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Art Short Short Stories &
photographs by Tracy Hicks,


In chronological order, the stories are:

Saving Grace - a cautionary tale featuring Homeless Signs in Dallas.

Spine - Tracy discovers what his Houston Row House is becoming.
Tadpoles at the Rowhouses include some understandings reached as Tracy arted.

Reward - a rewarding experience

Belly - dancing with jars

Aspiratons - includes Portraits by the kids of Houston.

Dove Coop - we are the change

Tribal - of family and friends

Friends are f(rogs)

Sweet Carrots

Breaking On Through to the Other Side

Cool Breeze

More about Tracy Hicks and more Third Ward photographs are on


Saving Grace

here, but by grace, go I.

Or is it me?

Language has changed during my lifetime, and I'm not real sure anymore.

Last week I stopped in a line of traffic waiting to make a left at a busy corner. There were several sheriff cars in the line in front of me. The first time waiting for the light to change the panhandler didn't flash his sign till after he had awkwardly passed the officers.

By the time he reached me the light was already changing, so I met him back at the signal. This time I was second in line. I waved him over and pulled a five-dollar bill out of my wallet. His sign read: "Disabled Grand Parent With Two Grand Kids Need Help God Bless Please Help Out."

I asked to buy it.

Emphatically, he said NO!

I started to put the money back in my wallet. He shook the sign at me and said, "Can't you read?"

Sure I can read, that's why I wanted to buy his sign.

He said are you a cop? I assured him I wasn't. He offered to make me a sign. I said "Ok, if I'm back by here sometime and you have two signs, I'll buy one."

He gave me the sign, grabbed the five dollars, and took off to make a new sign.


I know I'll never be that person.

A few days latter, I passed another street person, who wasn't panhandling? He was picking up aluminum on an equally busy corner. As he leaned out to pick up a can he lost his balance and almost fell in front of a car making a right. They probably didn't even see him.

It scared him. He stepped back and grabbed for the telephone pole but caught hold of the metal conduit running up the side of the pole. He gave loose and again he almost lost his balance.

Obviously he was shaken. Apparently he was shaking. This wasn't his best day. Or was it? How would I know?

I'm not him, but I could be.

Any of us could. Not many will, thank goodness! Of us, the Chorus, that is.

Next week I move to the Third Ward in Houston. It is a ghetto. A crack edge community, the Third Ward sits on the southern fringe of downtown. It just borders the affluent Rice University, M. D. Anderson Medical and Hospital, and Museum district, but it is a world away. I imaging its similar to some of the rougher neighborhoods Tim knows so well. For me it was something of a unique experience last time.


I will morph.

Last time I was accepted as one of the community. This time I don't know what the project will hold. Its shape is still undetermined. It will be better than before. I have the previous experience to build on. I have watched these frogs and tads between then and now. Nothing will ever be the same.

I only pay $5 each for street people's signs. Although I might pay more if it is really special. I keep hoping to encourage a better class of street art. In Houston I may be able to make some small difference.

You can see the new project on my website soon.

Depending on where I stay, I may take some tads with me. Tadpoles that will morph out during the evolution of the project.

Here I go. Please wish me grace!



A spine formed this morning. Whether it is the spine of a boat or something more alive is still undetermined.

This piece will morph this coming Saturday. The D. leucomela tad I have with me is still a week or so from leaving the water, like-wise, I am still immersed. The correlation may be to look past the opening for the piece to reach maturity. There is no way to get everything I want done between now and this weekend anyway.

The space has taken more of the form of the galley of a boat. The correlation has been made here to a slave ship. While that wasn't my intention, who am I to say, how people here should interpret? I am just making the piece. The people here are giving it.


Tadpoles at the

Frogs have taught me.





A young 40ish, muscular man came by earlier this morning as I was sending out the belly note. He had heard of what I'm doing and wanted to be included. More than just wanting, Douglas was excited about the prospects of being included in Photo Fest. I was out of cameras so he went out and bought his own.

By the time Deb Grotfeldt came to pick up the last bunch of cameras for one hour processing Douglas had returned with his camera. Twenty seven more pictures of the Third Ward.





with photographs by Tracy Hicks

Friday March 1st

Ihave counted jars and allotted space. Sixteen hundred more jars are needed. With lids they will cost about $1,000. At this moment Berlin Packaging is processing the order ,so I can pick them up today. It's after twelve now. I'll not see this installation tonight and still work all day tomorrow.

