Contact: Tonya Lowentritt
Date: June 5, 2013
A DREAM HOUSE- John Preble, owner of the Abita Mystery House museum in Abita Springs, points to a sign at the museum entrance which says, "This mystery house is the beginning of your dreams." The museum's odd and unique collection of folk art is featured on the newest episode of the Southeastern Channel's award-winning series "Northshore Gems." The program debuts at 8 p.m. Saturday and airs throughout the next month.
HAMMOND – John Preble has always collected things. As a child he began collecting stamps,
coins, signs and bottles. It started as competition with friends.
Over five decades Preble's gathering of weird and unusual things has grown to epic proportions, and it's now on display as the Abita Mystery House, a popular museum of folk art off Highway 36 in Abita Springs.
Preble and his Abita Mystery House, or UCM (you-see-em) Museum, are featured in the latest episode of the award-winning travel series "Northshore Gems," produced by the Southeastern Channel. The program will debut at 8 p.m. Saturday and will re-air several times weekly during the next month, according to Southeastern Channel General Manager Rick Settoon.
"John Preble takes viewers on an eccentric and highly-entertaining tour of his fascinating Abita Mystery House," Settoon said. "It's the most popular roadside attraction of offbeat and unusual folk art for tourists on the North Shore."
Preble shows host Rob Moreau his gallery of homemade inventions, animated displays and walls covered with everything from signs, paintbrushes and old radios to postcards, cell phones and computer motherboards. There are walls of paint can lids, coke cans and hot sauce bottles. There's even a grouping of "Paint by Numbers" works that Preble began purchasing at garage sales as a child.
"It's all decoration," Preble says in the show. "I look at any object like a decoration -bottle caps, motherboards, bicycle parts, car parts, whatever. Can I decorate with it? That's as simple as it is."
An artist and inventor, Preble has fashioned all of the museum miniatures himself- from cats and dogs to the "River Road" exhibit with a gas station, pool hall, barbecue house and rhythm and blues lounge with dancing figurines. He also created his own Mardi Gras parade and an animated music box version of a classic New Orleans jazz funeral with tiny musicians.
Preble got the idea for the museum when his family visited Tinkertown in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Upon returning home he found an abandoned house nearby and converted it, adding the façade of an old gas station. A weathered dairy barn on the property became the "House of Shards," a stucco house with walls of striking mosaics.
"I like my eye seeing things," Preble says. "I don't like to look at a blank wall. Some people enjoy looking at nothing. I enjoy seeing as much as I can."
Word of the mystery house and tourist referrals has spread across the Atlantic Ocean. One visitor from Poland found his favorite Polish bottle cap on the museum wall. Preble says that now visitors donate objects rather than store them or throw them away.
The show concludes with Preble leading Moreau through the Shed of Revelation and the Patio of Compassion. He displays an archive of old pinball machines, jukeboxes, bicycles, motorbikes and outboard motors.
Wood-carved fantasy creatures include a bassigator, dogigator and quackigator, while a special robot display reveals moving parts formed from ordinary kitchen appliances.
The episode was produced, videotaped and edited by Southeastern Channel staff member Byron Caplan.
The Southeastern Channel, which has won nearly 200 awards in its 10 years of existence, airs on Charter Cable 18 in Tangipahoa, Livingston and St. Tammany parishes and on Channel 17 in Washington Parish. Its live 24/7 webcast and video on demand can be seen at www.southeastern.edu/tv.