Call it kitsch. Call it art. Call it Gary Isett’s gift to the neighborhood.
For years, Isett has kept East Dallas neighbors chuckling over his yard art choices at his large corner lot at Abrams and Trammel. Appreciative folks have left thank you notes and platters of cookies at his door.
For those new to the area, here’s a little background. Eight years ago, Isett moved onto the unadorned land and envisioned a merry holiday scene. “My original intent was a Christmas wonderland, lots of lights,” he says.
But a Billiken came calling. The little Buddha-like figure is considered a good luck charm. Isett happened upon it while doing landscaping work. He brought it home and gave it an honored place on his lawn under a tree.
Soon thereafter appeared Big Boy, a 7-foot, burger-hoisting restaurant statue. Isett added a large star-shaped flower bed at the far corner of his property near Abrams to serve as Big Boy’s stage.
But Big Boy proved to be too popular with the neighborhood. City officials came knocking when it became apparent that the naughty burger boy was causing traffic problems on a busy street. Gawkers slowed down or pulled over to take photos. Since then, the ever-smiling fellow has been relegated to a far corner of Isett’s property, kept company by a turquoise 1920s barber chair and a giant Dairy Queen sign. But Big Boy still makes appearances during the holidays, in parades and at special events, including a recent Woodrow Wilson High School reunion.
Stricken with yard art fever, Isett continues to display quirky pieces on his lawn. Isett’s most prominent piece at the moment is a 10-foot velociraptor, which made the cover of 2018’s “Secret Dallas: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure” by Mark Stuertz. The dinosaur’s props vary according to the season, and it’s not unusual at Mardi Gras to see beads draped over his claws or at Halloween to see a hapless scarecrow in his mouth.
Isett has fun with the holidays. His most recent purchase is a giant gorilla that he spotted at a shop in Forney back in the spring. Isett placed an Easter basket in one gorilla hand and a bouquet of lilies in the other. Voila: the Easter Gorilla.
An intriguing and bizarre addition to the collection is French Fry Man. Imagine a cone-shaped container overflowing with fries, but this one has a face, which is eating fries. Shortly after it was installed, social media lit up with cannibal comments. Adding to the weird factor are the eyes. Let’s just say he could hang with Snoop Dog and Willie Nelson. Isett explains: “It’s from a restaurant in Amsterdam.”
Sitting nearby is an old Amish buggy, a Stonehenge figure and one of the original gondolas from the Swiss Sky Ride at the State Fair of Texas.
Leaning against and covering most of one side of Isett’s house is a mural painted by Deep Ellum artist Preston Pannek for a recent Texas-OU weekend. Pannek, whose murals dot downtown, called Isett out of the blue and offered it to him. Pannek had heard about Isett’s yard art and wanted the mural to go to a good home after it had served its purpose.
Smaller, but no less kitschy, items dot the property: a pair of 30-inch dice, a “slice” of a 1950s car, a 7-foot illuminated wine bottle and a statue of Jack Daniel.
The downside to all this? Storms, for one. Our neighborhood’s Stormageddon in June snapped Isett’s flagpole, the one that once flew the Jolly Roger. Of late, it proudly displayed a thin blue line flag in support of police. Miraculously, no other pieces were damaged.
Worse than storms are thieves and vandals. The Billiken went missing for three years but was eventually found in someone’s garage. A 4-foot shark, which graced Isett’s yard for a while, is still MIA. And don’t even ask Isett about the giant holiday inflatables from last December. They were slashed by Grinches.
Isett’s disheartened post about the inflatables generated an outpouring of support and about $500 within a couple hours. Every week, he receives unsolicited donations: cash, extension cords, lights, timers.
Isett and his yard art have fans as far away as Australia and China. One fan wrote, “Thank you for always putting a smile on my face when I drive by your house.” Another admirer described the yard as “one of my favorite quirks about East Dallas.”
“It’s fun,” Isett says. “It creates a lot of laughter and happiness for me and everybody else.”
Stay tuned. Now that Isett has cleared it with the City of Dallas, he’s working on buying and installing a 20-foot dinosaur.
Patti Vinson is a guest writer who has lived in East Dallas for more than 15 years. She’s written for the Advocate and Real Simple magazine.
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