Journal from the Archive

The Third Ward


Project Row Houses
2500 Holman Street
Houston, Texas

21 Feb. 2002

Sirens are blaring on the nearby freeway. The neighbors are out in front of the house next door drinking and arguing (or at least talking loudly), while I sit here comfortably in Rick Lowe's home a few blocks from the RowHouses. This house is not secured in any of the traditional means. There are no security systems or alarms. Not even a big dog to scare off a potential intruder. Yet this is a ghetto? …and I feel safe!

I remember when Rick bought this place. It was a shell of a home then. The roof had leaked for too many years. Some of the windows were gone. He didn't pay much for it. I thought he had bitten off a major redo. Now it is a modest and very comfortable home with plenty of character and lots of great reading material.

Today I started construction on my row house. It bothered me somewhat that the first installation of this "Third Ward Archive" was too tight. In an effort to do all I could to assure the space was well done, I had designed the configuration of the shelves down to the inch. Then I followed my design to the T. This time I have much of the materials from the original installation so much time is saved routing the two by fours for the shelves, and I'm freer to work with the community. Still it is important to me to get some construction done every day. Today I shelved in the double window just inside the front door. Then put some jars already filled with images and notes from the earlier project. This was a way of marking and blessing the space for me.

Mid-day Deb Grotfeldt and I visited with Miss Courtney and her daughter-in-law Ruth Brown. Miss Courtney was eighty-eight years old when I met her six years before. Now at ninety-four she is much more feeble but still full of life. Ruth accepted a camera. If the images are just fractionally as rich as Miss Courtney's life and environment we will have an extraordinary set of images to build on. This feels like home in a way.

Friday 22 Feb.

The Third Ward feels like home in more than some deja vu sort of way. I am accepted here and appreciated for what I do.

This is a jigsaw project. Fitting the elements together and looking forward to seeing it take shape.

Today is camera day. I'm passing the Kodak's out into the neighborhood, and my new digital arrived. It is beautiful here today.

Yesterday Gail Penrice stopped by. Six years ago she welcomed me into the Third Ward by flattering me by suggesting she couldn't tell I wasn't black. She thought I was a light skinned brother. We decided I was, even if I don't know of any black blood in my ancestry, its probably there. Gail was one of the young mothers six years ago. Now she owns her own home not far from the RowHouses. She has married her daughter's father, and together they run their own business. I'll link her website to mine and to this project's website. It is part of it.

It rained last night. One of those tropical storms that blow in off the coast. It was a big bursting storm that tapered off to a steady rain lasting hours.

Tomorrow I meet with a group of teenagers. The Art/Life kids as their referred to here. Half of them are from the Third Ward and the other half are from the barrio. Five Hispanic kids and five African American kids are working together to learn some of the basic skills of art.

This afternoon I walked around the neighborhood and gave away cameras. People like Delores and Lucky who were playing dominos. Jewell Walker and her grandsons Dujan and Gerrie kept three cameras. Then the after school kids drained four of the cameras and most of my energy. All this is fun and exhausting.

Tuesday 26 Feb.

Frogs have taught me…..

- I am a social tourist viewing an alien social structure living in an environment of my creation.

- my relationship to these amphibians is voyeuristic. While watching them is very rarely totally consuming, I know enough to have some understanding of their social structure. Little of what goes on interpersonally between these frogs ever reaches terms I can comprehend. An occasional bout between males or females or the threesome where one male does the courting and the other fertilizes the eggs, creates the illusion of understanding their personal relationships. But that is more of an interpretation of our interpersonal relationships.

- to feel some basic need to aid in community development beyond and in correlation to my personal social structure. (to share this experience)

- there is a shared relevance between social structures, community development, and social tourism.

- Tonight I watched as a pretty little 15 year old girl went home with her "difficult" uncle as her councelor offered her a place to stay until her mother returns week. She didn't want to go with him, but did. I don't know. I can't sort it out, but everybody in the group is aware. I vaguely know the uncle from six years ago. He is a friend of Rick's. I will ask Rick to look into it. But then there is a certain level of all of that I can not cross. *

- to wander if I could ever have been this deeply entrenched into this alien environment or groking much of this without the frogs?

