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June 2017 - Houston

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THE COTTAGE KNOWN AS ELSEWHERE Like a monthly installment of a mid- 19th-century Dickens novel, artist Salle Werner-Vaughn peels back the layers of her art and life, serving up a portrait Proustian in its sensitivity to time, nature, beauty, eternity, and the power of talismans observed and intuitively — and intimately — lived with. The vehicles of discovery are the artist's homes, four déshabillé structures enveloped in vines, all dappled sunlight and shadow, clinging to a true remembrance of a Houston that barely yet exists. Sited within a compound christened Harmonium, they are the last vestiges of a West End neighborhood of honest, working-class bungalows, almost unrecognizable now from the day more than three decades ago when Werner- Vaughn sought a studio and acquired a parcel of what would become a half block of property. These rare interiors are perfumed with the past in a way that is ineffable and should be experienced … like mist rising over morning fields, a will-o'-the-wisp, or smoke from a distant fire. But few are invited into this private retreat. Werner-Vaughn's quartet of late-Vic- torian homes feels oddly expansive. Within the interiors, she has arranged organic stage sets, rooms calling out for salons and evoking the idyllic accom- modations at the American Academy in Rome where she enjoyed a fellowship nearly 20 years ago. A WORLD APART On the day of our conversation, waterfalls of rain tumble down, and a tornado alert flashes across my cell phone. Yet, all is serene in Elsewhere, the most recent of her preserved domiciles: a turn-of- the-century cottage relocated from the artist's previous property on Lillian Street in 2003. Fourteen years later — during which time she debuted her paintings at Meredith Long & Company, restored By the Way cottage across the road, and wrapped a children's film for the Metropolitan Museum of Art animated by her drawings and based upon myths from the ancient Near East (Marduk, King of the Gods, 2009) — Werner-Vaughn is at last able to focus on and gently inhabit Elsewhere cottage. We sit and contemplate its interiors from a favorite room: the front salon, with its distinctive octagonal window, a slice through the house that exposes riotous rose wallpaper. Serving as a picture window onto the garden, this portal frames nature as we wait while the deluge clears, then bask in a view that's all green, silvery, and misty, punctuated by birdsong. The only disturbance upon this sylvan scene is a crane, glimpsed high and faraway, clawing the sky — a reminder that this part of Houston is still under siege. But that threat seems distant, and one has the feeling that this enchanting kingdom of Werner-Vaughn's making is a living time capsule protected by old-growth trees and enfolded within an unmown lawn of wildflowers and bower of exuberant shrubs and fallen branches. A trusted companion, Judith, appears with a tray of salmon sandwiches, grapes, and mineral water, and Werner-Vaughn, who has celebrated 77 birthdays, talks of the details of a childhood in Tyler that I cannot even imagine, even though I've known her for 20 years, as well as the road to being discovered and exhibited in the Whitney Biennial in 1973 — an extraordinary feat, especially in that day — and the sweet, epistolary romance that led to a marriage to her grade-school classmate … All to be continued, in a future issue. Serving as a place of respite, as well as a studio, Elsewhere features hand-painted floors in the 19th-century manner. To the right, Werner-Vaughn's Inanna, named for the goddess of light, circa 2002. This historic dwelling, titled Elsewhere, was preserved and moved to the artist's Harmonium enclave in 2003. (continued) 65

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