Gene Cockrell's Yard Art
Two dozen concrete creatures populate Gene Cockrell's yard, but the most famous is his Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. "Originally I made her as a Texas cowgirl, without clothes -- just boots, a hat, and a rope -- and she was mighty fine lookin'," Gene said in his Panhandle drawl. "But my wife and a neighbor lady made me dress her up."
That was in the early 1990s. The Cheerleader has gone through several pairs of shorts and halter tops since then, replaced as the old ones unravel. Gene later built another nude cowgirl in back of the house, by the carport, but his wife made him dress her up, too. "After that," said Audrey, his wife, "I told him not to build any more cowgirls."
When Gene retired from his job at the highway department he began applying his skills with steel and stucco to his yard art. Over the years he's built an impressive menagerie of realistic animals, mythical creatures, aliens, Indians, Jesus, formerly nude women, and things he saw on TV. Out by the state highway he built a 50-foot-long dinosaur, in part so that curious travelers would drive to his house to see the rest of his art.
It's in a small neighborhood of suburban-style homes. A squat, grinning Barney cartoon dinosaur spreads his purple arms in welcome. A flying saucer on stilts shelters a pint-sized family of bulb-headed aliens (and their space dog). There's a cowboy in an outhouse, and a bearded centaur next to a wooly mammoth and a two-headed dragon. Jesus preaches between a smiling lamb and lion, whose mane is made of chains.
Gene gently dismisses any attempt to impart meaning to his statues. They are, he says, simply things that he saw that he wanted to build.
His "Indian Angel," for example, was modeled on ceramic figurines that belonged to his sister-in-law: an angel sheltering a buffalo beneath her wing, and an angel sheltering a bear. Gene combined the two, so his Angel shelters a creature with a buffalo head on the front end and a bear head on the back.
Years have passed, and Gene's yard art work has been slowed mostly to repainting and patching statues damaged by kids who can't resist climbing on them. "When you get old you can still do the same things you used to," he said, "it just takes you a lot longer to do it." His creations meanwhile continue to provide contrast to the RVs parked in neighboring yards, and to draw visitors even without the lure of cowgirls in the buff.