Ten years ago, Houston artists and married couple Thedra and Stephen Cullar-Ledford were living in Manhattan and working as hard as humanly possible to pay the rent necessary to live in the city. They were miserable. Today, the happy couple lives and works under the graceful, old trees dotting their landscape at Independence Art Studios in Independence Heights.
Not content with just the house on the lot, the couple added five individual art studios constructed from five shipping containers. Then they amassed a colony of sculptors, painters, a poet and an architect who are renting and creating in the spaces.
They were built exactly with this end in mind. Each studio hosts 10-foot by 19-foot-walls allowing artists to work on a large scale. Outdoor space is also available, and the container doors open to permit big pieces to be moved with ease.
Each studio has individually controlled air conditioning and heating. The couple added high speed, wired Internet “because WiFi doesn’t penetrate shipping containers,” said Thedra, then they added a shared full bathroom with an additional utility sink.
The experiment has been so successful, the Cullar-Ledfords are constructing four more studios on the property as well as an in-ground swimming pool made out of, you guessed it, a shipping container.
“New York was a very expensive place to live,” explained Stephen Cullar-Ledford. “We found we were working as hard as we could, and still had no money left to enjoy the city. It was time to try something new.”
“Our dream was to find a space on which we could live and create, but would also help pay for itself,” added Thedra Cullar-Ledford. “We returned to Houston, and found a house on a half-acre in Independence Heights, an area that was already on its way to becoming an artist’s community. It was perfect.”
Today, the artists using the studios share everything including tools.
“Why would we need 11 hammers, when we can keep one or two that we all use,” stated Thedra.
In addition to the artists, there are horses on the back property, studio cats, a Basset Hound named “Bob,” and a handful of chickens that produce enough eggs for everyone.
Houstonian and sculptor Greg Weismantel was working and showing in Washington, DC when his dad fell ill. Weismantel returned to Houston to help care for his father, and quickly snapped up space at Independence Art Studios to continue his work. He is also the colony’s “chicken whisper.”
“The girls just love Greg,” Thedra added. “Sometimes they chase us, but they land on Greg, sit on his shoulders or head, and follow him around. It’s funny to watch.”
Greg Weismantel has been a tenant for nearly two years and recently held a highly successful show of his work at the studios. “There is a real sense of community here, not just on our property, but in Independence Heights too,” he said.
“There is art happening all around us. And it is so close to the city, but still natural and beautiful. I absolutely love it here.”
While there is an accepting vibe at the studios, there are also rules.
“We are pretty easy going. We welcome pets, but they must not eat our pets. And we will not allow selling weed or rampant sexual activity. Unfortunately, we learned the last two the hard way,” Thedra concluded with a laugh.