By Sean Murphy
There is something fundamentally attractive about the old neighborhoods that draw me to Norman. Maybe it is that general appeal of homes converted to new purposes such as apartments for college students, or maybe it is the downtown areaâ€™s preservation of some of the oldest buildings in Oklahoma. Maybe I have seen American Graffiti one too many times; I almost expect to see Harrison Ford hanging out the window of a black â€™55 Chevy every time I go down that Main Street strip. Parts of the area look as if they might not have changed much since â€™62 despite the ebb and flow of new restaurants, bars, galleries and shops. Rooted in past and present much like downtown Norman itself, one of the best new merchants is Roxyâ€™s Funky Art Boutique.
Marcy Cordell (nicknamed in high school as Roxy) didnâ€™t have to look far for real estate when she decided to open her art store. It is just downstairs from the apartment she calls home. It was September 2009 when Cordell looked out her window to see the original tenants moving boxes out of the accounting office downstairs. She was immediately on the phone with the landlord inquiring about renting the lower floor. Cordell gets a huge grin talking about her decision to open a boutique. Within a single year it has attracted over 50 different artists and crafters to display their work. Alongside this extensive variety of handmade items, Cordell also sells vintage pieces with their own unique histories.
One of the things that has always attracted me to Roxyâ€™s is the design of the building– in fact, it is inside one of those converted old homes. Cordell reports that the house has a storied past. Built in the 1920s, the family that lived downstairs operated the home as a boarding house. The upstairs rooms were rented out to â€œrailroad menâ€ who came to Norman seeking work. She says that she still gets old-timers coming into the store, some who knew people that once lived there and some who come in just to appreciate the architecture of a 1920s home. Even young relatives of former residents come by just to see this monument to their ancestry. Many browsers walk from room to room feeling the woodwork and remark upon the original touches of the home. Going through the house this way makes you wonder about the colorful characters who boarded here and what they would think of the spunky woman who now makes these rooms home to unique Oklahoma art.
The art sold here has a bizarre, eccentric, almost rockabilly feel to it. Each room has an eclectic array of pieces from vintage cameras to street art. Cordell walked me through the store proudly telling me the story behind some of her favorite items. She showed me a handcrafted wooden table made by Tony Mathis who collected his lumber from fallen trees in the Oklahoma ice storm of 2008. It would be a cool little table to slide up next to your couch, and telling the story behind it to admiring guests would surely get you more â€œcool pointsâ€ than telling the story of going down to Dallas to get a side table from the IKEA warehouse.
I was even more attracted to the next piece she showed me– I almost beat her to it on the tour when it caught my eye. It was a painted table emblazoned with the iconic neon sign of â€˜66 Bowl. It stirred up memories of the presently defunct but almost legendary Oklahoma City bowling alley that was home to the punk rockabilly scene of the metro for many years. Nights of neon bowling and hot rods spring back to mind as soon as I see this table. Painted around the sides are signs and marquees of other landmarks such as Cattlemanâ€™s CafÃ© and the Lyric Theatre, all of which hold their own special place in my memories of good times in the â€˜Okay Cityâ€™. Those were the days – I remember struttinâ€™ my stuff around all these places with a too tall black pompadour, bushy mutton chop sideburns and a pair of zebra creepers. Oh, yes I did! That look might have left town for me when Johnny Cash caught the long black train to the beyond but I can easily imagine this table today with a pyramid of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans and an ash tray full of black butts of clove cigarettes. If I was still that guy, this table would have been bought on the spot.
Cordell also told me with pride that Roxyâ€™s is the only place in Oklahoma to carry Arcana soaps. These all-natural scented soaps have names such as â€œMurder Ballad Bluesâ€ and â€œFilthy Vikingâ€ and packaging displaying skull and crossbones, ancient sea vessels, devils and the like. Not even knowing that the product was handmade in exotic Oregon (Oh my!), my younger pompadour-wearing psychobilly self would have been sold on this product as soon as I found a patchouli scented bar. In fact, modern day Sean is putting this item down on his wish list. Oh, yes I did– again! I may not be completely over the scent of patchouli and there are so many great scents. Even if admitting to wanting to bathe with a â€œFilthy Vikingâ€ is a little edgy, I am sure that even Odinâ€™s pillaging warriors would want to relax in the tub after a dayâ€™s plundering and come out supple and scented lightly of Juniper. Really, who wouldnâ€™t?
Cordell heartily supports the Oklahoma music scene, both by carrying musiciansâ€™ merchandise and playing their music in her store. She has the recognizable Skull-n-Crossbones-In-A-Cowboy-Hat t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts from Mike Hosty, who she calls â€œa great friendâ€. Cordell always has the best music playing every time I visit. She says she welcomes local musicians to sell their merchandise in her store and invites local bands to bring her their merchandise so she can do what she can to support them. Getting a day off when you literally live at work, has to be next to impossible but Cordell recently took time to go hear some roots jam band music and tries to make local shows whenever she can. Knowing that she is truly a supporter of local music significantly adds to the sales appeal of her store: Roxyâ€™s profits go to all the right places.
While Cordell guided me through the house, the excitement she felt was contagious to me and the other shoppers. Sheâ€™s rightfully proud of the shop she owns and all of the art there. I found myself admiring handmade jewelry, vintage record players and beautifully creepy rag dolls. I looked through the store for some paintings I had previously seen of cult pinup Betty Page, but they must be hanging on someoneâ€™s wall by now. In a cool art shop like this if you snooze, you will lose. I did find many other great items, and Iâ€™m certain the next time I am in the store I will see something else that I must have. Others will surely be nostalgic about her products in a way that doesnâ€™t have anything to do with a misspent pompadour youth. Roxy’s has something for everyone.
If you are looking to support local artists and crafters in a place with a distinct touch of Oklahoma, go to Roxyâ€™s Funky Art Boutique. It is at located at 128 W. Gray St. in Norman, Oklahoma. It is open 11am to 6pm during the week and 10am to 5pm on Saturday. It is closed on Sundays. You can learn more by finding its pages on Facebook or Myspace or reach Marcy Cordell directly by calling 405-701-5237.
Written by Sean Murphy, formerly with the pomp & mutton chops, fan of funky art
Photos by Amber Normandin