By Karen Davis
For the first time in years, my husband, Michael, and I had a few days to ourselves! We were looking forward to visiting our youngest daughter, a freshman at UT Permian Basin. And because Michael's birthday was the week before, we decided to make a vacation out of our trip to Odessa to see Julie. It would be so nice to have time to explore and do whatever we wanted. We were most excited about getting to know our daughter's home-away-from-home. Michael and I hadn't had a chance to see much of Odessa itself, but that was about to change.
A new twist on an ancient monument
We made our first stop the UTPB campus. Julie was in class, but Michael and I wanted to take a closer look at something that caught our eye on our last campus visit: Stonehenge. While planning our trip, I’d learned that Texas limestone from a nearby quarry inspired a creative UTPB faculty member to build a replica of England's most famous landmark. We approached the giant, carefully placed blocks of stone, ready to examine the structure up close.
The replica is slightly smaller than the real Stonehenge. It also has a few things the original doesn't, such as Texas fossils embedded in the limestone, and Monarch butterflies flying around on their migration to Mexico. Michael read all the information signs posted around the site explaining how it was built—getting ideas, no doubt. I took lots of pictures, and made sure to capture one of the contemplation on Michael’s face. I wondered if I’d soon have a scaled-down version in my own backyard.
The art of relaxing
Next we went to see the more contemporary creations at the Ellen Noel Art Museum on the other side of the UTPB campus.
We considered driving, but Michael noted, “It's a nice walk and we’re in no hurry.”
As we neared the museum, we noticed statues on the lawn that seemed ready to greet us. Inside, we browsed the four galleries. They were filled with paintings, drawings and sculptures created by Texas artists as well as world-renowned artists including M.C. Escher and Salvador Dali.
Michael and I got the biggest thrill out of Ellen Noel's Sensory Garden. This is where art is meant to be touched—the sculptures, the raised-letter signs and even tactile plants. Of course the fragrant flowers add to the immersive experience. As we sat in the shade of the Sensory Garden we watched Monarchs visit the blooming flowers and practically absorbed peace.
After a truly decadent middle-of-a-weekday nap at our hotel, Michael and I met up with Julie. She gave Michael a birthday gift of tickets to a musical at the Permian Playhouse, which she assured us is “the greatest stage in West Texas.” She was right. Talented singers and dancers lit up the stage.
Julie and I had the same strategy when birthday “shopping” for Michael: experience over material. The next morning I gave him my gift—a private gallery tour with local jeweler and painter Sonya Haynie. She's one of Midland's creative gems. Some of her work is in the Ellen Noel Art Museum's permanent collection, some is for sale in her gallery, and some is displayed throughout town. During our tour with Sonya, we saw her pendants and paintings. Michael asked her about how she got into art, how she works and what her creative inspirations are. As a souvenir and thank-you for booking the tour, he gave me a gift—a beautiful Alamo pendant.
On our way out of her gallery, Sonya told us to keep an eye out for the Jamboree Jackrabbits around town. We'd noticed a few big rabbit statues here and there (it’s hard to miss a 6-foot-tall hare). It turns out she painted nine of the 37 statues in different themes. Our next stop was the original Jack Ben Rabbit statue downtown—and we kept a lookout for the other artful rabbits as we walked.
Jackrabbits aren't the only public art in Odessa's cityscape. The plain metal traffic boxes that get overlooked in most cities are canvases for creativity here. Strolling around near 8th Street and Golder Avenue, we saw amazing work by artists from around the country, right on the roadside traffic boxes for everyone to enjoy.
By the time we went back to the hotel to get ready to meet Julie for dinner, Michael was making big plans.
“What if we had a spot in the front yard featuring art? A little gallery for our neighbors!”
I laughed at my earlier prediction of Stonehenge in the backyard—how silly of me to think it’d be out back!
Our time in Odessa was such a refreshing change from our routine. On the way home, we realized the city gave us more than just a break. It's a place where artistry is celebrated. And regardless of what our yard gallery holds, Michael and I definitely walked away with creative inspiration.