indeed the perfect place for such an idea to take hold and flourish!

The Chicken Farm Art Center has now grown to be one of West Texas’ premier attractions and is home to two galleries, 15 studios, Jerry & Susan Warnell's bed-and-breakfast and Silo House restaurant (literally built in a space that was formerly 2 grain silos) that offers a five course meal of fine dining with a casual ambiance. Roger Allen & Pam Bladine now oversee The Starkeeper Gallery and studio featuring Roger's ceramics and there are also 18 resident artists (Chicken Farmers) working in all sorts of disciplines including painting, photography, copper wall sculptures, stone sculptures, mosaics, batiks, glass, fiber art work and creative and vintage clothing. Please don't confuse this with craft fairs or similar ilk as these are true artists creating some of the finest work you can find!

Chicken Farm Art Center Open HouseBeginning today, The Chicken Farm Art Center will hold their annual open house for the three days after Thanksgiving and celebrating their 40th Anniversary! People from all over the country will be attending this event that features all of the artists in residence as well as numerous visiting artists who will be displaying  their work, as well as hold workshops in many artistic disciplines.  Also on tap with be a continuous series of music featuring 18 separate bands and a daily gathering of the Chicken Farm Pickers from 9:30-4:00 each day.  This will be an excellent time to shop for the holidays in a completely different atmosphere from the insanity of malls or the sterile nature of online shopping. If you have even glanced at a TV lately, you have heard of supporting local small businesses this holiday season so this is your chance! Though I no longer live in San Angelo, I always stop and (usually stay with Roger) when I am in San Angelo and I am always pleasantly surprised at the incredible hub of creative activity that is going on at the Chicken Farm Art Center. Do yourself a favor if you are in the area (at any time of the year) or even within a few hours' drive and make the trip. I guarantee it will be well worth it!

This post is also in rememberance of Roger's oldest friend, fellow Artist and Teacher Jim Henderson.

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47 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • November 26 2010 10:00AM

No One Goes Hungry–Holiday Season Stage it Forward

No One Goes Hungry-Holiday Season Stage it Forward

Austin Mobile Loaves & FishesStanding at the corner of 6th and Lamar by Whole Foods, looking at the peach in my hand and waiting for the light to change, my daydreaming is interrupted by the shout of "GET A JOB!"Startled, I look up and see a man in a car glaring at the homeless person standing near me. The homeless person has a sign that says "Dreaming of Mexican Food". The peach in my hand seems heavy now and I walk over and give it to him. "Thanks man...God bless you" he says quietly. I tell him, "same to you" and mention that he should go to Wooldridge Park by the Downtown Austin Library around 6:00 and he can get a free meal from the Mobile Loaves & Fishes Truck.  He says he will check it out and thanks me again.

The light changes and as I walk across I see a young woman in one of those small new "Ultimate Driving Machines" as she leans from the window and shouts, "Hey, why are you helping that bum!"I stifle the urge to say something and put my hand in my pocket to keep from waving at her with one finger. I am amazed at that thinking but not surprised. There are many people who have the idea that they want to be able to succeed without any help from anyone and that is laudable but not realistic because we are not all given the same opportunities. There is nothing wrong with concept that we can all achieve anything through our own efforts. My problem is with those who so arrogantly advocate this in blogs, books, online and in conversation without ever understanding that many people have never had the same opportunities from the very beginning and at the same time, taking for granted what they have!

Tracy Rodenborn and St Michaels Make Ready CrewWe have all heard of the "Puritan Work Ethic" and though admirable it is not always realistic or applicable. I was raised in an affluent family (though I was not aware of it as a child because people were not valued by their income or what they owned) and with the same hard work ideology. My father was a strong proponent of self reliability and working for a living but he also believed that people had a responsibility to take care of those less fortunate. This came from his Christian back ground that he practiced as well as preached (which is why I never won the hypocrisy argument with him).  He was in the grocery business in West Texas and I remember as a child accompanying him to the Salvation Army at Christmas to help hand out turkeys and bags of groceries to poor families in the community. As a child, I was uncomfortable at first but my Dad would remind me that we were doing something to make the lives of those who did without a little better. Even in the last years of his life he continued to donate money and volunteer with The Salvation Army, Meals on Wheels, The Adult Literacy Project and Habitat for Humanity. I will forever remember his words, "We live in a country that is so rich and so powerful, there is no reason anyone should ever go hungry. We have a moral obligation to share our blessings with the less fortunate".

A.J. Lindow Liz Saieh Mobile Loaves and FishesAbout ten years ago, I joined a group from AvenueOneProperties and began to volunteer with a new community outreach organization that began here in Austin, Texas called Mobile Loaves & Fishes. Mobile Loaves & Fishes , The brainchild of Alan Graham, with the mission to provide food, clothing, and dignity to our brothers and sisters in need.   They now accomplish this mission through the use of 12 catering trucks that go out onto the city streets of Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, Providence, and Nashville every night of the week.  Now with almost 10,000 volunteers, it started with the hard work of a few volunteers and a single supply truck.

I have helped on the make ready crew preparing food and as a truck driver since I first joined in 2000 and in the last few years have worked witha small crew of friends to deliver meals once a month.We have a good time together Our favorite stop is WooldridgePark by the Austin Downtown Library. My company and my fellow truck crew members save up toiletry items, clothing and other things that that are needed. The irony is not lost on us that we all save bath items from our vacations and often hand out soap and shampoo from such luxurious destinations as the Four Seasons - Bora Bora and other Hotels from across the globe and I even gave out samples from Plaza-Athenee in Paris but soap is soap no matter the source. There is an online sign up for the volunteers to "reserve" a location and for awhile it got a bit competitive. I was on the phone complaining to one of my fellow volunteers about the fact that someone beat us to the punch on "our stop" and my wife gently teased me by saying, "Well are upset because someone else got YOUR homeless people???" I reluctantly laughed and had to agree that was more than absurd wasn't it? Although we DO still compete and manage to get the library stop as often as possible...

Mobile Loaves & Fishes Truck Team 31 Russell Lewis AJ Lindow Liz Saieh Stephani Wolfe Cathleen ButlerI want to take a moment and  thank everyone who have made our efforts possible; Ruth Dore', volunteer coordinator, who patiently herds all of the volunteers on a daily basis, Tracy Rodenborn and Don Haynes of St. Michaels Academy who along with students have prepared the food for the last 5 years. Tracy just had a second baby so this is a shout out to her! I also want to thank my friends and fellow members of truck team 31; A.J. Lindow, Liz Saieh, Sandy Park, Stephani Wolfe and Cathleen Butler  (Pictured in the photo at left)! I always enjoy our time together and look forward to going out with y'all every month!

I just finished a conversation with my brother about his involvement with Mobile Loaves and Fishes and I was reminded of the desperate need of so many these days. Though I wrote this post  awhile back, it's as relevant today as it was then. Last week on my run with our Mobile Loaves and Fishes group, the crowds of homeless and hungry were larger than ever. Alhough Austin and Texas in general has missed much of the trauma of the recent economic downturn it's still affected our city and state. I think people sometimes have a knee jerk reaction to the plight of others and until you actually take a closer look at some of our problems, it is impossible to understand without judging. Look around and see where you might have a chance to contribute, I guarantee you will receive much more than you give!

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118 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • November 16 2010 10:11AM