The writer referred to me as an art specialist, which makes me a little nervous because I am definitely not a specialist in anything, merely an enthusiast! And I’m not sure I said exactly what the title of the piece is implying (I think some things got lost in translation) but hopefully, readers will understand the spirit of what I was trying to convey.
I have copied our original Q&A below in its entirety if anyone is interested! I have peppered the paragraphs with a few artworks from the book to break up all the text and add visual interest; please note the published interview on the Solidaridad Digital website, does not include these extra images.
• What is the radical difference between the art of darkness and what we could call art of light?
Light and dark are two of the most fundamental tools that artists use to create their work. They can be used to explore shapes, patterns, movement, and atmosphere. But as viewers, we often notice the symbolism of light and dark before we even realize it. Light is often associated with life, goodness, and hope. Darkness is often associated with doom, gloom, and death. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind about that, but in my book, The Art of Darkness, I wanted to explore those dark themes and the negative feelings/emotions that they elicit.
I think we can learn a lot from our demons and our darkness if we stop being so scared of it and really listen to what it’s saying. It’s easy to look at a light, beautiful painting. But why not challenge yourself to peer into the discomfort of a “dark” painting and see what you learn? You might learn something about the painting, the artist, or even yourself. So next time you’re at a museum or art gallery, don’t be afraid to check out the dark paintings. They might just surprise you.
• Do you agree with Seamus Heany’s statement that “everything I know is a door to darkness”?
I think it’s a seemingly bleak statement, evoking a sense of despair or hopelessness that might have been true for the poet, it might be true for anyone at some point in their life. When you can’t see beyond the darkened door, you could well imagine that the darkness could go on forever. Limited by our perspective, we can’t see the whole picture. This can be intimidating but it’s also a liberating realization. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to learn and grow and expand your world! You won’t know what’s beyond the threshold until you step through it.
• What does it take for a dream to become a nightmare, for flowers, as you explain, a symbol of life and hope, to become a threat?
That’s such an interesting question! It’s so subjective and personal, really, I mean the nightmare is in the eye (and experience and association and trauma) of the beholder. A flower blooming in the spring sunshine is dreamy, idyllic imagery, indeed…but what of the toxic sap? Or the spiderweb trailing down its stem, what of the writhing snake in its shadow? What of the dark woods looming beyond the grassy meadow?
Dreams can turn to nightmares in the blink of an eye, but if you are an arachnophile, if you are a snake handler, if you love a solitary stroll through a hushed forest–none those are going to seem all that nightmarish to you anyway! It’s fascinating to see how different artists take these ideas of innocent blooms or poisonous petals and create art that can be cheerful or dreadful, or maybe a delightful tangle of both at once–it’s all a manner of perspective.
• Is there a link, as Jaspers maintained, between art and madness?
I am no expert when it comes to matters of psychiatry (nor for that matter, when it comes to matters of art) but I think a link is certainly insinuated and has made its way into our culture, because of artists who did suffer from psychological issues and who did create some of their most renowned works while institutionalized. I think there’s more to it, though, and it’s a harmful conclusion to draw. I don’t know if a troubled individual creates art because of their pain or in spite of it, but I am inclined to believe the latter.
But what of an artist who suffers from severe depression so relentless that they haven’t got the energy or will to create? Because they were not able to produce art, or something of worth from their pain, does that negate their experience? The relationship between mental unwellness and creativity has a long history and I have to imagine there is still a lot to explore. But…from a very human perspective, I don’t accept that we are obligated to draw forth the pearls of art from the anguish of our wounds.
• How does the historical context condition the art of the dark (I think, for example, of the Victorian Era, where, in addition to Jack the Ripper, Dracula, Frankenstein, Hyde…) emerged?
Art, both light and dark, is a mirror of society. It often captures the spirit of the times in which it was created. Art can show us the social, political, and economic conditions of a particular time period. It can also reflect the cultural values and beliefs of a society, as well as the artistic styles and techniques that were popular during that time.