She is slowly revealing herself. I'm at that point where I can taste the texture of her skin even before we are together. The house is till crowded with boxes. Moving has become an art. Dance of filling and refilling space. This noon boxes filled the van to capacity.

My van has a 1,600 32oz. jar capacity with lids. As the jars, twenty four at a time, moved into the house, the tools and excess refilled the van. Boxes empty on to the shelves two jars at a time. Boxes collapse as artist.

The empty jars remind me of clusters of clear eggs. I'll shoot some pictures tomorrow.

I have taken pride in dancing by myself.


Saturday the 2nd of March

While you never really dance alone, no one was here to see me this morning. The people here at the RowHouses have danced their part every day and need to be acknowledged. This is my work, their piece, and our peace.

The spine is composed of a series of free-standing glass shelves with the ribs intact running down the middle of the house. [ ( my house ) ownership is important with this right now. ] The Galley Archive. The Belly of a Whale. The Backbone.

As I danced with the delight of seeing what I was seeing, the jars on the glass shelves responded with a chorus. They sang their rattling song as the floor gave and swayed. It relit my flame.

It's a good morning!













Isaw a red fox yesterday. He was in the clearing between the creek and the street across from our home. Lessons about relevance come in subtle forms.

A little over a week ago, as I drove back to Dallas to gather another load of material to install in Houston, the bugs bloomed and coated my windshield. I had to stop several times to regain some clear view of the road ahead. I thought about writing about it at the time. My friends who raise frogs are often in need of fresh food.

My frogs have taught me to be more aware of seasonal changes. Bugs blossom much like flowers.

When I left Dallas the following day a cold front was bringing an abrupt end to our early spring. In fact that is why I didn't write about the bug blossom earlier. I knew the cycle was off and some sudden let down was coming.

It was cold installing at the RowHouses last week. Saturday night in the grips of the second wave of cold I gained a whole new respect for the people who lived in these drafty little wooden boxes.

On the drive back to Houston early Monday morning a week ago, I saw dead coyotes. Somewhere around Cleburne, I became aware of them. By the time I was approaching Centerville, five were distinct in my memory. In rapid procession were a buzzard with out-stretched wings eating from a skunks carcass, a crow flying overhead with something snake-like dangling from its beak, and then another dead coyote within the short city limits of
Centerville on I45 at 75 mph.

Five more coyotes later I arrived in the Third Ward and noticed a big dead dog on Dowling.

The same evening I worked with the young people from the two wards. The Art Life kids took me to the Second Ward. I could see them drifting away. Their hormones were all revved up. Their pictures were OK. They did what they needed to do.

On the side of Rick's house a kitten was chasing a squirrel. Or that was how it first seemed. The squirrel was playing with the kitten. He knew he was in no danger. He held something in his mouth. A nut I think. As I started the van they scrambled of to a near tree to continue, I think.


Dove Coop

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world."
                                                                  - Mahatma Gandhi

his morning I awoke to two forms of dove cooing in the yard where the children play here behind my row house and beside the storage building where the Gandhi quote is taped to the window. There is a small scaled dove here that coos in short repeated calls very distinctly different from the morning doves sad melody. Twenty plus doves cooing and singing the blues here in the ghetto a block from Miss Ann's, one of Houston's traditional blues bars has significance only if you listen.

Here the kids come early to find what's new. Its spring break; schools are out this week and the little ones have been around most of the time. Rei Rei has already been by this morning to see the froglets and look again at the pictures her friends shot of her six years ago. Her curiosity is infectious and so alive within her peer group. But that curiosity is lost in the older kids.

Our inconsistencies cost us tremendously. We point at the comeback success of wolves, puma, and bears and over look the loss of amphibians. We talk about the numbers of "minorities" in Harvard and overlook the Rei Rei's of the third world within our boundaries. Poverty couples with lack of education. Rampant alcoholism, violence, and drugs are only the physical forms of the decay and may well be Rei Rei's future.

The environment here directly around the RowHouses has changed significantly for the better in the past six years.

It is within our power to change the world. We are changing it. Drilling in the ANWR and Arches is the equivalent of educating the elite while the children of this our third world (the Third Ward of Houston) know little to nothing about computers. The world is close at hand and these children are not receiving the basics of our time. If they don't connect with the growth of larger world all of us will pay the price in the future.

This thread about what we have learned from our frogs is significant. The correlation here is with our collective environment and our individual realms or enclosures. We care for those little environmental enclosures and their inhabitants so we can learn to care with our larger enclosures. Our ability to change is limited to the space around us and that space is as large or small as we make it within our chorus.

