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St. Paul’s Spiritual Holy Temple [aka Voodoo Village]

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Visiting Information

The site is not generally open to the public, and the family prefers to maintain a strict privacy with regard to the constructions, although one piece was recently lent to the American Folk Art Museum in New York for the exhibition, “When the Curtain Never Comes Down.”

About the Artist/Site

Around 1960, Wash “Doc” Harris, a self-ordained Baptist minister originally from central Mississippi, began to develop a compound on his property in southwest Memphis that he conceptualized as a center for spiritual healing. It has been estimated that over 1500 separate works, including sculptures (those made from scratch as well as repurposed found objects), colorfully-painted low buildings, crosses, stars, and ornaments were created as sacred elements to support this effort, in the tradition of vernacular houses of worship in the Deep South of the African and Native American spiritual church. Believing that his ability to preach and heal was a gift from God, Harris called his artwork “Degrees of God” to emphasize their sacred purpose, and conducted Sunday services each week on site, welcoming visitors from all over the South and beyond. But while his property was located on a dead-end street, his spiritual teaching and healing with traditional medicine was regularly interrupted by drive-by trespassers who would fire guns, scream obscenities out their car windows, and try to disturb the ceremonies. Harris would persevere, trying to bring the words in the Bible to life for his visitors.

Several of the buildings on site were constructed as temples, and were crowded with freestanding sculptures and assemblages, which, taken together, displayed a compelling and forceful impression of color, texture, and movement. Beads, doll and mannequin parts, stuffed animals and animal skulls, textiles, and many pounded nails complemented the wide variety of constructed crosses, stars, slat- or cane-sided tabernacles, and totem-like sculptures. Harris believed he had been to the “Promised Land,” and his constructions were conceived as cleansing tools to help to eradicate negative forces. “This place is a sign for future generations and the fallen of the world,” Harris said.

Misunderstanding the symbols Harris used on the site, many of which were actually derived from Freemasonry, the Temple was mischaracterized by locals as the Voodoo Village, a derogatory name perpetuated by the media, which led to repeated instances of vandalism and theft. So while Harris’s grandson Mook took over the property and continued to extend his grandfather’s works, recreating some of the earlier wooden pieces in metal and also becoming interested in the Masons and “taking all the degrees,” the site began to fall into disrepair as a result of both manmade and natural forces. At the end of the summer in 2015, a security system was put in place to help protect the site from unwanted visitors, who have historically been particularly unmanageable over Halloween.

The site is not generally open to the public, and the family prefers to maintain a strict privacy with regard to the constructions, although one piece was recently lent to the American Folk Art Museum in New York for the exhibition, “When the Curtain Never Comes Down.”

~Jo Farb Hernández



Map and site information

Not Exact Address
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 35.149534 / -90.04898

Visiting Information

The site is not generally open to the public, and the family prefers to maintain a strict privacy with regard to the constructions, although one piece was recently lent to the American Folk Art Museum in New York for the exhibition, “When the Curtain Never Comes Down.”

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