Scuba Guy, House on the Rock
Copyright © Erik Pennebaker, All rights reserved

The House on the Rock is one of the stranger things to see in Wisconsin. My understanding is that a Frank Lloyd Wright contemporary built a house, opened it to the public, and then began to grow it into a sort of sprawling museum of antiques, historical information, oddities, and lots of creepy dolls and statues.

The House has 3 separate self guided tours, the pricing is such that you might as well do all three. Initially you find yourself in a stange, dark house, surrounded by old lamps and odd furniture. Soon you start seeing the machines that make music. Sets of stringed instruments with an array of mechnical fingers moving over the neck, blowers pumping air into brass instruments. These setups are a theme throughout the place. Initially its clear there are just speakers playing the music. Later more and more of them are actually operating (you can tell because the stringed instruments are horribly out of tune, and generally lots of things are broken with them).

This is the first inkling of the idea of House on the Rock. None of the lamps or statues or artwork throughout the house are labelled in any way. 15th century chinese statue? Or a fake from the 20s? Or the 70s? And then the music machines sprawl about in cordoned off areas, like displays at a little zoo. The whole experience is a bit like being in the midst of a languid dream, dreamt by a very spooky but harmless eccentric.

What you don't realize is that you are just at the very begining of the dream.

After the house proper you begin to go into other structures. You don't really know what they look like on the outside as there are no real views of the complex. The tour is completely linear; you don't decide to see specific things. You walk, in the dark, and begin to succumb to the place in a series of inevitable steps. You lose any sense of direction. You have no idea what time it is. You have little idea of what will be around the corner.

Part of you wants to know more about things, have some historical context for what you are seeing, but eventually you give in and just float down the path. Your eyes glaze over. You start putting tokens in music machines which you know will sound really bad. You ponder the possible childhood problems of whoever "curated" this place. The exhibits become like giant donuts on a conveyor belt, and you are Homer Simpson, your mouth wide, your eye lids low, a thin line of drool reaching all the way down to the floor, under the staring eyes of the statue in a scuba suit, or the perversely cheery and vacant smiles of the dolls spinning around a multi-story carousel, or the racially questionable asian inspired automated music machine - a band taking up an entire wall, led by a large statue of a chinese man, whose eyes turn from side to side suspiciously, eyebrows raising in alarm at random intervals, all while banging on a drum, roughly in time to the song. It's not that House on the Rock wins you over. You just sink into drugged sleep of the American Pop Spectacle - a mere $26/person for all three tours.

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Violin Player, House on the Rock
Copyright © Erik Pennebaker, All rights reserved

[ tags: 28-50mm 400 fm houseontherock nikon reala trip violin weird wisconsin xtra ]

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