We can teach those around us to see themselves as part of the environment. It is subtle but true, if we change the world will.

I'll drive back to Dallas today and am booked there tomorrow, so will off line for the most part for a few days.




ack here at home among my friends and family, tribal life is steady. I know my tribe. My wife comes and goes. Dinners are made. The lights come on and go off at set intervals. Frogs are fed. Cultures are made. Family visits. Photos are taken. There is an occasional gunshot as I type. Temperature here is easy to control. There is a pace to life. There is a tribal beat to the intimacy of home, a drum song of sorts.

The frogs sing more than I can hear. I only catch little bits and pieces of their signals so often rather than trying to interpret, just enjoy their companionship and the songs they sing to each other. But I feel like I recognize some changes in the feelings of their songs.

When I listen to music the words slip by as part of the feel of it. I am often more aware of how it feels than what it says. Likewise words are often sung to not be understood, but they are always sung to be felt.

The frogs have taught me to listen differently.

Sometimes I imagine they are singing to me.

Sometimes the Third Ward sings to me. There is a tribal beat there that calls me here in my home.

I don't remember hearing a gunshot in the Third Ward. I do remember hearing people singing.



Friends are F(rogs)

esterday afternoon the after-school kids began adding notes to their jars and preserved pictures. After hand writing their names and ages, Corisha and Ya Vonya struggled to type into this computer at the same time. Corisha got as far as "Friends are" before Ya Vonya added the "f". I added the "(rogs)" this morning. Ya Vonya asked if I have a printer. I do. Projects shape from experience. Today with a little more help from Sister Hummdia they can type more and print. Order from chaos, perhaps ?

Yesterday morning I returned to Houston where I have chosen to stay in this my row house for now. I know the Houston summer will not allow the luxury of camping out in the Third Ward. Exhausted from a week of taxes in Texas I slept most of the early afternoon and night. The after-school kids kept me awake after school.

I'm a visitor in this tribe. Honored to be here. Much more to say about this!

I don't know how much to tell you. Where to stop and start? The ceiling might be a good place. The website needs to happen soon. Maybe today.

Please email me if you want to continue to receive this email journal entries. There is much more to say. This project will continue to evolve for at least six months.

Order from chaos bits and pieces keep coming, small change and the metamorphosis, the value of , the ceiling and of course correlations with the frogs, are all topics to come. And this will continue.

Must close. The first light just arrived.


Sweet Carrots

arrot on a door

Last night I bought some carrots from the man who grows them in the court-yard here. Fresh from the ground, they are sweet. I hung the ones I didn't eat on the back of the front door. Dangling there they seemed appropriate and even a little sensual. So, I shot a few pictures. One is attached.

Rick Lowe stopped by later last night. He was exhausted. You could see it in his face. He has the drive, persistence, and stamina to have turned this neighborhood from decaying drug fodder to an organically enriched culture that produces a beautiful future for some equally beautiful people.

Rick has great personal charm and is the chief paternal executive of this tribal group.

I offered him a carrot from the door. He declined saying they were just too beautiful.

Today I gave the carrots to the children.


There are two doors here. One opens onto a busy street and the other opens into a tribe.

Six years ago, I noted the communal atmosphere at the Row Houses. There are certainly old hippie and "Whole Earth News" connotations alive here, but there is also something very tribal to this community that I first noted six years ago. Back then the after-school program was still very small and people met most every day to talk around the common yard between the back porches. One afternoon I distinctly remember a loud heated discussion between a group of young black women about white men coming into their community. I couldn't help but to hear through the thin walls as I sawed and hammered away to build a small space within their neighborhood.

I had visions then of women doing their tribal decision making while the men were away tending to their manly duties. I questioned where I was and what I was doing. When I questioned them their responses varied from, "Well? Why are you here?" to "OH! I just thought you were a light skinned brother?" People are people.

This Project Row Houses began as a discussion between a group of well established black male artists. Jesse Lott, George Smith, Bert Samples, Bert Long, Floyd Newsum, Rick Lowe and I believe a few others shared some vision of Art and community mixing to blossom in the hood. It became a carrot on a stick for Rick.

Now, ten years later, Rick and Deborah Grotfeldt have carved a model of quality urban community from a deprived and decayed neighborhood.

The row houses were originally built to cram as many black servants into as small a space as possible close to a wealthy neighborhood. I would guess the houses were built four to a lot, two facing the street and two facing the alley. The houses, only slightly larger than huts, face out and protect this common space within.