Dark art can be a powerful way to explore the historical context of a particular time period. It can give us a glimpse into the social, political, and cultural forces that were shaping the world at the time. And it can also help us to understand the human experience of living through difficult and uncertain times. For example, during the Black Death, European artists created many works of art that depicted the death and suffering caused by the plague. These works were often deeply religious in nature and reflected the widespread fear and anxiety of the time. (And let’s not forget that a viewer’s understanding of a painting of a skeleton from the Middle Ages may be different from their understanding of a painting of a skeleton from the 21st century!)
To answer your question, the Victorian era, with its Frankensteins and Draculas, was a time of significant social and cultural changes. Britain had become a powerful industrial nation thanks to the technological breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution, but this also led to rampant poverty and inequality. Grappling with new scientific and philosophical ideas that challenged traditional beliefs, many artworks at that time reflected the religious and intellectual turmoil of the era. And don’t forget the Victorian obsession with death and mourning—historians named this fascination with death “the Cult of Death”—thanks in part to the high mortality rates at the time and to Queen Victoria, who, after the death of Prince Albert, was to spend the next forty years in mourning.
• What types of monsters preside over our time?
In 2023, my first thought goes straight to robots, cyborgs, machines becoming sentient, that sort of thing. Beings enhanced with technology, and all the dangers that transhumanism and artificial intelligence represent. There are chilling questions of surveillance and control, the anxiety of living in a world where the line between human and machine is increasingly blurred, and the fear of living in a world where we can be utterly replaced by machines altogether.
Just look at the upsetting conversations that have sprung up around AI-generated art and art theft, with regard to actual artists whose works were used without their consent to fuel image generators. A.I. runs on a database of images harvested without the original creators’ permissions–I think that’s pretty monstrous.
• For a monster to be considered such, what does it require? Because there are monsters that we understand and almost admire (I think, for example, of Hannibal Lecter) and others that we would run away from without thinking)
Monsters are often seen as being outsiders or “other”. They might be physically different from humans in some way, or they may have different values and beliefs. This makes them seem threatening and dangerous; it’s human nature to fear what we don’t understand–and they represent something unknown and uncontrollable. Sometimes those attributes might be just outrageous enough to inspire awe and admiration–not necessarily fear and revulsion. But beliefs and philosophies are one thing; action and behavior is another. There’s a big difference between admiring a monster and actually wanting to hang out with one. If your monster starts doing cruel, sadistic, or destructive things, it’s time to put your admiration on hold and listen to your survival instincts. After all, who knows if you’re next?
Sometimes the most dangerous monsters are the ones who seem charming and harmless at first. They lure us in with their masks, then show us their true colors. All that said, monsters are symbols of and vessels for our fears and anxieties, whatever those might look like for the individual. They represent the things that we are most afraid of, whether it is death, sickness, giant spiders, or dapper cannibals. By confronting monsters in stories, myth–and art–we can explore our fears and anxieties in a safe and controlled environment. So the next time you’re watching a movie, feel free to face your fears and cheer for the monster, but look out for those red flags, too!
• Of all the disturbing artists that wander through these pages, which one do you feel especially fond of and why?
I especially adore Alex Eckman-Lawn’s art, which also happens to be gracing the cover of the book. Deep, dense, full of doom and gloom and dark details, his surreal, lonely collage portraits, on one hand, call forth a sickening dread in the pit of your stomach and give your heart a little lurch. But on the other, and at the same time… they cause an involuntary, choking giggle. As if a shadowy horror had crawled its way from the void to the sanctity of your home, and after an agonizing wait whilst you cower at the peephole, it gives a smart rap on the door and tells you a knock-knock joke. When you think of them in that way, instead of a face-full of nightmarish chaos, they appear wondrously playful, like a funny postcard from the midnight recesses of your soul, just when you need it most. Oh, hey, it’s just your dear old skull peeking out to say hello, that’s all, no worries! Little voids, the faces-within-your face, checking in on you from the inside, popping out to say, “hi!”
