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HS Great Space: Creative Impulse

A cultural historian reconsiders her surroundings.


Horton is a slim, dark-haired film editor immersed in a smart swirl of politics, propaganda, outsider art and history. Hers has been the gentle path of the Southern eccentric: privileged upbringing (Dad's a longtime state senator and gentleman lawyer); a childhood she describes as steeped in solicitude with a grassroots awareness; debutante balls and world travels and a two-year stint at Brown; a Chapel Hill degree and graduate film school at the University of Texas. She speaks French and Italian, owns and reads a thousand books and has a closet-full of vintage clothing.

That she nurses a serious attraction to "The Guiding Light" is no contradiction. She has subscribed to the National Enquirer for ten years, and in fact, always papers a bathroom or stairwell with its lurid pages. She can tell you the entire history of tabloid publishing and the context in which it flourishes. "Murder, mayhem and disaster, coronations, vengeance scenarios, unexplained phenomena… people want to hear gossip. It's been insatiable throughout history," she says. "And there's been cultural elitism from the get-go. Homer was considered too tawdry to be sanctioned reading in Plato's rarified Republic, and Cromwell closed theaters from opera to Shakespeare or anything else written for the masses. It's all part of a continuum of highbrow hijacks."

Horton's collections include early pulp papers like "Confidential" and "Suppressed," women's magazines such as "The Delineator," vintage soda bottles, posters, and memorabilia about film and prostitution. "Cultural history is revealed through all of it," she says.

Color is one reason Horton's just-sold Museum District house is featured in these pages. Her fearless intuition about strong shades of paint is rarely seen in Richmond, but often talked about. When her friend Francena Alvarez opened the place for a January real estate showing, she urged visitors to remember that the walls could be returned to plain white.

Some might find bold colors confining, hard to live with. For Horton, the choices were instinctive. Turquoise. Coral-orange. Acid yellow. They suggest, but do not match, the exuberant colorations of the folk art she collects. "It's untrained, it pours out from inside, it's from the artist's soul," she says of the paintings and sculptures that surround her.

This is not so much a home as a research library, a sanctuary for wild flights of imagination on real-thing retro sofas. It's tactile, amusing, and politely earnest.

Horton's search for authentic creative impulses is an obsession, made more so when she shot a documentary, "Cathartic," that reveals fantastical explosions of outsider art in France and Italy. Where does this wellspring of originality begin, she asks.

"I'm in awe of the truly creative spirit," Horton says.

She'll live in a treehouse until her main quarters in Asheville are complete. She'll harness energy from a waterfall on the property to keep her "off the grid" of local power suppliers. She'll unpack her treasures, reassemble her furnishings, and surge ahead with her projects, her studies, her insatiable curiosities.

Richmond will be a memory to file away. HS


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