Possum TrotCalvin Black (1903-1972) and Ruby Black (1915-1980)
Barstow-Victorville, California, 92398, United States
1954 to 1972
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 Mojave 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, 2011
dolls, found objects, placards and signs, wood
SPACES Archives Holdings
3 folders: clippings, correspondence, field survey, postcards, ephemera, restoration proposal, images
Map & Site Information
Barstow-Victorville, California, 92398 us
Latitude/Longitude: 34.5362184 / -117.2927641