I love losing myself in the nocturnal shivers of art that evokes a feeling of darkness, but I also appreciate a keen sense of the absurd. I have massive admiration for artists who can combine these sublime sensibilities in their practice, and these works of the kooky and the macabre, often filled with sly, weird humor are some of my favorite canvases to gaze upon.
• I think of artists that you notice, like Dorothea Tanning or Remedios Varo. What influence did psychoanalysis have on the expansion of the macabre, of the dark in art?
Surrealism was all about exploring the weird and wonderful world of the unconscious mind, inspired by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis theories. Surrealist art often looked like dreams, with strange and sometimes disturbing images that were meant to be spontaneous and free from conscious thought and the restraints of society. But it wasn’t all utopian visions; tapping into the subconscious with its primal human fears and desires sometimes gave rise to violent or nightmarish imagery, which ranged from unsettling to downright shocking.
• In addition to those mentioned, many others such as Bourgeois, Ruth Marten, Nona Limmen… do they differ from them when it comes to representing the dark?
I think they all differ uniquely! Ruth Marten was a pioneer of underground art; the work I included from her Fountains & Alligators series, wherein she has altered a number of somber nineteenth-century French prints to include inexplicable instances of alligators, meshes with that sublime spirit of the absurd that I referenced above. Nona Limmen’s lush, atmospheric photographs bring the otherworldly realm of fairy tales to life– if “once upon a time” always began at the stroke of midnight. Louise Bourgeois’ spider sculptures are an arachnophobe’s biggest nightmare, and though psychologically fraught, they are exceedingly clever in their twistiness. Every artist represented in the book brings a darkness to the table, worthy of delving into –just bring your curious heart and your open mind.
• What role does the supernatural play in our disbelieving society?
Whether a belief in the supernatural provides a sense of comfort and hope, or helps you make sense of the world, or whether you come from a culture heavily steeped in supernatural lore and tradition or maybe you’ve just had a powerful supernatural experience–there are many valid reasons why someone would believe these things. Even if none of the above applies to you, you still might be drawn to the mystery and excitement of it…even nonbelievers may be curious about the supernatural, or even fascinated by it! Look at all the supernatural themes we enjoy across a wide swath of entertainment– all of the vampires, zombies, ghosts, and otherworldly creatures, in our books, movies, TV shows, and video games! Even if you have no use for the supernatural in any other respect, I think you’ll be drawn to them in the art that thrills and delights you–whether it’s spooking you from the pages of a book, scaring you on the big screen, or emerging from an artist’s eerie brushstrokes on a painted canvas.
This interview originally appeared on the Haute Macabre blog on May 25, 2017. It references some things that were happening in the artist’s life at that time, and looking back, I wish I’d been a bit more sensitive in my phrasing—many apologies to Tyler, who graciously and generously fielded my boorish questions with enthusiasm and aplomb. I think back upon his responses and am inspired anew, over and over again.
Since this interview, Tyler has become a very cool plant guru on Instagram AND has begun a project called Moonbeam Flora, creating gorgeous glow-in-the-dark bouquets out of invasive plants for meditative relaxation.
When I was in the sixth grade and it was the dreaded Science Fair projects time of the year (did everyone hate this as much as I did? Or was I just a really awful student?) my grandfather hit upon the grand idea that we were going to grow crystals in both salt solutions and sugar solutions and see which one was more successful. If I recall, the sugar solution yielded a better crop: small, but beautiful, delicate crystalline structures climbing upwards along a damp string tied to a wooden Popsicle stick, which hung across the top of a garage sale-scavenged glass mason jar. Absurdly proud of the results, I brought the project to school a few days before it was actually due, and was horrified as our classroom’s most popular girl, Mary Lisa Howell, entirely unprompted by me, reached into the jar of sugar crystals, snapped off a particularly lovely specimen, and started munching on it. I quite clearly remember her guileless face, looking at me as if she thought she was doing me a favor. Ugh! I locked myself in a bathroom stall, sobbed for twenty minutes straight, and vowed I was done with science forever.
