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Calvin & Ruby Black, Possum Trot

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About the Artist/Site

Tennessean Calvin Black met Georgia girl Ruby while he was traveling through the South working for circuses and carnivals. They married, and in 1953, believing a change of climate would be good for Calvin’s health, they moved to Yermo, in the California Mohave Desert. They named their plot of land Possum Trot, a term used in the rural South for a shortcut between two settlements. They built their home with lumber collected at the dump.

Shortly after Highway 15 was constructed near their property, the Blacks opened a rock shop. They posted signs inviting tourists to buy “Pop on Ice” and to “See the Art,” a collection of small-scale carousels, windmills, stagecoaches, trains, and over 80 handmade, nearly life-size dolls. Most of the dolls in the “Birdcage Theater” were named and modeled after famous women. 

Calvin carved the dolls’ heads and bodies, using a hatchet and pocketknife. Before he began each doll, he would confer with Ruby about the personality and appearance of the new character. Calvin carved the hair of the earliest figures, but later dolls received wigs collected from the dump. All of the dolls wore hats and shoes, and Ruby designed and sewed their gowns.

Calvin had learned ventriloquism as a young man, and he used this skill to provide different voices for the dolls. He wrote dialogue, songs, and music for their “Fantasy Doll Show.” Each doll held a can to encourage visitors to make a contribution beyond the initial 25-cent admission charge. The tip would be used to buy that particular doll perfume or jewelry.

Calvin had asked Ruby to burn the dolls when he died, but she did not, preferring to keep the site intact. The couple had no children. After her death in 1980, local interest in their art environment was not sufficient to save it, and Possum Trot was dismantled. Most of the dolls were sold to individual collectors.

~Seymour Rosen/Jo Farb Hernández

 

SPACES Archive Holdings

3 folders: clippings, correspondence, field survey, postcards, ephemera, restoration proposal, images

Related Documents

Information about preservation of Possum Trot

Field survey form for Possum Trot, 6/4/1984

Postcard to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Pat Ferrero, 4/22/1990

timeline for Possum Trot, 8/9/1985

Flyer for Folk Art Exhibit

diagram for Possum trot with legend

Letter to Suzanne Hackett from Ruby Black, 10/11/1978

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Ruby Black, 4/8/1976

Letter to Kathryn Loye, LD Whitely Galleries of American Folk Art from Anne R. Gossett, Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Services, 3/1/1982

Letter to Kathryn Loye from Terri Cohn Savitsky, The Art Museum Association, 3/19/1982

Letter from SPACES/ Louise Jackson, 9/23/1985

Ruby Black death certificate, 9/30/1985

Copy Request Notice, 1980

Copy Request Notice, 1980

Calvin Black death certificate, 9/19/1985

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Ruby Black, 7/23/1979

List of Books and Magazines on Possum Trot

timeline for Possum Trot, 8/9/1985

Letter to Juan Mejia, Office of Senator Art Torres from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 10/14/1988

Letter to Ms. Aguilar from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 10/14/1988

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Art Torres, Senator, 10/4/1988

Letter to Mr. Mejia from Nancy Aguilar, 7/27/1988

business card for Bob Daniels

Memo to Seymour Rosen

Note about Barstow contacts

Letter to Larry and Jalmar from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 11/1985

Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Paul Aguilar form Sandra J. Elder, CA Parks and Rec, 2/11/1988

Letter from Paul and Nancy Aguilar, 2/1/1988

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Delores Griffin, Ruby Black Estate, 11/14/1980

Letter to Dolores Griffin, Ruby Black Estate from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 10/16/1980

Letter to Ruby Black from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 6/18/1979

Letter to Jan and Michael Sterns from SPACES?Seymour Rosen, 6/27/1989

flyer for Possum Trot film

brief history of Possum Trot

pamphlet for Visions of Paradise

The Dreambuilders of CA

50% off sale flyer, 6/8/1985

note enclosed with articles

Documentation of Possum Trot, 1979

Postcard of Possum Trot

Postcard of Possum Trot

Postcard of Possum Trot

Note about Possum Trot and filmeye.com

email thread between Jo Farb Hernandez and Dennis Finn and Brooke Anderson, 2/1/2009

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Larry Whiteley, LD Whiteley Galleries of American Folk Art, 1/14/1981

Map and site information

Not Exact Address
Barstow-Victorville, California, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 34.933792 / -116.888428

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