George & Ruth Ray, Ornamental Garden

Status

Threatened

Address

Stephenville, Texas, 76401, us

Built

1932-1955

About the Artist/Site

George Ray, a wealthy owner of a dry goods shop, feed store, and grocery market in Stephenville, Texas, believed in “good works” as a way to God. With his wife Ruth, he constructed the “Ornamental Gardens” to share their beliefs. From 1932 to 1955 he crafted hundreds of monumental symbols—including stars, crescents, triangles, and Greek and Latin crosses—and interspersed them with hand-painted signs exhorting viewers to “do good” to attain salvation.

On Sunday afternoons the Rays would broadcast Christian sacred music from inside the house and from a monumental, wired quartz dome in the center of the garden; Ruth would sell snacks and sundries to visitors. In a booklet they sold for 10 cents Ray expounded his creed: He believed mankind should forge a direct link to God, leaving out such “middlemen” as Jesus and churches. The structures the Rays built in the Gardens—primarily cement poured into horizontal forms, studded with found objects, then lifted to a vertical position and anchored into the ground—did not have an overtly religious character; rather, their orientation was made evident through George’s signs and his booklet.

The Rays developed a unique lighting system, which was carried by underground conduit and embedded in the sculptures. Light bulbs were hidden from view, encased in crystal bowls or secreted between glass dishes. The network was operated from within the house and illuminated the yard and all the sculptures.

Despite the Rays’ attempts to make the grounds pleasing to the public, in later days the local community labeled them as “crazy.” Rumors developed that bodies had been buried beneath the sculptures and the site was haunted. Vandals defaced the site, especially on moonlit nights. After Ruth died in 1967, the “Ornamental Gardens” were sold to the Borfeno family. They tried to maintain it, but they could not prevent ongoing vandalism and theft. By 1975 at least half of the original sculptures had been destroyed or stolen. Natural forces have furthered the site’s deterioration and demise.

~Jo Farb Hernández

Materials

ceramic, concrete

SPACES Archives Holdings

The SPACES archive contains photographs from 1975, Ray’s booklet, vintage postcards. pamplets, and correspondence

Map & Site Information


Stephenville, Texas, 76401 us
Latitude/Longitude: 32.224334 / -98.193098

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