Crystals, however, I shall forever be obsessed with. And when I discovered Tyler Thrasher’s exquisite creations in late 2014, my obsession reached a fever pitch. Tyler collects lifeless creatures and found objects and bestows upon them new life by growing shimmering crystal clusters on them. And I don’t know if his crystals have ever been eaten by an overzealous fan, but if he was able to bounce back, better than ever, after a devastating house fire – then he’s sure not going to let an eleven year-old bully with a sweet tooth get in his way.
As it turns out, Tyler Thrasher is a handful of things, including artist, scientist, music producer, traveler, rare plant collector, photographer (and even just a handful, period), and I was delighted that this goofball alchemist agreed to chat with me. Read on for our interview about life after the fire, creation in dark times, and the importance of curiosity, experimentation, and living your own goddamn story.
S. Elizabeth: First, I wanted to check in and see how you’ve been doing after the terrible fire that destroyed your home and belongings last December? I am a fervent checker of your instagram, and it seemed you didn’t stop creating, not even for a second. What propelled you forward during what must have been a pretty dark time for you? I realize that it must have been a nightmare, and I hope this isn’t a callow question, but I’m wondering if, through that heartache and loss, you drew inspiration for current or future work?
Tyler Thrasher: The first thing that helped during and directly after the fire would probably be my dark sense of humor. I’m no stranger to dark and pretty fucked up situations, and that sense of humor is what seems to keep me together sometimes and has in the past. After the fire I didn’t even consider a break from my work or from creating, it seemed to have the opposite effect, and looking back in my life that urge to create was birthed during one of the most traumatic moments in my life. I found myself as a kid creating and making art as a means to cope, and that urge seems to have persisted over the last 15 years. I did lose all of my work. All of the music I was working on, photos I had taken, and some of my favorite drawings and paintings.
I was/ am currently working on my first ever artbook, “The Wisdom of the Furnace”. One thing that propelled me forward was the title of the book. Before the fire, I had shot hundreds of images for my book of work that I will never see again, and oddly enough, before the fire, the book was titled “The Wisdom of the Furnace”. The next morning while I was sitting in my in-laws home, I was thinking about the book and everything I had lost for it, and the title sang. It was the same title it had always been, but it had realized itself and proclaimed its new purpose. The fire gave the title of my book some prestige and some well-earned prestige at that. The new and realized title of the book is what propelled me forward.
I know the “The Wisdom of the Furnace” is a hefty and mystical-sounding title, but if I could just defog its meaning a little bit, it might help some to understand why I was propelled forward. I chose the title in early 2016. I was thinking about old alchemical works and some of the advancements and progress that ancient study led us to. During my research I found lots of illustrations, code, and text that would reference or highlight the importance of fire and its vitality. The flame and the furnace were so essential for the alchemist’s Magnum Opus and the art of transmutation.
So much of what we know today regarding modern and practical chemistry came from the furnace. So much of what we know today regarding physics and modern science, in a sense, took place in the furnace. At first, the title of my book had a pretty straightforward meaning. But after the fire, I realized it was not just the furnace that gave us so much insight, but it was also the alchemist who boldly reached into it. The fire wasn’t going to give me answers; it wasn’t going to be an end result for the book or my work. The fire was just a catalyst, as most flames in the laboratory are. I realized that this book hadn’t even begun. Everything I shot beforehand was empty and vapid before the fire. It would take an effort from me beyond pointing a camera and shooting, but to get up and realize this catalyst and respect the potency of nature and the furnace.
I realized that despite losing everything for the book in the fire, the book would still be the thing I pulled out of the soot and the remains. And in essence, that sense of transformation is the vital core of alchemy.
Shit like this happens to me all of the time. I don’t think I believe in destiny, but every now and then, the universe gives me a little wink and a nudge.
