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HISTORICAL – Doug Michels and Ant Farm in Houston


Cadillac Ranch, near Amarillo, Texas (1974)

Ant Farm, House of the Century, near Angleton, Texas (1972)

Doug Michels, The Teleport, Houston, Texas (1979)

By Joseph Armstrong
Houston has always attracted creative people, drawn by the city’s openness to new ideas and by the presence of wealthy patrons willing to support those ideas. Few of these artists have been as provocative as the counterculture arts group known as Ant Farm (1968-1978). After teaching at the University of Houston in 1969, founders Doug Michels and Chip Lord moved to San Francisco, where they were joined by artist Curtis Schreier.

Ant Farm returned to Houston in 1972 to build a small house for arts patron Marilyn Oshman on her family’s private lake near Angleton. The result, called the House of the Century, was a habitable work of art that looked like a cross between E.T. and the Yellow Submarine. It drew national attention when it was published in Playboy magazine.

Among the readers was Stanley Marsh 3, an Amarillo businessman who invited the group to create an art installation on his ranch next to the old Route 66 highway. With Hudson Marquez substituting for Schreier, Ant Farm buried 10 classic Cadillacs in a row, tailfins up. Their iconic tribute to American popular culture, called Cadillac Ranch, celebrated the American love of the open road. It made them famous, inspiring a Bruce Springsteen song and a Hollywood movie.

The group disbanded in 1978, and Michels returned to Houston, where he created a media room for businessman Rudge Allen. Michels’ futuristic design, called the Teleport, was inspired by the bridge of the starship Enterprise of Star Trek. It featured curved upholstered walls and a raised upholstered platform with a curved sofa in front and a console in back, incorporating the latest high technology. In the 1990s the Allen family donated the room to the University of Houston, which installed it in the Architecture building.

Ant Farm reunited for one last project in 1986 – again in Houston – when they designed a monument for the Hard Rock Café in River Oaks. Their Save-the-Planet sculpture consisted of a 1962 Ford Thunderbird mounted on a tall pylon that allowed the car to soar through the air. Alas, the restaurant and the car sculpture are gone, but much of Ant Farm’s work is preserved in the Doug Michels Architectural Papers at the University of Houston Libraries, Special Collections.

 

(Photographers unknown. All illustrations courtesy of Doug Michels Architectural Papers, University of Houston Libraries, Special Collections.)

Author Dr. Joseph Stromberg is a professor of history at San Jacinto College Central. His academic interests are regional, energy and environmental history. Contact him at joseph.stromberg@sjcd.edu.

 


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