I walked into Klein, our long vacant family home built in 1841, in May 2018 after being away for a number of years. Traveling with another Houston artist and a writer, we had planned to visit the house as the first step for planning an art installation there in late 2019.
Our visit was structured around assessing the possibilities for art installation, photographing and measuring the site. However, I walked into both the past and the future. I was flooded by memories of the summers I spent there in the ‘50s with my grandmother. I remembered her killing a snake that had gotten into the hearth of the downstairs bedroom while we were sleeping (we spent the rest of the night upstairs); I remembered spending long hours cutting the small graphics out of old New Yorker magazines and pasting them in books; I remembered swimming in Logan’s Creek every day with my childhood friend descended from that place...
A week before we arrived, my cousin died. He knew of our upcoming trip, of my interest in using the house as an art installation, of my renewed interest in Alabama and its complicated histories. When he died, he left the place, with all its heritage and need, to me.
The reality of taking on this family responsibility hit me hard. “Hot potato, I put on a new roof and placed steel supports under the house, it’s yours now!” I imagined my cousin thinking. Many of the windows were out and boarded up, either with wood or Plexiglas. One room had significant water damage with plaster fractured to reveal rotten lathe and a buckling ceiling; another room's fireplace mantle sagged over a dipping hearth. The columns of the front porch were visibly deteriorating. Yet, she stood there as a once grand lady… a preindustrial agrarian time capsule as I’ve since learned to say.
The sadness of the house closed off to life was haunting. Only a few people, the owners and visiting family, had been inside since the mid 1960s. How could the house be activated and open to the community again? Our purpose in coming to Alabama from Texas was to think about it as an arts space. But also, to consider how the house might be a site for social justice and shared community. How could that be done with almost my entire family dispersed across the country? I immediately realized that even my notions of family and Klein needed to be expanded.