Today (actually yesterday now) I joined the circle.

More tomorrow time to sleep now.



Breaking On Through
to the Other Side 

here were over forty notes waiting for me when I arrived back at the Row Houses. Corisha wrote, "Come back we miss you for being here." I'm glad for being here, too!

Tracy Hicks

"The Flower Man" is Cleveland Turner. I like him. He does what he wants,
and he wants to make people feel good. He makes me feel good.


Monday was a planting day. We broke ground. The Flower Man, Cleveland Turner, and I went to the flower store. The one he always rides his plastic flower laden bicycle over to when he buys flowers to plant around his neighborhood. They charged us an extra $1.50 because of the white guy. It didn't bother me much, but it did The Flower Man.


A smiley face and below was written,
Put in jor"
They will all go in the jars before I leave Houston this week.


Tuesday was a trip to Galveston and Moody Gardens' Rain Forest the "The Largest, Most Diverse Frog Exhibit In United States." It makes me more embarrassed to be a Texan than Bush being president.

In one four foot cube environment were immature ( and some sick ) azureus, citronellas, bassleri, vittatus, trivittatus, leucomelas, auratus, galactonicus, and probably a few others.

No food out that I saw. Living in a dirty environment with few plants and fewer places to hide. It is fogged at regular intervals. There were other bleak environments, with other frogs. Some looked healthy, but most just looked pathetic. To try to end this note on a positive note, they had some beautiful and healthy looking A. zeteki.


Another card read:

Can I sleep
as if
My own moments
Won't filter
or fade
as if
the streets don't tick on
sidewalk kiss after
sidewalk kiss
blurring in neon
convenience and the
acceleration of a
green signal

( but was not signed )


As we talked with the Moody Gardens' butterfly wrangler, a ringed neck dove slammed headlong into the open butterfly display door. He died trying to break through.

Another note says, "I like your idea a lot! COOL" and was signed in a preteen scrawl "Love, Nicole". Then the signature was scratched out.


An email said:

in one of your emails you wrote that third ward is a ghetto. my first response was — a ghetto?!! i forget that parts of it could be and is considered a ghetto. this place doesn't feel like a ghetto to me. it is always surprising when people see the third ward as a neighborhood for poor people. i'm so intrenched into the culture, or maybe the subculture here, that i no longer have a grand objective opinion.

from talking to virginia and rick [ not lowe ] i realized that i need to prepare for the probable death of third ward. i guess it is only fitting because i am in a process of becoming a minimalist. this neighborhood is a physical thing. geographical communities are physical, and physical things can be destroyed. my goal is to only collect and become attached to spiritual things. for me i think those things can be summed up as lessons. i am in love with this place and i hate it because i don't want

to see the diversity change. i must learn to let it out of my heart. i must cherish the good memories and prepare myself for change. it is so funny, i now see third ward as having a cancer called economic development. i don't think there is any chemotherapy for that type of illness. i don't want to see this neighborhood change. i ask myself why does this neighborhood deserve not to change?!! is it arrogant of me to not want to see change knock on the door of this community and no one answer as if we live in our own world? the world is ever changing. resist, embrace, or ignore ... ??? i don't know. i don't think i have more than those three options.

ghetto bound



Most frogs develop their front legs inside of their body. Then at the start of metamorphosis as the heart and lungs begin their sudden evolution from water to air, these legs break on through ( to the other side ). What advantage there was in being sperm-like is suddenly gone and with in a few days they will hop away.

Thank goodness we are not frogs.



OK it's all a struggle, so what?

At times I am consumed by the struggle. The idea of being consumed carries a necessary degree of fear that helps push me along, like a dog nipping at my heels.

It is easy to freeze. You just stand still. Its also easy to fight and get beaten-up. Over the years I have experienced many of those variations.

The frogs have taught me something of seeing my own instincts to freeze or run hide with fear. (not easy for a fifty plus year old man to say) Or to fight out the struggle with others and of course myself. Seeing those instincts while listening to the E. femoralis call gives me some peace.

Going back to the Row Houses tomorrow reminds me of how small my struggle is and how important it can be.


Cool Breeze

The high today was only 86 degrees. It's the first day of fall in Texas, and here in the frogroom I just saw a mosquito get caught in a spider web. Sometimes I want to fuss about all these little spiders. Their webs lace every crevice between the frog tanks. Periodically I get down on them and vacuum the room, but watching this doomed little blood-sucker struggle on a day with a bright sun and cool breeze, I love spiders.



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June 13 2005