Lineaus Lorette: Communist, accountant, art-collector, rabble-rouser 

Photo by Jason Kolker

MARFA — My first Saturday in Marfa, unsure of what exactly I was supposed to do with myself, I wandered to the shade structure in the middle of town. Next to a woman selling tamales stood a tall, broad-shouldered man with a bristly mustache, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a red star. He was selling gorgeous leather medicine balls that I couldn’t afford, and a self-published pamphlet of his own esoteric, utopian political philosophy, which I could. We chatted, and in short order, I learned that his accent was half Louisiana (where he was born), half Odessa (where he grew up), and that he had a strong Texas name: Lineaus Hooper Lorette. He was a communist, an accountant, an art collector, a rabble rouser, a swimmer, and the leader of a pack of a dozen or so raggedy dogs. He spoke frankly, even provocatively, but it also seemed to me that he was holding something back — as if the whole time we were talking, there was a wry internal monologue playing inside his head. He seemed brilliant and strange and friendly and prickly all at once, and I remember thinking that if this was the kind of person who lived in Marfa, then maybe I should think about staying for a while.

Lineaus Hooper Lorette was born in 1945 in a small town an hour or so upriver from New Orleans. Within a few years, his family relocated to West Texas. Later in life, Lineaus proudly claimed to be “oilfield trash from Odessa,” although the neighborhood he grew up in was solidly middle class, full of doctors and pharmacists and oil company executives.  At Odessa High, where he was known as Lin (maybe because “a name like Lineaus would get you butt-whipped by the rednecks,” high school friend Larry Francell told me), he was on the golf and basketball teams and played the tuba. He went on to study accounting at the University of Texas, and spent at least one summer working in the oil patch. It was an exhausting, demanding job, and it informed his lifelong affinity with the workers of the world.

Lineaus graduated near the top of his class and soon was hired by the Catholic Diocese of Austin — a job that seems to have initiated, or at least deepened, his antipathy to organized religion. In Austin, his involvement with radical political movements grew. He told his sister, Glee Lorette Greenwood, that he’d read that Russia employed people who visited every home to ensure every child was properly cared for. That really impressed him, she said — that there was a society that put so much value on the well-being of its most vulnerable members.

The 1980s were a busy time for Lineaus. In 1982, he ran for senate and won 4,564 votes. He bought the small town of Niederwald, midway between Austin and San Marcos, and took up residence in the old cotton gin. While working out at the YMCA, he didn’t like the feel of the facility’s rubber medicine balls and decided he’d learn how to make his own hand-stitched leather version. He based Lineaus Athletic Company out of an old cotton shed in Niederwald, which he claimed would soon be “the medicine ball capital of the world.” He sent his first punching bag as a gift to a prison; he would eventually count the Dallas Cowboys, Mick Jagger, and Wes Anderson as customers.

In the 1990s, Lineaus returned to West Texas to care for his ailing mother. He moved into the family house in Fort Davis, and found that the area suited him. He took in one abandoned dog, and then another; soon, he was buying dog food by the pallet, and serving as the town’s de-facto animal shelter. He was particularly drawn to the dogs no one else wanted — some of them injured, others a little feral. He named many of them after revolutionary heroes.

Lineaus was a proud and outspoken Communist for most of his life; he was also a good businessman, with a talent for real estate speculation. He bought up a dozen adobe properties in Marfa, one of which he began to fill with his large collection of mid-century lamps. Lineaus was not a fan of minimalism, and would loudly decry work he saw as overly conceptual, abstract, or snooty; he preferred work that told a story. His house in Fort Davis was a showcase for his many obsessions: stacks of broadsheets by the Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada; tables clustered with ceramic figurines celebrating China’s Cultural Revolution; homoerotic art; prison art; homoerotic prison art. His mother, with whom he had a close but conflicted relationship, was an artist, and Lineaus collected and displayed many of her paintings. He was also an avid supporter of local artists and commissioned dozens of shadowbox sculptures from Abby Levine and masks by Patty Manning.

As a child, Lineaus struggled with dyslexia, but he grew into a prolific reader. (His father used to joke that Lineaus was the only person who actually read all four thousand pages of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.) He immersed himself in the study of classical philosophy, Freudian analysis, political theory and the history of religion.

Lineaus did not speak Spanish with any particular fluency, but he was appreciative of Mexican culture, and given to occasional rants about how Marfa Public Radio didn’t feature enough Spanish-language programming. Over the years, he came into conflict with almost every institution in Marfa, from the city government to the school system to various art foundations. He particularly enjoyed provoking the Chinati Foundation — or the “Chinazi Foundation,” as he invariably called it. He was known to disrupt art openings and ask needling questions at public meetings. He was not an easy person — he had an affinity for other people, but also a difficulty being close to them. He fought with many of his friends (and then made up with many, but not all, of them.) His argumentativeness was tempered by his buoyant sense of humor; it was a pleasure to evoke one of his booming laughs.

Lineaus spent his final years tending for his dogs, swimming at Balmorhea, and composing rantras — half poems, half manifestoes with titles like “Heavenly Male Gods Are Fascist Gods,” and “Wall Street Pimps,” and “The Working Class Pays For Everything.” Two years ago, his Posada broadsheets were featured in an exhibit at the El Paso Museum of Art. In 2017, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer; last year, the cancer was found to have spread to his lungs and brain. He died in El Paso on March 21, surrounded by many of his well-loved dogs. (A handful of his dogs are still looking for new homes, and can be seen on the Jethro Homeward Bound Pets website.)

“He took on the role of being the eccentric voice of dissent in this town — sometimes to the point of ridiculousness,” one of Lineaus’s friends told me. “I worry about Marfa becoming a homogenized community where everyone lives a curated life, knowing all the right people and doing all the right things. Lineaus often did the wrong thing, and I will miss that.”