So many folks describe your creations as “macabre”; I’m curious though, as to if you feel that’s an accurate representation of the work that you do?
I think macabre is a fair and accurate description. When I first started exploring this theme and medium, a lot of my friends and family thought it was a little disgusting. I mean I went from drawing landscapes to submerging dead insects into chemicals. I get it. I think parts of my work are rightfully macabre. My favorite thing EVER is when people ask what I do. When I describe what I do to others, yes its macabre. Description alone, I sound like a fucked-up mad scientist.
My other favorite thing EVER, is when I show them pictures, because they usually look very confused. And the response is usually the same, “OH! I had no idea what to expect! That’s so *Insert compliment here*”. And, of course, that always feels good! I think visually, it’s not so macabre. It is a celebration of life and an homage to what nature can do with one’s remains after life. In a way, it addresses a sense of purpose after consciousness, a purpose on earth and under the laws of nature. And I love that. It’s spiritual without being too much so, and it gives nature the respect it deserves. So much of what I do is a collaboration with nature.
The overwhelming theme of your work, even as it evolves, is “ curiosity and experimentation”–and that seems to be a code you wholeheartedly live by. I’m remarking on this having just seen some photos you posted on your instagram, a gorgeous series of nudes; your tender, graceful 2d illustrations, and after having listened in on your SoundCloud channel over the past week, it seems you are something of a musician, too! Not to mention those “Raise Some Heck” tee shirts you created! (Currently sold out, but I nabbed one!) Can you share with a bit about these different passions of yours, and what keeps you focused on the true essence of your work , whatever you might consider that to be?
To put it shortly, I get bored easily. HAHAHA. I always have. I don’t know why, but as a kid, boredom was literal hell for me. Mental anguish. Maybe I’m just mentally deficient, but I couldn’t and still can’t handle boredom. I’m also fiercely protective of what I like and what I enjoy doing, as I think most people should be. I think curiosity and experimentation are just vital for being human. We can’t run away from it, and I think whether or not you conform to that, we all, in some way are controlled by these urges.
The first thing I ever did was draw. It’s funny now because everyone knows my work by the crystallized pieces, and whenever I post an illustration, people are like “Wait you can draw?!” I don’t blame them! That’s a downside of social media, people see whatever they see first, and that’s their impression. I’ve been posting more of my 2D work lately because I want it to get some light and recognition. I enjoy doing them, and at some point, I would love it if those illustrations made me some money too!
Music has always been a passion of mine as well. I LOVE LOVE LOVE electronic music, specifically progressive house and trance music. I don’t know why, but I am compelled to believe they are the two most inspiring and motivating genres both mathematically and emotionally. I listen to these genres when I work out, drive, longboard. Anything that requires any type of movement towards an end goal. The repetitive elements and rhythms are just enough to shut my brain off and pull me into a zone of “get shit done”. The music I make is somewhere in this area with a little bit more “funk” every now and then. I’m still learning A LOT but I freaking love making music.
I think the fact that I make sure I do so many different things and keep my mind and spirit happy by trying new things is the “true heart of my work”. There’s so much out there, so much humans have created and discovered and explored and I would be a pretty lousy human if I didn’t give my brain the drug it needs and explore and discover more than just what’s immediately in front of me. (This is just the definition for a human for myself.) I have always lived by the code of “curiosity and experimentation,” and I hope this persists til I die because it’s been very good for me so far.
I saw you quoted in the Daily Dot from an article in 2016 where you stated that, “I don’t want to be working on anyone else’s story or art”. This is such a powerful declaration, and I’d love to hear more.
Well, who would?! I don’t mind helping others with their story or popping in as a side character that dies off in the next chapter, but there’s not enough time to help someone else live their story and try to pop back in for my own. I won’t and cannot be a sidekick in the story of “Tyler Thrasher,” and it breaks my heart when I see someone being a sidekick in their own story. This doesn’t mean you should live selfishly and have a complete disregard for others. It’s the opposite. I don’t think all good stories could exist without others. We need other people, creatures, and entities to help us along, and we need to help others along. Just make sure you aren’t living someone else’s story and neglecting your own. That sounds a little preachy. hahaha.
