MasterMinds 2012

This year's winners have art, passion and history on their side. And now they'll also each have a check for $2,000.

During his research, he discovered that 19 Buffalo Soldiers were hung in the aftermath of Houston's race riot of 1917. He would also make a connection between a late-1800s quote by Buffalo Soldier George Mullins and the U.S. Army's "Be All You Can Be" slogan. (Matthews says that years later, a retired Army colonel who helped launch the famous marketing campaign had no clue about Mullins's line until he visited the Buffalo Soldiers Museum.)

All of the objects and knowledge needed a home, so Matthews, with his wife's blessing, used $45,000 of his retirement savings to open the museum. Today, the space hosts approximately 35,000 visitors a year, and includes museum-goers from England and France (two countries where Buffalo Soldiers were stationed during World Wars I and II), who travel to Houston specifically to check out Matthews's place.

Five days a week, the nonprofit's staff of four employees and two interns help conduct tours of the space's permanent and rotating exhibits for elementary and high school students. The staff also travels to Houston-area schools to talk about the Buffalo Soldiers and present re-enactments of key players in African-American history, such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

Since relocating to Houston, Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner have been cooking out of the storage room of a men's clothing boutique while looking for a restaurant space of their own.
Photo by Marco Torres
Since relocating to Houston, Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner have been cooking out of the storage room of a men's clothing boutique while looking for a restaurant space of their own.

Additionally, the organization has commissioned an original historical play — which has been presented to a number of local social, civic and religious groups — that chronicles the story of a Civil War slave who eventually becomes a Buffalo Soldier during the Reconstruction Era.

And thanks to the museum's work, Texas motorists can now sport a Buffalo Soldiers vanity license plate after the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board approved the design last November.

After 11 years, the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum has outgrown its space. In June, they'll move into the circa-1925 Houston Light Guard Armory building, a captivating brick structure at 3816 Caroline that construction crews are restoring to its original look. When the build-out is complete, Matthews hopes to partner with Houston Community College (which had been using the building for storage), Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M to offer classes on military and American history at the new digs.

Matthews's love of the Buffalo Soldiers parallels his mania over local NFL football, an obsession that started when the Oilers drafted a young bruiser named Earl Campbell from the University of Texas. "I told my family that they're going to go to the Super Bowl so I signed up for season tickets."

As we know, that didn't happen (and still hasn't for Houston after the Texans' January 15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Playoffs), but he held onto the Astrodome seats until Warren Moon "was run out of town," he says. "I sent [the Oilers] a letter saying that wasn't right and I gave my tickets back."

He eventually jumped on-board with the Texans. During the season, you can find Matthews and his family tailgating outside Reliant Stadium next to a truck that's plastered with Buffalo Soldiers Museum logos.

Inside the museum's future home at the Light Guard Armory, Matthews points to the empty rooms where the "Day in the Life of a Buffalo Soldier" re-enactments will take place. He's armed with his favorite quotes by and about the Buffalo Soldiers. You can tell this is Matthews's Super Bowl.

Alex "Pr!mo"

Luster, filmmaker

Alex "Pr!mo" Luster, seated inside his Shoot Edit Sleep studio in the Danny Clark Photography building on Bartlett Street, reflects on the ten months since Stick 'Em Up!, his documentary about Houston's street poster artists, played to sold-out houses at the River Oaks Theatre.

"After the movie and the story came out," says the friendly and humble filmmaker, referring to Houston Press's cover-story treatment of the DIY smash hit ("Up from the Underground," John Nova Lomax, May 5, 2011), "I added more than 1,000 Facebook friends.

"The first month or so was uncomfortable when I would get 100 likes and 50 comments on a status update from all of these people I didn't know. It was definitely a change for someone who used to be antisocial," says Luster, who's surrounded by wall pieces created by artists profiled in Stick 'Em Up!, including Give Up, Dual and Cutthroat.

Behind Luster on a tiny, four-foot-high table is the rock art of Nemo. Luster says that Nemo, a high-school-aged girl, was inspired to make street art by Stick 'Em Up!. But instead of wheatpasting posters to buildings or lampposts, the girl started drawing on rocks and distributing them all over. The piece on Luster's desk is Nemo's first, a gift from the young artist.

These connections mean everything to Luster, an advocate of all things Houston who grew up as "the eager kid with 100 questions that nobody could answer." Now that he's the one with some self-taught skills and a well-received film in the can, he loves relating to newbie filmmakers about a style he learned during still photography shoots in Houston.

Luster explains that he and his father would scavenge the city for photo opps. Later, his dad showed Alex how to print the negatives that had been exposed with Luster's first camera — one of those cheapo freebies that are tossed in with a Burger King meal — at a University of Houston darkroom.

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Congrats to the MasterMinds! Well deserved for sure!

Nice work, Steve.