Austin is becoming a high tech phenomenon with construction cranes everywhere, complexity, and traffic. The artists and misfits who made Austin weird in the last century are being frozen out by growth, and the middle class is becoming extinct. The places these eccentrics established are becoming wacky attractions like the Museum of the Weird and the Susanna Dickinson Museum. Shortly after we arrived in Austin, Ruth and I took a chance and went to Casa Neverlandia. We had been warned not to show up unannounced. It was a Saturday afternoon and a tour was in progress that James Talbot welcomed us to join. I soon felt sorry for Talbot.
Artist James Talbot bought a home in 20th century Austin and turned it into an eclectic and unconventional dwelling he calls Casa Neverlandia. He gives tours of it on weekends and worries about what he will do when taxes, the cost of urban upkeep, and his solo status make it impossible for him to continue. At one point he said he hoped for historical zoning in his neighborhood. He is a serious artist who could be easily misunderstood. He is an environmentalist living in an undulating fantasyland with solar panels. He keeps it going one day at a time and has never completed the shower behind his attention-getting, shell-shaped bathtub that he has only uses on special occasions. He is a modern-day Peter Pan in an urban landscape that will become increasingly not his lifestyle. The photo above shows how close he lives to downtown Austin. I took that photo in his very eccentric backyard on a high platform after I crossed a wobbly suspension bridge. Talbot descended to the bottom of a fire pole with ease just after I took the picture above and, with his permission, one of him. I did not follow him down to street level via the pole.
Talbot appears to have always been a free spirit. He spoke little of his past as he talked about the present and partying in the large playroom on the 2nd level of his fun-to-visit Casa. He grew up in a military family and lived in Honduras, Turkey and Morocco before studying architecture, settling down in Austin, and becoming a very mixed media artist. His messy but serious workshop was full of materials and projects, and he talks about the workshops he gives and the children he hopes to inspire through his magic. He does fanciful beadwork and makes large, often circular wall decorations that do gain attention.
There were 5 people on the tour when we joined it, and a lady from Vancouver, BC came in after Ruth and I did. She was welcomed and given a catch-up tour. I asked her if there was anything like Casa Neverlandia in Vancouver and she winced and said, “No.” The others left before we did, so I didn’t have a chance to ask them what they thought of this truly unique and personal house. See it before urban renewal makes it too hard to maintain or James Talbot is given an offer for it that is too good to refuse. An office tower is destined to some day be where Casa Neverlandia is now.