Another thing I meant by this is in regard to my degree. I got my degree in Computer Animation at Missouri State University. I was wildly convinced that I wanted to be an animator and make stories. That was until my school made the tragic mistake of bringing in an animator to talk about his career and life. And it was miserable. Possibly the saddest artist I had ever listened to. We were told that animators often work 60+ hours a week on average and on projects that meant absolutely nothing to them. This particular animator mentioned how he spent most of his conscious week working on Dora the Explorer and Zhu Zhu pets and I could’ve wept for him. I asked him if he had time for his own work and with a very tired sigh, he said “no.” I knew immediately that this was a bullshit scam and I wasn’t having any of it. I declared that day that I would be a freelance self-employed artist who would not work on anyone else’s story. I would work my ass off if I had to in order to make sure that part of my work remained pure and untouched by Dora and her evil companions.
I told my professors my goal, and they gave me a very nervous look. We had an assignment to come up with a four-year plan outside of school, who we wanted to work with and for, and what we wanted to be doing. I didn’t even turn in the paper. I just said, “I want to work for myself.” I, of course, failed that assignment, but I was honest and true to myself. I didn’t and don’t want to live selfishly. I want to inspire and help those around me, and I want to be inspired by those around me. I just don’t think the world needs more people working on Dora the Explorer. We’ve given her too much of our time, and I guarantee you no kids are waiting around for the newest story-breaking episode. They’re not even played linearly. The kids will be ok with the same 200 episodes we’ve made already, haha. I have a deep respect for the animations and projects individuals all agree to work on together and with passion. I have very little affinity or respect towards the studio or warehouse that pumps out the same empty project just to keep the artists busy, children distracted, and parents spending money.
“Music is a ghost.” This is a fascinating thought Jill Tracy shares with me as our interview concludes. And she’s onto something. It’s an intangible thing, you can’t touch it, you have to record it to prove it was ever there. It’s a valid point, and the haunting sort of phrase that becomes ensnared in one’s thoughts, to turn over and over in the mind’s web at night, pondering it’s aptness and worth, nibbling to the core of its meaning.
The end of an interview might seem an unusual place to begin. But then again, perhaps not, considering our subject– otherworldly composer, chanteuse, and sonic archeologist, Jill Tracy. After spending an evening in the company of this San Francisco-based singer/pianist and storyteller, and thrilling to her curious passions and strange tales, time-traveling through the delightful highlights of our insightful chat doesn’t seem like a peculiar way to sort it out, after all.
Her darkly erotic, melancholy songs have garnered critical acclaim, and have been featured on Showtime’s Dexter, CBS-TV Navy NCIS, and several feature films. But in recent years, Jill Tracy is also known for traveling to unusual locales to research and compose spontaneous music. This has included a grant project from Philadelphia’s famed Mütter Museum to compose alone amidst glass cases of skeletons and specimens; as well as abandoned buildings in San Francisco’s historical Presidio, a 1700s military base, purported as one of the most haunted locations in the country.
And it is with regard to one of these extraordinary locales that we narrow the focus of our interview.
Jill Tracy reveals another unprecedented project—The Secret Music of Lily Dale, a musical excavation of the mysterious, private town of mediums and Spiritualists in upstate New York. She recorded her singular piano music, channeled at night inside the original 1883 Lily Dale auditorium, site of séances and spirit communication services for over a century. She has captured field recordings from the mystical Leolyn Woods and chilling nighttime rainstorms to create an authentic, never-before-heard sonic journey into this strange, little town that talks to the dead.
It is my extreme pleasure to share her eerie Lily Dale adventures and uncanny musical insights.
Are there ghosts to be found here, of the musical sort, or otherwise?
