Last Saturday, less than a week after she opened the Rock and Eagle Shop on Eagle Rock Boulevard, artist and curator Bettina Hubby heard a man outside the door. "I'm just going to make sure it's not just an adult rock and eagle shop," he said to his children.
The exterior is painted a bright, pot-dispensary green, and the store's name is written in a graffiti-like font, so it's hard to know what to expect. But when the man walked in and saw shelves of rock and eagle paraphernalia -- eagle magnets, eagle do-rags and other eagle-related stuff to the left, and pet rocks, sling shots and rock-related stuff to the right -- he dashed out to get the kids.
Eagle Rock's newly opened Rock and Eagle Shop is part art project, part social experiment, part sampling of Internet oddities. "Everyone I talked to about this idea got excited," Hubby says.
She began searching Etsy, eBay and Amazon, assembling merchandise for the Eagle and Rock shop, last October, right after staging her "Get Hubbied" project at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts. For that, she arranged a legally binding wedding ceremony for a couple she'd chosen and vetted. L.A. artists designed the invitations, decorated the newlywed's car and arranged the flowers.
Footage and carnage from the wedding stayed on view in Eagle Rock through November, and Hubby got to know the neighborhood. She spoke with staff at the Center for the Arts and others she met about a shop selling just merchandise inspired by rocks and eagles. "It was definitely the play on words that drew people in," she says.
The wordplay didn't originate with Hubby. It originated in 1964, with well-known writer-musician Mason Williams and artist Ed Ruscha, then twentysomethings from Oklahoma trying to make a go of it in L.A. They had grown up in Oklahoma City and moved west together in 1956, after high school (Williams moved back to Oklahoma for a few years, then rejoined Ruscha in the 1960s). "Ed and I were in the fourth grade together," Williams says. "It's just been show and tell since then," meaning they've been swapping ideas for 60-plus years.
In '64, Ruscha rented a studio in Eagle Rock. Williams visited and noted the studio's storefront. "We were both pretty broke at the time," he remembers, so he joked that Ruscha should open up a shop to bring in some cash. It could sell eagles and rocks, since it would be in Eagle Rock. Williams jotted this down in a notebook, and years later, gave a collection of his favorite such larks to Ruscha, who had since become friends with Bettina Hubby. Ruscha showed Hubby the collection and that one-liner about the Eagle Rock shop stuck with her.
On April Fools' Day this year, a decades-old joke became a brick-and-mortar establishment, and Williams wrote a poem -- "For the eagle collector and rockhound prospector, After 48 years ... there's a shop!" -- to commemorate the occasion. He also rerecorded his 1963 talking blues song about J. Edgar Hoover as a "not very regal" eagle and performed it at the ribbon cutting. "Her attention to detail is miraculous," he says of Hubby.
She acquired an empty storefront with the help of Renee Dominique, Eagle Rock Center for the Arts' director of development, in early March. Everything was beige and dirty, so Hubby spent a month cleaning, repainting and stocking. "If I'd only gone to thrift stores," says Hubby, "the shop probably would have been full of pet rocks and eagle figurines."
Instead, late-night foraging on the Internet led to endless surprises. She found one woman who would go to Rhode Island beaches and find rocks that appeared to be near-sighted. She would take them home and outfit them with glasses. Nearsighted rocks are part of Hubby's collection, as are watercolors of eagles in high heels and eagle do-rags -- "You don't have to be a mechanic or a biker to wear a do-rag," says the sales pitch, "you can just be having a bad hair day."
"It's the way people pitch that's most interesting," says Hubby, who thought she had more than enough merchandise without inviting contemporary artists to contribute. But then she kept coming across artists whose work fit, like Melodie Mousset, who photographs friends in masks made of rocks.
The shop has a leveling effect: in close proximity, the woman who forages beaches for rocks that need glasses doesn't seem much stranger than the artist who ties ungainly stones to people's faces.
"The joy of the project was finding all of these really eccentric projects I wouldn't have found otherwise," Hubby says. The other joy is watching visitors come in and react, like parents who let their kids choose one object from the rock side and one from the eagle side. She hired a shopkeeper, artist Mark Verabioff, but she's had trouble pulling herself away. "I'm very, very drawn to being in the space," she says.
Until most of the merchandise sells and the shop closes, Hubby will be hosting events. A pet rock-making class is scheduled for 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, April 22. A Rock Hudson film night featuring Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows starts at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 29, and an Eagles karaoke night should be announced soon.
Rock and Eagle Shop is at 4765 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock; Open Wed. - Sun., 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. hubbyco.com