Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Henry Lafayette Warren's "Shangri-La"

Click to See Larger Image

Among North Carolina's most visible examples of the richly detailed personal landscapes created by "folk" or "outsider" artists—the latter term referring to artists outside the academic art mainstream — the miniature stone village was constructed over several years by World War I veteran Henry Lafayette Warren after he retired from farming and running a gas station at this site. Far from being an eccentric loner like some outsider artists, or his work being unknown during his lifetime, Warren was an outgoing member of the community. He developed it to please his neighbors, and passers-by, and with their help.

Like many such personal landscapes, it developed over time in extemporaneous fashion. It features intricate detail including "found objects," and it is often humorous, with various texts and mottoes. The village of some 25 buildings includes a church, a jail, a mill, a theatre, a house and garage, and an uncompleted hospital; landscaping and a rock retaining wall; and topical buildings of the day such as the Watergate Hotel.

Click to See Larger Image
Henry Lafayette Warren was a Caswell County native who lived with his family in a nearby stone bungalow which he built himself, near his stone gas station on the road from Hillsborough to Yanceyville. A fragment of the old road shows its original proximity to the site. His house still stands, but not his gas station. Warren began his "little city" in his front yard in his mid-70s—various dates are reported — mixing his own cement and using white flint rock quarried from his and a neighboring farm to erect the 3 to 4-foot high buildings. Like many such artists, he incorporated diverse objects into his work, including parts of tools and appliances, ceramic figures, and other items he found in local antique stores, as well as projectile points brought to him by local children to trade for candy. His neighbor Junius Pennix often worked with him. Henry started with a single building and never meant to build so much, recalled his widow, Satira Warren, in an interview in 1988, but friends and neighbors kept suggesting new ideas. He worked on it constantly, except when Mrs. Warren insisted he put down his tools and come in when she had lunch ready.

He eventually named it "Shangri-La," she said, because during World War II President Roosevelt talked about Shangri-La — the vanishing ideal place in the popular novel and movie "Lost Horizon" (1933, 1937). "I think that’s what Henry had in mind." Henry Warren's little city's cheerful spirit reflects its maker's warm personality and relationships. He welcomed visitors throughout his lifetime and loved to chat with anyone who stopped by. "Sometimes I thought he was crazy," said Mrs. Warren, "But I really think his building his city made him live longer." His motto posted at the village is "Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man."

Henry Warren died in 1977 at age 84, with his village still unfinished, including the little hospital. Mrs. Warren survived him until 2009. While visiting Warren's Shangri-La, we need to tread carefully and respect the fragility of the little world he created.



Emily Smith, "Shangri-La just grew and grew," from an interview with Mrs. Warren, Associated Press, in the Rome, Georgia, Rome News-Tribune, Sept. 4, 1988;

Clipping in “Visionary Folk Art Environment Ephemera,” https://www.flickr.com/photos/23280022@N08/sets/72157647521928467; and

Shangri-La. Photo: Ruth Little, 2015.

Source: "Bright Leaf Culture and Thomas Day: Orange and Caswell Counties," Vernacular Architecture Forum, Durham June 1-4, 2016.

No comments:

Post a Comment