Read on to find out…
SE: Finding beauty and inspiration in the dark corners of history, you’ve composed in the Mütter Museum, and conjured music in all sorts of fantastical haunts—decrepit gardens, cemeteries, murderous mansions, abandoned asylums, ancient redwoods, and haunted castles. Tell me the inspiration behind your Sonic Séance work?
JT: It really began as part of my live concert. Performing my songs is always such an emotional experience with the crowd to begin with, I thought it would be profound (and challenging) to create a piece of music right before their eyes, have them be a true part of it. They would give me the energy and I would give it right back to them musically.
A composition just for us, never existing again outside of that show. It was an intense, moving experience— people would cry, hug me, and say the music transported them to a place “they never realized existed, but needed to go.”
For me, it was revitalizing— the opposite of songwriting, or even film scoring. There was no set intention, structure, rules, limits. It was all about abandon. Being fully alive in a moment. And sadly, how rare this feeling is today in most people’s daily lives. I wanted to be a gatekeeper to that hidden place deep within.
I began conducting entire spontaneous shows, inviting the audience to unusual locations, where the work was created on the spot, never to be heard again. I call these performances “Sonic Séances.” It’s a gorgeous retaliation to today’s incessant pressure to archive everything— at the expense of living it. Why don’t we create a beautiful secret together just for us? Let’s have a solely interior experience! People were thrilled to put away their phones and simply be.
From there, I began to travel alone to unusual locations to research, immerse myself completely, and utilize the particular sonic energy of the space to unearth this secret, spontaneous music.These travel projects would be documented. I refer to them as “musical” or “sonic excavations.”
How did the idea to record in Lily Dale germinate?
For years I had been fascinated by Lily Dale, and hoped someday to visit. Through my Sonic Séance work, I became friends with Brandon Hodge, a renowned collector and expert of antique spirit communication devices. His specialty is planchettes; he lives in Austin and operates the great website MysteriousPlanchette.com.
When I was touring in Texas back in 2014 or so, we met and spent hours talking, surrounded by his lavish collection of planchettes, rapping hands, and spirit trumpets— we began talking about Lily Dale. Brandon put me in touch with Robert Murch, who is a Ouija board historian and collector.
We ended up all being interviewed together that year by Collectors Weekly for a fantastic article by Lisa Hix “Ghosts in the Machines: The Devices and Daring Mediums That Spoke for the Dead.”
Shortly after that, Lily Dale reached out to have the three of us come and lecture. In phone meetings with Lily Dale’s great librarian Mandi Shepp (Marion H. Skidmore Library,) I found out she was already a fan of my music (had all my albums!) and really loved what I was doing with my musical excavation projects. She invited me to visit as a guest off-season. (Lily Dale fully opens its doors to the public only a few weeks in summer.)
When I asked, “you don’t happen to have a piano there do you?” she unexpectedly replied, “Oh, there’s a grand piano in the old 1883 auditorium…” It was like (excitedly) “ding ding ding!” Jackpot! I knew what Fate wanted me to do…
I was officially invited by the Lily Dale Town Assembly to begin the project that year (2017.) I pretty much booked a plane ticket and traveled there days later!
I had no idea what to expect, but I wanted to experience Lily Dale off-season, with no one around except the mediums and Spiritualists who live there. I had to be totally self-sufficient— just me and the gear I needed. I felt like I was living in my own private little ghost town. My first trip was in early May, NOTHING was open. There was not even a place to buy groceries. I did not have a car. I had to hoard up on food and supplies in Buffalo, on my way in from the airport. I stayed in a medium’s home by the lake. Spent many hours in the woods. It was an extremely solitary and introspective time. Very befitting to begin this work..
I feel one must completely tune out to truly tune in.
You said something in an interview with TOR from 2009 that particularly struck me: “Sometimes I feel that magic and the suspension of disbelief is the only thing that matters….” and that “In the end, it is the mystery that prevails, never the explanation.”
