From “The Memoirs” by Bill Wolf,
“… About a year earlier,
Russell’s uncle, Tom Ellison, up in the near-by town of Vallejo on the
northern part of the bay, had died and Russell had volunteered to go up
to Vallejo and help clear out some of his uncle’s things.
Russell’s father, Al, and his brother
Tom couldn’t have been more different. Al had worked all his life for
the phone company, dear ol’ Ma Bell, rising to Vice President (one of
many, I’m sure), and lived a conservative, middle-class existence in the
suburbs. His brother Tom, on the other hand, had never held a steady
job, never even lived in a house. He made a meager living selling
personalized matchbooks and ashtrays to local bars in the area. He
lived like a hermit in an old rented garage and collected old junk, he
clipped news articles out of the paper, he sent away for nut-preacher-type
audiotapes and he believed in all kinds of conspiracy theories like
Richard Nixon was a robot sent by alien space beings, etc.
So, we ended up with boxes
and boxes (and boxes!) of Tom’s old stuff and Russell took his time
going through it and throwing a lot of it out. However, as you can
imagine, a lot of the old stuff was fascinating and right up our alley,
old news clippings, calendars, ashtrays, girlie books, old photos and
scrapbooks of more old photos. Of course, Russell loved it all and soon
came up with the idea to exhibit it all and put on a show, called
He did a nice job, hanging
everything and mounting it all very artistically. It filled the studio.
As the first part of the exhibit, were exhibited all the best of the old
things, the old photos of Tom as a young man and pages from his
scrapbooks, clippings from old newspapers about Hitler and the Nazis,
girlie calendars, religious tracts, ashtrays, all nicely displayed on
the walls and in display cases.
* * *
The Ellison family in a photographer's
studio, c. 1910.
The Ellison Grocery Store, Oakland, California, c. 1910.
Tom Ellison at work in Staggs Department Store,
Oakland, c. 1925
* * *
At the back door, a sign instructed the viewer that the exhibit
continued out the back and across the alley. There an attendant was
waiting to usher the viewers into a small garage.
In the back half of the garage, Russell had recreated a theatrical
representation of Tom’s old living space, filling it with all his old
bed, his dresser, his old junk. In the front half, rows of chairs faced
There, Russell performed a real-time portrayal of his uncle. Dressed in
his uncle’s clothes, among his uncle’s things, Russell sat, and read,
drank water, and listened to audiotapes from nut-preachers, and laid in
his uncle’s bed, fully clothed, for the entire time the exhibit was open,
a full week during August of that year.
He got a good bit of
publicity and lots of people came, many finding it unusual, eerie,
moving and beautiful. Our friend sk dunn came and watched
it for hours.
It was a gorgeous piece and
the photos of Russell as his uncle are classics. “Vallejo Garage” was
one of Triple-A’s finest productions.
* * *
...NEXT: THE BOX LUNCH GOES TO NEW YORK