Artist In Residence: At Home With The Turner Family

Fairhope artist Rex Turner and his wife Camille combine a mix of old and new in their historic home.

The interior of the turner family's home
The front door opens into a comfortable living space filled with light where the Turners like to have their morning coffee. Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

Some artists start young, while others discover their creative talents later on. The latter is true for Rex Turner. The Baldwin County artist didn’t start dabbling in art until after he retired in 2000. Since then, he has created a sizable body of work, enough to earn him the moniker T-Rex. “In my shop out here, I’ve got a big T-Rex head that I made,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve made hundreds of pieces. People all over Fairhope have got my stuff in their house.” He is no exception, with several rooms in his historic home showcasing his art.

Rex’s fanciful figures — mermaids, horse heads, fairies — complement the architectural elements of his 1923 home. A wood staircase, with original metalwork, cascades into the common area. Brought about by water leaks, the sections of red brick peeking out from under the white stucco walls are now an integral element of the interior. Rex’s art — chosen and placed by his wife, Camille — creates the juxtaposition of old and new, adding an artistic flair to every room.

“Camille does all of our decorating,” says Rex. “She’s an artist, but she won’t admit it.” Camille’s paintings, hanging on the walls, showcase her talent; however, she is not convinced that she has earned the title. “I’m a copier. I’m not a painter,” she laughs. “After copying a painting, an artist told me to put ‘regrets,’ meaning ‘I’m sorry I did that,’ and then put my initials.” Inspiration aside, her paintings are skillfully done and show her obvious artistic ability.

Love at First Sight

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Rex is originally from Birmingham, and Camille hails from Mobile. The couple met during the 1958 – 1959 school year at the University of Alabama. “That’s the year Bear Bryant came,” says Rex with a grin. They married in 1960 and, after living in several different cities across the United States, eventually settled down in Fairhope. “We love it,” Rex says. “It’s one of the best cities that was ever made!”

Above Left: Camille is in charge of decorating the couple’s Fairhope home, pairing her unique picks with Rex’s art. Above Right: From curtain rods to the gate in the archway, all the interior metalwork is original to the 1923 home.

Rex and Camille have been married for 62 years. However, their love story with their Fairhope home started 11 years ago when they were shopping at a garage sale next door. The house in foreclosure was wide open, so the couple walked over to look more closely. Once inside, Camille turned to Rex and said, “I think I could live here.” So, they did.

“Everybody thought we were crazy buying this house because it was a mess. It was a foreclosure and was left open. But I looked at rex and said, ‘I think I could live here.’” – Camille Turner

exterior of the turner's home
The thick white stucco walls of the Spanish-style home serve to keep the indoors cool in the summer.

The Turners have hosted many gatherings in the restored house, from welcome events for new neighbors to wedding parties on the patio. “We do it less and less as we get older,” says Rex. Still, Camille has a few favorite recipes she makes when entertaining, including stuffed crab. “It’s quick and you can use stuffing mix,” she explains. “It’s some of the best stuffed crab you’ll ever eat,” adds Rex. “It’s simple but it’s good.”

Rex Turner in his art studio
Rex’s favorite place is his studio, where he fashions commissioned pieces for patrons and creates art for himself.

Art for Art’s Sake

Glimpses of Fairhope are prevalent in Rex’s pieces. Many of them are made of driftwood, which he gathers himself, and reflect Bay-area themes. “My art is just about all coastal,” he says. But he does have one exception. “I like what they call cryptids,” he says with a smile. He enjoys crafting the fictional creatures, naming several species with origins all over the country: the Rougarou, a form-changing, werewolf-like creature, from Louisiana, the Goatman from Maryland, the Skunk Ape from Florida. “It makes a good show when I go to the art center,” he says. 

He has been a featured artist at two shows at the Eastern Shore Art Center and has won multiple juried awards. He donates work to the art center, too, as well as Thomas Hospital Auxiliary, and the Fairhope Public Library for its annual Chocolate and Champagne fundraiser.

