Shortly after visiting the HOPE Outdoor Gallery, we made our way to yet another art site in town. We were just feet away from our final destination, but a bit confused by our current location in a quiet, suburban Austin neighborhood.
Perhaps what we were looking for was not actually a building of sorts, but a house – a colorful house with a purple door, pale pink (maybe orange) shutter windows, and just enough quirk, in the form of stacked crates and a rocking pony, to indicate that we’d arrived. A sign on the lawn almost turned us away . Visits were by appointment – that which we did not make. We proceeded to the gate, however, and a man donning a green shirt, tattooed arms, and white tube socks stepped outside. For a group fee of $10, this man in khaki shorts welcomed us to his home, his backyard – The Cathedral of Junk.
Resembling nothing of a church, the Cathedral of Junk is home to Vincent Hannemann, a middle-aged man with a laid-back demeanor who, over the course of many years, has transformed his backyard into a towering collection of gadgets, gizmos and thingamabobs. Old tires, road signs, tennis rackets, CDs, crutches, Barbie dolls with unkempt hair, and whatever other item that one can possibly think of disposing or donating all come together to create this backyard-house masterpiece.
As you enter through a passageway under an Austin sign, this mound of junk suddenly expands into rooms with high ceilings, crawl spaces, hallways, and even a second floor! A yellow tire toward the side of the cathedral leads you up a staircase of tires to a tower overlooking Vince’s throne down below. Old toys, surfboards, lamp shades, and glass bottles occupy the space, hanging from ceilings, protruding from walls, creating boundaries, windows, and so on. It’s incredible, to say the least. We could have been a part of it, but we had nothing worth leaving behind.
At the entrance of the backyard is a shed with a few old photographs of Vince and the beginning stages of his work. People have wanted his creation removed, but there it still stands, inviting thousands of curious visitors from all around – a tally to which we’ve been added. As we weaved in and out of archways of rusted iron and shiny things, Vince sat relaxed on his black mesh chair – one leg crossed on top the other and knuckles resting beneath his chin. Together his knuckles read “JUNK KING.” That you are, Vince. That you are.