Chasing butterflies with Alabama artist Butch Anthony

Chasing butterflies with Alabama artist Butch Anthony
Folk artist Butch Anthony inside his home in Seale, Alabama. (Anne Kristoff/Alabama NewsCenter)

If you see a pirate ship sailing down the Chattahoochee River, don’t be alarmed. It’s just Butch Anthony.

Anthony is a self-taught artist and maker from Seale, Alabama, and despite listing “recluse” as the Intro on his Facebook page, he is no stranger to inadvertently attracting attention.

People have been showing up on the Anthony property since he was 14 years old. A chance discovery in a local creek bed brought instant fame and a steady stream of visitors when he dug up a 65-million-year-old mosasaur vertebra.

“After that, people started bringing me other stuff, and one thing led to another and it kept going and going and got filled up,” he recalled.

And the Museum of Wonder, located in a small log cabin on the 80-acre Anthony compound, was born. It’s filled with a collection of oddities, sideshow attractions, bones, arrowheads, taxidermied animals and other critters. Anthony’s social media feeds are full of posts heralding “catch of the day,” which can be anything from a poisonous snake to a giant bug or some other weird thing he stumbles upon. Most of that stuff makes it into the museum or is turned into art.

Chasing Butterflies with Butch Anthony from anne kristoff on Vimeo.

The property also consists of the Woods of Wonder (filled with trees that have faces, and with shovels and bicycle parts welded into sculptures), the art-filled hand-made house that took Anthony 25 years to complete, the grounds of the old Doo-Nanny (his yearly folk art festival dubbed “The Burning Man of the South”), a bunch of dogs, a very loud peacock, and his new “going to town car,” a white 1992 Cadillac Brougham that he got from musician Leon Russell.

Anthony is in the process of covering the car with golden trophies. “These trophies are like winners,” he said, “so I thought of the idea that I’d call my car ‘The Loser.’”

Multitude of projects

A short drive away, still on the Anthony property, is the Possum Trot building, where you’ll find Anthony and friends hanging out most Friday nights. A weekly auction (which was featured on the TV show “American Pickers”) is held in one half of the building. The other side is a museum/store full of second-hand finds, more curio collections and the art that Anthony began making to sell in 1994 – Intertwangleized thrift store paintings, Recombobulated Trophies, Altered Photos, Hogwire panels (old tags and pieces of metal and bones stitched together), upcycled sculptures and large assemblages – which has been exhibited all over the country and as far away as London and Germany.

It’s hard to keep track of all that he has going on. “I just get up early in the morning and start making stuff, and one thing leads to another,” he said. “I easily get distracted.” He calls it “chasing butterflies” – flitting from one project to the next, within the course of a day.

Drive-thru art

To handle the overflow of people showing up at the Museum of Wonder, Anthony constructed “The World’s First Drive Thru Museum” out of shipping containers and plopped it out on the nearby four-lane. It, too, is filled with his trademark art pieces and curios. “Now they can just pull off the highway and drive through and they don’t even have to get out,” he said. “They can look in the windows there and keep on going.” But that has not stopped people from dropping by his house.

Which brings us back to the boat. As Anthony tells it, these Dutch guys showed up one day wanting to trade art. That led to a collaborative drive-thru exhibit on his property, which led to a trip to Apalachicola, Florida, to get oysters, and the realization that they could have just floated all the way down to Florida from Seale. So that’s what they did.

The boat was put together with “salvaged material and redneck ingenuity” and the idea that they would collect junk along the way from the river’s shore and turn it into art. The boat has since made it into Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Now, 10 months after its maiden voyage, Anthony and co-creator Diederick Kraaijeveld again are sailing the art-festooned pontoon back down to Apalachicola.

Up next? Anthony recently put together a limited-edition box set of 10 prints, a documentary film about his life shot by the late Les Blank is now in the works, he unveiled Invention #1293, wearable mini-museums, last week on Instagram, and he will be joining friend Jack Sanders for a Design Build Adventure titled “Camp Butch” in Austin, Texas, in December. Undoubtedly, there will be more butterflies to chase along the way.

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