Hobby Homes

Art was not the only new venture Camille and Rex began after retirement. They are no strangers to historic homes, having restored and now rent out several across south Alabama. “I don’t know how we started all that,” says Camille. “I don’t know why we did either, but we did,” laughs Rex. “We’re in so deep with the rental business, we can’t get out of it!”

Above Left: The Turner’s decor is a mix of works from local artists, one-of-a-kind garage sale finds and their own art. Above
Middle: Many of Rex’s pieces are made primarily of driftwood. This fairy won an award at the Eastern Shore Art Center.

Their Fairhope house, however, is the place they call home. One of Rex’s pieces, a giant heron, is mounted to the front, greeting visitors as they drop by. The house contains history, both in its 1920s architecture and the Turners’ art. “I’ve made a lot of stuff,” Rex says. “There’s a story behind every piece.”

Above Left: Meagan Ogletree, the Turners’ granddaughter, never misses a family gathering, bringing her children along, too.
Above Right: Tomato,Watermelon and Feta Salad plated on a wooden table.

Tomato, Watermelon and Feta Salad

Serves 4

4 cups seedless watermelon, cut into ¾-inch cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
½ red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
¾ cup baby arugula
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
7 oz. crumbled feta cheese
Salt to taste

1. In a large bowl, combine watermelon, tomatoes, onion and basil.
2. Gently mix in arugula.
3. In a separate small bowl, whisk together oil and balsamic vinegar.
4. Pour oil mixture over watermelon salad and toss. Add crumbled feta, and season with salt.
5. Serve immediately.

Above Left: Carly McRae, the Turners’ granddaughter, graduated from medical school last year and stops by to visit between
hospital shifts. Above Right: Banana Cream Pie

Banana Cream Pie

3 or 4 bananas, sliced, divided
Baked pie shell
8 oz. carton of sour cream
1 cup milk
Small box of instant vanilla pudding
Cool Whp

1. Spread half of the sliced bananas over the bottom of a baked pie shell.
2. Combine the sour cream and milk and stir in the pudding.
3. Blend until slightly thick and pour over bananas.
4. Top with another layer of bananas.
5. Spread Cool Whip over the top.

Above Left: Dawn McRae, the Turners’ daughter, visits her parents when she’s not teaching yoga.

Bread Twist

Serves 4

4 – 4 ½ cups unbleached flour, divided
2 packets yeast
2 cups warm water
¼ cup oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
Butter for bowl

1. Combine 2 cups flour and yeast.
2. Add water, oil, sugar and salt.
3. Beat on low in a stand mixer for 30 seconds
4. Turn to high and beat for 3 minutes.
5. Add the rest of the flour and knead for 10 minutes on a floured board.
6. Put the dough in a buttered bowl and let rise until dough doubles in size.
7. Punch down and divide into 6 balls.
8. Roll into ropes.
9. Take 3 and braid. Do the same to the remaining ropes.
10. Put on a cookie sheet and let rise again until doubled in size.
11. Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes.

The stuffed crab is easy to freeze for drop-in company. This recipe makes the perfect stuffing for baked flounder, too.
The stuffed crab is easy to freeze for drop-in company. This recipe makes the perfect stuffing for baked flounder, too.

Stuffed Crab

Serves 4

6 oz. box of stuffing mix
½ cup butter
½ tsp. poultry seasoning
½ tsp. parsley flakes
1 cup crab meat (can substitute cooked shrimp or rotisserie chicken)
1 ½ cups water
Paprika, to taste
Chopped rosemary, for garnish

1. Combine all ingredients except crab meat
and paprika and cook according to stuffing
mix directions.
2. Add crab meat.
3. Scoop into ungreased muffin tin and freeze.
4. Allow to set, then drop in freezer bags and freeze until you are ready to cook.
5. To cook, place in custard cups or crab dishes with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of paprika.
6. Cook at 350°F for about 20 minutes until golden brown.
7. Garnish with chopped rosemary and serve.

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