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John Preble's UCM Museum

By Karen Brantley, New Orleans Times Picayune Newspaper 2003

Welcome to Planet Preble, that is, John Preble’s UCM Museum, in Abita Springs, where kitsch and mirth abound. Brilliance and madness blend into a preposterous display of every goofy thing imaginable and the background music is fabulous, "Crazy stuff and Dixieland," according to Director Preble. Bring a sense of humor and a pocketful of quarters-- there are fortunes to be told, coins to be manufactured, and pinball to be played. It’s all part of the overall fun experience of the museum. From crevice to corner to casement, children will find a world of wonder. But UCM is not just for children-- it’s for anyone who had a childhood, or for anyone ever dubbed a pack rat. Wondering what the letters UCM stand for? There’s time to think about it on the short drive to Abita Springs.

The museum and Preble are indistinguishable; one becomes the other. He has amassed a strange and wonderful conglomeration that displays south Louisiana life and lifestyles in his sometimes disproportionate storybook miniature creations. There are town street scenarios, Mardi Gras parading, alligator wrestling, voodoo fortune telling, and blues club playing, all in animated action at the punch of a button, designed to give a quick impression. This is a hands-on experience for youngsters and the young at heart, with the exception of the alligator snapping turtle, which is the real thing.

It’s no easy trick to get past the entrance for the gift shop is an eye-opener and at first may be mistaken as the museum itself. But save it for last. Pay the $3 admission and continue into the museum complex where countless paint-by-number pieces hang above a vast array of odds and ends creatively displayed, and the miniature animated scenes are at just the right height for an eager child to explore and find the buttons to press. Don't miss the barbed wire display, pieces of barbed wire from the 1800s... and the large Popsicle stick lamp. Favorite animatrons include "Tragedy on Dogpound Road" and "New Orleans Jazz Funeral." After making the way through this gallery, an exit leads to the House of Shards (an old horse barn surfaced with tile fragments) and an authentic 90-year-old Creole house (Preble's art studio). Other treats to behold are Buford the Amazing Bassigator, a crash-landed flying saucer, and Miles Hamacker's prize-winning bicycle decorated with Mardi Gras beads.

Preble said about his cluttered museum, "It's not normal, but not dangerous." He said that wacky stuff and clutter has always been a way of life for him and that it was an important element of his artistic/creative process. "This stuff is whatever somebody's going to throw away." As he strolled through the countless old bottle caps, antique radios and postcards, and old computer parts, Preble said that the museum's success is a group effort, due largely to the cream-of-the-crop teenagers who work there. He described his museum as "Victorian style using pop culture items." UCM Museum got the attention of the new Ellen DeGeneres show and Ripley's Believe It Or Not, as Preble was recently contacted by them. "I'm just waiting to see what will happen," he said.

The UCM Museum was inspired by a similar establishment in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Intrigued by a visit to Ross Ward's Tinkertown Museum about seven years ago, Preble decided to open his own version. He chose the location of a vintage gas station in Abita Springs, and began his collaboration in the spirit of Howard Finster, described by Preble as the Godfather of Wackiness-- “a real character.”

Although UCM displays an amazing collection of paint-by-number art, Preble’s life has been anything but by the numbers. After a formal art education, Preble made a success in the academic art world but found his art conscience dissatisfied. He resorted to a career in real estate, finally returning to art and doing it “his” way. At the UCM Museum, Preble’s working-artist studio shows his remarkably successful green-eyed Creole lady portraits, which are subtly available in the UCM gift shop. The visitor on a mission to see fine art must not overlook these treasures tucked away within the confines of the museum. Van Gogh wrote, “Let them jabber about technique in pharisaical, hollow, hyprocritical terms-- the true painters are guided by that conscience that is called sentiment; their soul, their brain are not subject to the pencil, but the pencil to their brain.” In fact, Renoir admittedly never learned to draw.... John Preble has escaped convention’s captivity.

After the museum experience, bicycle rental is available by the hour or day, which includes a free bicycle guide map of historic Abita Springs and the Tammany Trace. This delightful offbeat roadside attraction is open every day but major holidays, 10am-5pm, at 22275 Highway 36 in Abita Springs. Telephone: 985-892-2624, Website:

Remember to keep your eyes open, for art is all around us!

Karen Brantley


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Abita Mystery House, 22275 Hwy 36
Abita Springs
Louisiana 70420

Telephone: 985-892-2624
©1999 John Preble