Day Trips

Captain Daytrips visits the Webb Folk Art Gallery and Museum in Waxahachie.

A world made of matchsticks
A world made of matchsticks (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

The Webb Folk Art Gallery and Museum in Waxahachie proudly displays Venzl Zatoupil's masterpiece sculpture made with 9,900 toothpicks in their front window.

Zatoupil was a retired aircraft engineer with Braniff Airlines in Dallas. Over the years, until his death late last year, he patiently constructed three-foot-high works of art using small pieces of wood. His crowning achievement was probably the Ferris wheel decorated with sequins and powered by a small electric motor.

Bruce and Julie Webb acquired the Ferris wheel along with nine other models on long-term loan from the family early this year. According to his daughter, Zatoupil always envisioned the pieces residing in a downtown window somewhere, Bruce says. The wooden structures fill the front window of their gallery occupying a renovated mercantile building near the county courthouse square in this historical town 30 miles south of Dallas.

"Kids love it," Bruce says, "We have to clean off the fingerprints on the glass a couple of times a week." Besides the Ferris wheel, there is a Goodyear blimp, two airplanes, a Dutch windmill, an Eiffel Tower with a helicopter circling overhead, a drawbridge, and a spaceship. He says they really glow at night when the lights hit the mixture of light-colored wood and sparkling glitter.

"He could make anything out of wood," Bruce says of Venzl Zatoupil. The son and grandson of Czech immigrant cabinetmakers, Zatoupil was also skilled at making clocks and intricate carvings. Some of the trim on the sculptures show the breadth of his talents.

The first of his matchstick sculptures was the Ferris wheel complete with buildings and cars. Zatoupil was more than a little peeved when the art piece was disqualified from the arts and craft competition of the 1986 State Fair. The judges said the sculpture exceeded the height limit, but they gave him a green honorable mention ribbon anyway. The working model is made of round, flat, and square toothpicks; chopsticks, fireplace matches, and eight ounces of Elmer's glue. Zatoupil estimated that he spent 113 hours on the project and lots of patience.

Mr. and Mrs. Zatoupil exhibited the seven-foot long and three-foot tall stack of pine sticks and glue in the living room of their Dallas home. When he died last December the family began looking for a place to exhibit the work. The Webbs' gallery provided the perfect display case.

The Webbs are a young couple from Richardson who have an inspired appreciation for self-taught artists. They had visited the Zatoupils several times to show friends the incredible work of art. "It is nothing for us to hear about a newly discovered artist in North Carolina and jump in the car for a road trip," Bruce says.

When they inherited his grandmother's house in Waxahachie, the couple moved to his boyhood home in 1987. They opened two antique stores, but over the years they kept discovering wonderful folk artists. Late last year they opened the Webb Folk Art Gallery and Museum to showcase and sell the works of predominantly Southern, non-mainstream artists.

The gallery's current exhibit displays the colorful paintings of Rev. Johnny Swearingen. A retired cotton farmer from Chappell Hill, Swearingen may have had trouble with perspective in his paintings, but he had a genius' eye for the use of color. The Webbs own about two dozen of his paintings.

The gallery plans to continually display photography exhibits of folk art. Through the end of May, the gallery is showing the work of six photographers. There also are big metal sculptures made of automotive parts in the showroom along with crude paintings on sheets of corrugated tin. Austin artist Ike Morgan will be displaying his work there this summer.

"I've always liked the idea of roadside exhibits," Bruce says. Spending time as a child with his missionary parents in India helped him developed an appreciation for the feelings that go into handmade things. He readily sees a correlation between Austin's punk rock movement and the self-taught artists of the African-American communities. Folk art can have many different looks, from decorated tombstones to geometric designs made of construction paper.

The Webbs have helped the Orange Show Foundation of Houston prepare a tour of Dallas/Fort Worth area folk art collections and sites. On Memorial Day weekend, May 27-29, the nationally known folk art preservation society will sponsor a bus tour of Tony Rice's Wild West Town in Sherman, David Strickland's studio/sculpture park in Roanoke, the Webbs' gallery, and other sites. Tour packages include rooms at the restored Magnolia Hotel in Dallas or just the bus ride. For information, call the Orange Show at 713/926-6368 or at http://www.orangeshow.org.

The Webb Folk Art Gallery is at 209 W. Franklin, a half a block southeast from the Ellis Country Courthouse in Waxahachie. The toothpick sculpture is in the front window and available for viewing at any time, but the gallery is open on Saturday and Sunday 1-5pm and by appointment. For information, call 972/938-8085 or http://www.webbartgallery.com.

Coming up this weekend ...

Scarborough Faire turns 35 acres outside of Waxahachie into an Old English village on Saturdays and Sundays through June 4. 214/938-1888.

Springfest brings the carnival to Marble Falls' Johnson Park on the lake along with live bands, arts and crafts, and plenty of food vendors, May 12-14. 800/759-8179 or http://www.marblefalls.org.

Founder's Festival in Fredericksburg at the Pioneer Museum prepares a lively celebration honoring the first settlers, May 13. 830/997-2835.

Uncle Fletch's Hamburger Cookoff and American Music Festival in Athens honors the town's two famous exports -- fiddle music and the invention of the hamburger. 903/677-0775 or http://www.athensvip.org.

Children's Fishing Derby at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historical Park introduces children ages 4-12 to the skills required to become great tellers of tall fishing tales as well as baiting a hook, May 13 & 20, 8:30am-noon. Reservations required. 409/878-2214.

Coming up ...

Mayfest 2000 in Archer City celebrates the county seat's survival into a new century with a fair around the courthouse, May 20. 940/574-2489.

Cherokee Rose Festival in Gilmer features the homegrown roses of the area, May 20. 903/843-2413 or http://www.upshurcounty.com.

Songwriters Festival at Garner State Park outside of Concan features the musical skills of Sonny Throckmorton and Johnny Duncan along with vendors, May 17-20. 830/232-6132.

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