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Ray’s Ornamental Gardens

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By Gene Fowler, Austin
A vintage postcard shows George Ray in front of his Stephenville home and surrounded by Ray’s Ornamental Gardens, a sprawling collection of concrete folk-art installations fashioned by George. The unusual site, now long gone, was open to the public from the 1940s until the 1960s.
The creative mind, folks say, works in mysterious ways. None more mysterious, perhaps, has blossomed in the Texas sunshine than that of Stephenville philosopher-folk artist George Ellis Ray (1881-1957). Ray’s Ornamental Gardens, the folk-art environment George created 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth, was “a mecca for lovers of the unusual and the bizarre,” according to a 1961 report in Stephenville’s Tarleton State College newspaper.

As gospel music wafted from loudspeakers, garden visitors strolled through a wonderland of dozens of sculptural creations, formed of concrete and decorated with colored glass, tile, shell, rock, and petrified wood. Some of the pieces resembled ships’ wheels, musical lyres, hearts, and stars, but others, as the Tarleton chronicler observed, “were of designs never before thought of.” In toto, the works stood as abstract totems, somehow emblematic of the homemade proverbs that adorned signs placed throughout the outdoor gallery.

“Prejudice parks in an empty heart,” preached one sign. “No man is above what he says about others,” testified another. Some signs commented wryly on theology: “Everybody seems to believe in God after they work Him over to suit themselves.” Another poetically contemplated the infinite, unreachable horizon of the human mind: “The further out on the sea of thought we go, the more we see that we don’t know.” For 10 cents, visitors could buy a 33-page souvenir booklet, titled RAYISMS, of the wise sayings. Postcard views on sale at the site carried images of Ray’s art across the country.

After Ruth Ray, George’s widow, died in 1967, the gardens deteriorated more rapidly. Tarleton rodeo boys honed their roping skills on the ruins of the unusual creation. Today, only scattered fragments remain. According to local folklore, George left buried treasure in his garden galleries on the high bank of the Bosque River. But self-taught archeologist Alvis Delk, the current owner of the property, says the loot of the legend is nowhere to be found.

Read 5539 times Last modified on Friday, 13 July 2012 13:06

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