Milton Morris, the founder of flea market Flea Harvey's and a supporter of many local artists, died Monday, Aug. 22, after a four-month battle with cancer. Many of his friends, including myself, were unaware that he was sick, learning only of his death through social media. Throughout his illness Morris continued to attend art events across the city and show up at his favorite bar, Lee Harvey's.
Morris ran the flea market, filled with folk art, collectibles and vintage items, at the Cedars hang-out on second Saturdays between October and May. It was a labor of love for him and the plan is to continue to hold it as scheduled in his honor. A post to the Flea Harvey's Facebook page by fellow organizer Kaz Ferns on Monday afternoon applauded Morris' work and generosity. "He would want the events to continue," she wrote. "He really loved them."
Morris loved Lee Harvey's because of the artist crowd it attracts from nearby galleries such as Homeland Security Gallery and Shotgun Gallery. He was an avid supporter of the Dallas arts community who always had an ear or a few kind words to offer. “He would just sneak up on you with a smile, and then be gone," said artist Brian Keith Jones at a memorial "hang" for Milton held last Wednesday at the bar.
On their Tuesday night show Sonic Assembly, KNON 89.3 DJs Reid Robinson and Mark Ridlen played a new wave mix in Morris' memory, inspired by his fondness for dancing at art parties across town. A few years ago at a Randall Garrett exhibition at Beefhaus, a gallery in Fair Park, Morris danced alone in a room where a projector was installed to cast an image into the next room, full of people. As Morris danced, his silhouette passed onto his friends, a fitting metaphor for his gentle but undeniable impact on those around him.
At dinner with my girlfriend Monday after learning the news, I began to cry. Ultimately, I used all the napkins at our table. Our server brought us more. The last time I saw Morris was at Lee Harvey's. I was having a passionate conversation with artist Randy Guthmiller about the nature of love when Morris appeared, taking a seat next to us with a beer for us both. He put his arm around me and I stayed under his wing, calmed. Below are comments from just a few Dallas artists who will miss that feeling as much as I will.
Andy Don Emmons, contemporary folk artist
“There are folks I have come to know in this life who embody that old Southern charm, [and] Milton was one of those folks. I met Milton while doing some paranormal research in Austin. He had some odd activity going on in his house close to downtown. We investigated but didn't find much activity, but we found a great friend.
“Milton always seemed happy and had a fantastic sense of humor. He also possessed a somewhat pragmatic sense about life, and seemed to roll with the punches life gave him. After moving to Dallas he was a constant presence in the art and fashion scenes and was always quick with a story or joke, and endless support given to fellow artists. He was the type to give the shirt off his back, and was always asking about how you were doing and was genuine.
“The last couple of days I have seen hilarious stories people have been posting on social media about Milton. One of the funniest was when his car was stolen in the Cedars, he decided to grab his extra keys and borrow a friend's car and drive around Dallas till he found his stolen car. Well lo and behold, he found it, took his extra keys and drove the car back home.
“That was the way life seemed to be for Milton, always using his cunning talents to get out of a jam. Dallas has lost a genuine friend. There are very few folks like Milton and he will be sorely missed. Maybe he'll send me a message next time I'm in the Cedars doing paranormal research. His spirit definitely lives on here.”
Monique Roberts, multi-disciplinary artist
“I met Milton at the Webb Gallery in Waxahachie years ago. He walked over and introduced himself to me, and then paid me a compliment about my outfit. That's the kind of guy he was. A sweetheart, even to total strangers, which we were at that point.
“But over the years, although I wasn't as close to him as others, he opened up his old home in Austin to me and my friends, stayed up late dancing and laughing until the wee hours, always asking how I was doing, and sending me random messages here and there just to say he was thinking about me.
"He had his own unique style; a certain panache matched with a voice so soothing that you couldn't help but be charmed by him. Milton was one of those genuinely kind and fun people who is loved by all, and the world needs more people like him. His wonderful spirit will live on in all of us that knew him.”
Ricardo Paniagua, painter
“Four days before Milton moved on to the next world and after months of not having seen him around town, I found myself sitting with him on his living room couch in conversation about things that we had never talked about before. Things like mortality. Things like laws that prevent science from progressing. Things like homelessness.
"Milton was one of the first people who seemed to 'get' what I was creating as an artist about 10 years ago at the onset of it all. He was always supportive with undertones of genuine interest, enthusiasm and appreciation, with a smile as wide as Texas.
"I suppose that’s part of the reason I didn’t hesitate dropping what I was doing last Friday to take him a walker when I found out he needed help getting around. I knew something was wrong.
"I didn’t plan on hanging out for too long, but ended up connecting for the better part of an hour as it soon became apparent he needed love. He told me about his condition and I listened. As he talked, I prayed silently. All too often it is difficult to understand why the people that seem to hold the fabric of existence together have to not be here anymore.
"When people say that there are no two fingerprints alike, you could perhaps say about Milton that his fingerprints just might have been a map to the stars. A place where truly kind-hearted souls tend to gather round that great, big cosmic campfire in the sky.”
Zeke Williams, painter
"Milton Morris was a fixture of visual and decorative culture in Dallas. I saw him out at art openings, after-parties and just hanging at Lee Harvey's. He was always overwhelmingly positive and interested in what you had going on. This quality is sort of rare in our community of self-centered artists.
"His Flea Harvey's events were fun and brought people together who wouldn't necessarily see each other any other day of that month. Milton cared about others and that's why so many people are missing him right now.”
Erica Stephens, painter, installation artist
“I loved Milton the very first time I met him, and I think a lot of people would say the same. He is very possibly the most genuine person I've ever met. I never once in knowing him questioned what his motives might be in doing or saying something because he seemed to be a person who transcended motives. If he had judgment for anyone else in this world, he never let on.
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“He made me feel like I was exactly right just the way I was because everyone was always exactly right as their authentic selves. He was empowering to be around. Hearing that Milton passed struck me so deeply, in part, because there is a selfish part of me that knows that I've lost a friend who would always make me feel like I was loved and that my company was wanted. I don't want to live in a world without Milton in it.”
Patrick Patterson-Carroll, author of I Dig Symmetry and co-host of podcast What Is Cinema?
“[If you were just meeting Morris you might] call him Texas because of the [cowboy] hat and the drawl; the gentlemanly way he might offer a drink to his company. People always [gravitated toward him].
“Once ... donning silver makeup on Halloween, he became the ghost cowboy. Milton, who loved art and dressed the part, appearing at perhaps not every but most exhibitions, will always be that cowboy: A man wholly invested in the kind of Americana we can all identify with; dedicating his time and energy to creating beautiful things. He'll be forever remembered, at least to some of us, as a piece of Americana himself, the gentleman with a drawl.”
In lieu of flowers, Milton's family requests donations be made to the Legal Hospice of Texas, 1825 Market Center Blvd.