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Making History

For more than 50 years, artists have been drawn to this quiet, tucked-away studio row

The sign says Arbor Castle Birdhouses, but within lies an array of fanciful castles that seem perfectly inviting to gnomes and pixies if not birds. Crafted from hollow cedar logs; topped with tall, curvy conical roofs; and adorned in whimsical metal touches, these are more pieces of art than avian abodes.

Creator Joe Hopps has been carving birdhouses for 25 years and started quite simply.

“I saw a hollow log, had an idea, created one, entered it into a birdhouse competition in Oklahoma where I was living, and it won first place,” he explains.

Hopps recently added brushes to his repertoire, returning to another of his passions, acrylic abstract painting. “I began painting in the early ’70s and began again recently because of a saw accident, which nearly cut off several fingers.”

Arbor Castle Birdhouses along the main drag.

R.J. Hinkle

His canvases were showcased at the grand opening of a new art gallery, O3 Collective, just down the road from his shop in the small community of Edom, west of Tyler.

With a population of fewer than 400, what Edom (pronounced “E-dum”) lacks in size, it more than makes up for in gifted artists. From one-of-a-kind jewelry to high-end art and unique pottery, the small town’s main drag, FM 279, is a treasure trove of rare items and artisans eager to share their stories.

It all started a couple of doors down from Arbor Castle, at Potters Brown Collective. Once a grocery store, the wooden structure was for five decades the studio of Doug Brown, a California transplant who moved to Edom in 1970 and founded this artisan community. A cluster of artists’ studios continues Brown’s vision. His widow, Beth Brown, a potter herself, lives next door to the studio today.

“Doug was a very humble man and wanted somewhere he and his friends could create and sell their goods and felt if he opened a place, others would follow,” Beth says. “Immediately upon seeing Edom, he knew this was where he wanted to set up shop, start an artists’ community—and he wanted it to be a true community.”

Brown wasted no time turning his dream into reality—buying buildings, setting up his pottery studio and pitching his vision to artisan friends. And they did follow.

In 1972, Brown organized the first Edom Art Festival, which drew more than 3,000 attendees. Since then, every second weekend in October, a sprawling meadow behind studio row is transformed into a bustling venue. Crafters, musicians and festivalgoers from near and far gather to enjoy the sights, sounds, food and festivities of the two-day event that includes a wine-tasting garden featuring local vineyards, musicians and crafting for kids. The festival has grown in content and count, attracting some 15,000 visitors in 2023.

After Brown’s death in 2020, his building was eventually sold, but it still bears his name and remains a pottery center that sells ceramics from local makers.

And the community is still going strong.

Zeke Zewick creates jewelry using uncommon materials.

R.J. Hinkle

“Not all jewelry has to be gold, diamonds and sparkly,” Zewick says.

R.J. Hinkle

Joe Hopps is a painter and creator of memorable birdhouses.

R.J. Hinkle

Stepping outside, my eyes were drawn to a jewelry store of a different sort: Zeke & Marty. Even the door handles are distinctive, custom-made from sika deer antlers from Japan and carved by the owner, Zeke Zewick.

I marveled at the array of custom jewelry of every material, size and sort—even dyed bone pieces inlaid with unique gems, dispelling the adage that diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

Using woolly mammoth teeth from Siberia, Turkish agates, shells from the Sea of Cortez, antlers and bones, Zewick prides himself in creating one-of-a kind pieces.

“Not all jewelry has to be gold, diamonds and sparkly,” he says. “Different material provides for different thoughts for pieces. Oxide steel is what some throw away as trash, but I like the contrast of it with sterling.”

Whimsy is a dominant feature of Joe Hopps’ birdhouses.

R.J. Hinkle

A signpost helps visitors to the East Texas town find their way.

R.J. Hinkle

He especially likes working with bone, which is malleable and easy to grind and polish, dyeing it with alcohol inks. The materials are uncommon, and so are his pieces.

Zewick, one of the original Edom artists, has been creating since 1969, first with leather but spending the past half-century as a jeweler. He knew Brown and received one of his original invites.

“He knew I was looking for a place to move after graduating art school,” Zewick says. “This place had trees and water, and being from Lubbock, I felt we were in heaven.”

Pottery at Potters Brown.

R.J. Hinkle

Sara Brisco, owner of Potters Brown, works in her studio.

R.J. Hinkle

Brisco works her magic at her pottery wheel.

R.J. Hinkle

Prompted by a desire to “get out of the city and move back home to a simpler, less stressful way of life,” Shanna Wiggins relocated here from Austin three years ago.

She used to own a succulents shop on FM 279, and like other residents, she was eager to share her story.

“Originally, the locals were hesitant, feeling hippies didn’t belong here,” she says, “but we all love each other, so it doesn’t matter.”

For the traveler looking for a slower slice of life, Edom has a couple of restaurants serving home-cooked meals. Sips offers hand-crafted coffees, sodas and other nonalcoholic drinks.

Edom is eccentric and inviting and a true “poke-n-plumb” place: By the time you poke your head out of the vehicle, you’re plumb outta town, which adds to its charm. It’s a place where strangers don’t exist.

Joe Hopps works on a birdhouse at his studio in Edom.

R.J. Hinkle

Edom sits about 20 miles west of Tyler.

R.J. Hinkle

Mugs at Potters Brown.

R.J. Hinkle

Edom’s five decades as an art mecca began at Potters Brown.

R.J. Hinkle