Crossroads of Texas

By Kevin Tankersley

Welcome to Waxahachie

Pictured: The Webb Gallery in Waxahachie houses eclectic art and antiques. Photo provided by Julie Webb.

The downtown area in Waxahachie resembles that of many other Texas towns of its size. There’s an attractive courthouse, and the surrounding streets are filled with eateries, antique stores, offices and the like. Less than a block from the square in Waxahachie, however, is an art gallery, but a gallery that one wouldn’t expect to find in a town of just over 31,000 people.

The Webb Gallery, at 209 West Franklin Street, doesn’t feature bucolic paintings of cattle grazing in pastures or windmills or old pickup trucks. Instead visitors are greeted by a large banner salvaged from a circus sideshow. It advertises, “Serpentina: Half Woman, Half Serpent.” Inside, folk art-style presidential portraits by the artist Ike E. Morgan are for sale. Profiles of human heads, drawn in bold, black lines and then filled with a series of words, are available in a variety of mediums: on canvas and old seed sacks, on the back of a photo collage and on red mechanic’s towels. The heads are the work of Bruce Webb, who owns the gallery with his wife, Julie.

“I can do that drawing blindfolded. My hand just kind of automatically does that thing,” Bruce said. The head profile is his “icon,” that one feature that tends to show up over and over again in the works of folk artists.

Bruce and Julie moved to Waxahachie from the Metroplex in the 1980s. Julie was vice president of an insurance company, and Bruce was growing plants for the city of Richardson when they inherited his grandmother’s house in Waxahachie. They opened an antique store in a former barbershop in 1987, and that morphed into more of an art gallery in 1991. They bought their current building, which is about 10,000 square feet, in 1994.

“It gave us a larger location to do the same thing but in a bigger way,” Julie said. “We have about five different shows every year, but every weekend the place is different, based on what we dragged in the week before. The whole place is really just our own taste.”

The building’s first floor is devoted to gallery space, while the mezzanine holds one gallery and Julie’s office. The couple live on the building’s third floor, which Julie said is furnished pretty much just like the gallery.

“We love the artists that we show and the artwork, so it’s nice to be able to share that,” she said.

The gallery, even though it’s only open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, has become a destination. On one recent Saturday a visitor drove from New Orleans, Louisiana, just to visit the place, and international visitors are frequent.

A new show will open on October 11 featuring the art of Robert Adale Davis, who is new to the Webb Gallery.

“He’s taken the idea of embroidery work and pushed it to its most obsessive qualities,” Julie said. “They’re beautiful pieces that are clothing that have been sewn and rendered unuseful as clothing but turned into sculpture.”

Then on December 6, a show featuring artwork from fraternal lodges around the state will open and coincide with the publication of Bruce’s book in November. “As Above, So Below: Art of the American Fraternal Society, 1850-1930” features photos of all manner of paraphernalia from groups such as the Freemasons and Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Many of the items pictured in the book are housed at The Grand Lodge of Texas, which is at 715 Columbus Avenue in Waco.

“My grandparents were both avid readers and had a big collection [of books],” Bruce said. “My grandmother taught comparative literature. I would look at their books and was fascinated by the mysticism.”

While the Webb Gallery is a year-round attraction in Waxahachie, about 50,000 people will be in town later this month for the annual Texas Country Reporter Festival, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary. The festival starts at 9 a.m. on October 24, and the parade will begin at 10 a.m. Of course, Bob Phillips, who has hosted the TV show “Texas Country Reporter” since 1972, will be part of the parade. He will be joined by the Wheelie-ing Elvi, a group of men wearing Elvis-style jumpsuits and riding vintage Honda motorbikes, and the Hill Country Plungettes, a “Republican ladies’ drill team” that marches while carrying sparkly, ribbon-festooned plungers.

The headlining musical act, America — the band most famous for the songs “A Horse With No Name” and “Ventura Highway” — will take the stage at 6 p.m. Other entertainment will be present throughout the day, as will about 300 arts and crafts vendors, a car show and food court, said Ferne Lyle, the office manager at the Waxahachie Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Parking for festival-goers is available in the three-story, 317-space parking garage, located at 205 East Jefferson Street, a couple of blocks from downtown’s Ellis County Courthouse, around which most of the activities will be centered.

“I go to First Baptist Church, and they’re letting us park on their parking lot too,” Lyle said. The church is at 315 North Rogers Street.

The Ellis County Courthouse has been named to several “most beautiful courthouses” lists over the years, but there’s one feature that makes this building stand out from its peers. There’s a series of faces sculpted into the porch capitals high on the building’s facade. As the courthouse was being constructed, the story goes, a German mason named Harry Herley fell in love with Mable Frame, a girl whose family owned a local boarding house. His love was so strong that he began adding her beautiful face to his work on the building. Miss Frame, however, did not have similar feelings for Mr. Herley, and as he began to realize that his love would be unrequited, the depictions of Miss Frame’s face on the courthouse became increasingly grotesque. True story? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the courthouse, built beginning in 1893, is a stunning example of Richardson Romanesque architecture. It’s at 101 West Main Street.

There are plenty of dining options in downtown Waxahachie, including The Dove’s Nest, which is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday and serves a variety of sandwiches and salads. Two other eating establishments include College Street Pub, a family-friendly “British-style pub with a Texas Flair,” at 210 North College Street, and Two Amigos Taqueria, at 212 West Jefferson Street.

Venture a few blocks off the square, and you’ll find Oma’s Jiffy Burger, at 403 Water Street. Its layout is similar to Dubl-R Burgers in Waco but without the dining room off to the side. It’s a long, narrow building with the griddle and counter along the left side and a handful of booths along the other. It has a small menu of hamburgers and the like, with chips being the side order of choice, as french fries aren’t available. A single-patty hamburger seems a bargain at $2.49, but a hungry diner might want to order two or three; they’re tasty, but pretty small. A three-meat cheeseburger can be had for $3.99. Oma’s is open from 7 a.m. to mid-afternoon Monday through Saturday.

For more information about the Webb Gallery, the Texas Country Reporter Festival or Waxahachie in general, visit the convention and visitors bureau online at waxahachiecvb.com.

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