Take a good look at Smither Park’s emerging Memory Wall

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Photo: 365 Houston

Inspect the three-dimensional mosaic artwork on the still-in-progress 400-foot Memory Wall at Smither Park, located a few doors down from The Orange Show on Munger Street in Houston’s East End.

The Memory Wall is the first installation that will eventually make up the fully-finished, half-acre Smither Park, a whimsical and fanciful gathering place and piece of immersive folk art. The park is intended to carry on the folk art spirit exemplified by Jeff McKissack, creator of the one-of-a-kind Orange Show monument, who passed away in 1980.

Smither Park in Houston

Although the design for the completed park is quite enchanting and family-friendly, the park itself is still early in its evolution. Today it is essentially a large vacant lot. With some uneven ground and no walkways or landscaping to speak of, it is not yet an active park in any sense of the word. There are currently no activities, water fountains or any entertainment and really isn’t a destination for families or children seeking a place to gather or be entertained.

Nevertheless, even though it’s still a work-in-progress the emerging Memory Wall is something for the curious, creative and adventurous to see. Spanning the back of the property, in front of a line of trees and countless wooden pallets stacked up on the adjacent lot, you will see the strikingly one-of-a-kind Memory Wall emerging from its humble cinder block beginning.

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The wall currently lines the back of a mostly vacant lot on Munger Street | Photo: 365 Houston

 

Creating the Memory Wall

When it’s complete, the Memory Wall will feature 60 distinct panels designed by local artists and individuals, many featuring items that represent or once belonged to their loved ones or those of Smither Park donors. Although some stretches of the wall are still untouched cinder block today, more than half of the wall has been completed, providing an opportunity to inspect and understand how the wall itself is being made.

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A completed panel featuring mosiac hummingbirds sits between two unstarted panels | Photo: 365 Houston

Stretching in pieces along the back of the property, the original bare walls are slowly being adapted into bewildering, three-dimensional displays dedicated to fanciful scenes and celebrations of loved ones lost.

All materials have been recycled from their original use, starting with the tubing, chicken wire, tires and other goods which are repurposed to give new shape to the wall. Once covered with concrete, these shapes are covered in mosaic tiles and found objects and transformed into trees, armadillos, octopi, rocket ships, owls, mermaids, flowers, people, bulls, cats, hummingbirds, angels, serpents and just about everything else one could imagine.

A Park-in-Progress

Though the intricate work has progressed considerably, a visit to the Smither Park reveals how much work remains to be done. Most Saturdays, you will find local artists adding to the wall, under the direction of the park’s artistic designer Dan Phillips.

As envisioned, the park is intended to become a welcoming and whimsical gathering place and curiosity. In addition to the Memory Wall lining the back of the park, plans include a small amphitheater, a meditation area, tunnels, swings and an interactive sculpture. Artists will likewise adorn these structures with intricately and fancifully places mosiac artwork and other found materials.

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A completed mosiac panel sits between two of its completed brethren | Photo: 365 Houston

Smither Park Background

The development of Smither Park is a multi-year effort that led to its ground-breaking on February 8, 2011. Designed by folk artist Dan Phillips, the park was named for late Houston lawyer and Orange Show board member John H. Smither who passed away in 2002. The project has been championed by his widow Stephanie Smither and the Orange Show for Visionary Art, which also puts on the annual Houston Art Car Parade and manages the Beer Can House created by John Milkovisch in Rice Military.

Memory Wall at Smither Park

  • Location: 2402 Munger St, Houston, TX 77023
  • Phone: 713-926-6368
  • Hours: Although the site is technically never closed, it is on a residential street. And as a work-in-progress, Smither Park currently has no lighting or infrastructure beyond the Memory Wall. So for practicality, safety and courtesy, consider the site open from sun up until sun down.
  • Parking: Much like the nearby Orange Show, there is no formal parking for Smither Park. Visitors may park on Munger Street in front of the park. Be considerate and courteous of the private homes located on Munger and across from Smither Park.
  • Donations: It is free to visit the Memory Wall at the future Smither Park. However The Orange Show for Visionary Art welcomes contributions to support the park’s completion. Click here to learn more about donating to Smither Park or buying naming rights for some of its key features.