- to know I see differently than six years ago.

[footnote here]
She is a very dramatic little girl who is acting out. I am convinced her relationship with her uncle is appropriate. My suggestion is she gets involved in acting classes. This is performance Art, but still very immature.
I have debated as to publishing this. To me it is important to note how deeply these tribal roots go. The people at Project Row Houses are deeply connected in ways that are rarely seen in our mass culture and I'm honored to be accepted on that level.

Wednesday Feb. 27

A spine formed this morning. Whether it is the spine of a boat or something more alive is still undetermined.

This piece will morph this coming Saturday. The D. leucomela tad I have with me is still a week or so from leaving the water, like-wise, I am still immersed. The correlation may be to look past the opening for the piece to reach maturity. There is no way to get everything I want done between now and this weekend anyway.

The space has taken more of the form of the galley of a boat. The correlation has been made here to a slave ship. While that wasn't my intention, who am I to say, how people here should interpret? I am just making the piece. The people here are giving it.

Saturday March 2nd

While you never really dance alone, but no one was here to see me this morning. The people here at the RowHouses have danced their part every day and need to be acknowledged. This is my work, their piece, and our peace.

The spine is composed of a series of free-standing glass shelves with the ribs intact running down the middle of the house. [(my house) ownership is important with this right now] The Galley Archive. The Belly of a Whale. The Backbone.

As I danced with the delight of seeing what I was seeing, the jars on the glass shelves responded with a chorus. They sang their rattling song as the floor gave and swayed. It relit my flame.

It's a good morning!

A young 40ish muscular man came by earlier this morning as I was sending out the "belly" note. He had heard of what I'm doing and wanted to be included. More than just wanting Douglas was excited about the prospects of being included in Photo Fest. I was out of cameras so he went out and bought his own. By the time Deb Grotfeldt came to pick up the last bunch of cameras for one hour processing Douglas had returned with his camera. Twenty seven more pictures of the Third Ward. Reward!

13 March 02

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world."
Mahatma Gandhi

This morning I awoke to two forms of dove cooing in the yard where the children play here behind my row house and beside the storage building where the Gandhi quote is taped to the window. There is a small scaled dove here that coos in short repeated calls very distinctly different from the morning doves sad melody. Twenty plus doves cooing and singing the blues here in the ghetto a block from Miss Ann's, one of Houston's traditional blues bars has significance only if you listen.

Here the kids come early to find what's new. Its spring break; schools are out this week and the little ones have been around most of the time. Rei Rei has already been by this morning to see the froglets and look again at the pictures her friends shot of her six years ago. Her curiosity is infectious and so alive within her peer group. But that curiosity is lost in the older kids.

Our inconsistencies cost us tremendously. We point at the comeback success of wolves, puma, and bears and over look the loss of amphibians. We talk about the numbers of "minorities" in Harvard and overlook the Rei Rei's of the third world within our boundaries. Poverty couples with lack of education. Rampant alcoholism, violence, and drugs are only the physical forms of the decay and may well be Rei Rei's future.

The environment here directly around the RowHouses has change significantly for the better in the past six years.

It is within our power to change the world. We are changing it. Drilling in the ANWR and Arches is the equivalent of educating the elite while the children of this our third world (the Third Ward of Houston) know little to nothing about computers. The world is close at hand and these children are not receiving the basics of our time. If they don't connect with the growth of larger world all of us will pay the price in the future.

This thread about what we have learned from our frogs is significant. The correlation here is with our collective environment and our individual realms or enclosures. We care for those little environmental enclosures and their inhabitants so we can learn to care with our larger enclosures. Our ability to change is limited to the space around us and that space is as large or small as we make it within our chorus.

We can teach those around us to see themselves as part of the environment. It is subtle but true, if we change the world will.

Tracy Hicks
223 North Shore
Dallas, TX 75216
214 948 0609