Garysburg, North Carolina: Q. J. Stephenson's Occoneechee Trapper's LodgeA folk artist built some crazy animals and a lodge on his lawn out of fossils and bric-a-brac.
Visitor Tips and News About Q. J. Stephenson's Occoneechee Trapper's Lodge
I visited Q.J. Stephenson's Occoneechee Trapper's Lodge a few years ago, not too long after his wife died, and wound up running into their daughter and her husband. They were cleaning up the house and grounds, trying decide just what to do with the place. She said there had been some talks with town officials about possible options to save the lodge, but no decisions had been made.
I visited again just about a year ago, and right after I got there a van pulled up with four people who turned out to be conservators from the Smithsonian. They were there to see what, if anything, could be done with the property. Frankly, they didn't seem too optimistic.
Then, just last month, I was in the area again and saw a "For Sale By Owner" sign in front of the house. Apparently nothing's happened and the place is for sale. The lodge looks to be in great shape, by the way, and you can look through the windows and see Stephenson's works just as he left them.[Dean Jeffrey, 02/18/2013]
We have a cartoon image in our heads of a van full of Smithsonian conservators, iPads at the ready, roaring around the countryside and spilling out to render judgment on the nearest neglected bottle house or button grotto.
Q. J. Stephenson was a trapper and dragline operator for forty years. While on the job he had a knack for spotting fossils and relics and began amassing quite a collection of found objects. He actually became somewhat well known around the country for his ability to make important paleontological discoveries, and one of his finds, a 4 million year old walrus tusk, wound up in the Smithsonian.
When he retired in the '70s and found himself with lots of time on his hands, he started work on his Occoneechee Trapper's Lodge. Also called the Earth Museum, the lodge was a small one-room cinder block building in front of Stephenson's house that he began decorating by embedding the interior and exterior walls with fossils, stones, bones, petrified wood, cypress knees, arrowheads, Civil War relics, and other items from his collection.
In the '80s, Stephenson started transforming some of his finds into statues of imaginary creatures, constructed of concrete and relics. He also made plaques and other works of art out of concrete and found items, and continued to decorate the museum, both inside and out. Eventually his work began to spill out into the yard (like a couple totem poles and a dinosaur statue labeled "Terrible Lizard Plant Eater From Time Before Man.") He wound up having a fairly successful second career as a folk artist.
Q.J. died in 1997, but his wife has maintained the museum, even going as far as having a new roof put on last Spring. Unfortunately, even when Stephenson was alive, the museum was only open by appointment (and then usually only to school groups and scout troops.). Now, the museum is rarely opened, but there's plenty to view from the outside. I was lucky enough to be there one day when Mrs. Stephenson wanted to check the new roof for leaks, and she invited me in. The single room is packed, from floor to ceiling, with Stephenson's collection and his art. And there's a great collection of polished cypress knees hanging down from the ceiling like stalactites.
In a number of ways, the Earth Museum reminds me of Henry Warren's Shangri-La. They're both in tiny NC towns, both right beside the road, both maintained by the creator's widows, and both are clear examples of dementia concretia.[Dean Jeffrey, 10/05/2003]
Eloise Stephenson died in 2009.