In the spirit of “honoring the mystery”, how did you mentally/emotionally/spiritually prepare for approach this sonic excavation of Lily Dale?
I love that you picked those quotes! And that particular interview! Thank you. Two of my constant mottoes.
My life’s work has always been about “honoring the mystery,”— the forgotten, those stories and places lost through time …it’s vital to preserve a sense of marvel and wonder now in a world trying its best to destroy, mock, or debunk it. I feel it’s my duty to be a beacon, a tether to these places. And the greatest thing I can do is to transport my audience there with me— just by listening.
Everything around us is vibrating at a particular frequency, A human’s hearing range is approx 20hz to 20,000hz. That’s a really small bit— we’re missing so much!
We’ve all been in a room with a dog. and the dog is going nuts and you know something intense is happening, but we can’t hear it! And you think about everything we’re missing, and what is that dog missing outside of its range? It’s frightening to think of experiencing ALL frequencies that are actually happening around us. Does it go beyond time and space? Is there constant inaudible communication from unknown sources? Could we tune in, if only for a second?
There are studies about 18.9-19 hz, that’s just below the range of hearing– sometimes called the “frequency of fear.” We can’t hear it as tonal information, but we sense it. And it affects us secretly.
I am obsessed with Infrasound. These are sounds which occur right below the threshold of human hearing. We don’t register that we hear them, but we are affected internally. There are interesting studies from the UK, regarding people who were all terrified in a particular building, claiming it to be haunted. They measured some machinery down in the basement of the building, and I don’t know if it was from fans or generators, but all the machinery was vibrating just below 19hz. So, are these people really seeing ghosts or are they just reacting to this “frequency of fear”? This frequency is also where the human eyeball vibrates, so could this account for people seeing spirits out of the corner of their eye?
And certainly with musical notes, there are specific notes, certain scales, melodies— and universally, people will say “oh, that sounds scary!” or, “that’s a joyous piece of music!” But these are just frequencies. Music is merely a selection of frequencies played in a pattern. What gives it such power to evoke different emotions? It’s magical, It really is.
When I begin a musical excavation in a new locale, I first like to discover the resonant tones, or close to it. I will go in and explore on the piano to see where I’m getting some kind of activity. And it could just be to my own ears, something that conveys a sudden emotion… does it make something in the room vibrate when I get to a certain place in the keys…does the building make a sound or seem to react? You can find it pretty quickly, where this response is coming from, and then I’ll start to hone in and play in that tonal space to begin. It’s the way in. Think of it like tuning in a radio, connecting with the signal.
The compositions I create in these kinds of projects, are all Instrumental spontaneous music. It’s just me, reacting authentically. I can’t prepare anything. It’s not like I sit there with paper, and try to write a piece. That just blocks you, really. I stood in my own way for years with this, because my brain was full of useless noise. I thought— “this is crazy, what am I going to play? I’d better do all this research, sketch it out, have a plan, bring tons of notes,”—and you know what? That’s the worst thing you can do. You’ve already removed yourself from the moment. You’re nowhere near anything real if you clutter your thoughts like that.
You must turn your mind off and become the antennae. Melodies do begin to reveal themselves. They are fragile, living things. Almost like stream of consciousness or automatic writing.
These pieces become talismans of actual moments in Time and Place.
I’ve never been to Lily Dale (although in central FL, we do have Cassadaga, a spiritualist community that is somewhat related to Lily Dale and where I make an annual pilgrimage). I’d love to hear your impressions of the place.
The two are related. Lily Dale, NY is on Cassadaga Lake. Spiritualists settled here in the 1800s because it was so picturesque and inspiring. Like a storybook. Woods, lake, even a tiny beach. There are indigenous mute white swans on the lake. I would drink coffee and watch the swans swim outside my window.
But if you just arrived to the tiny town, you might say “This is all there is? This little place??” For me, the power of Lily Dale was what I discovered delving deeper— lurking between the cracks and the quiet. The unseen. it made me tap into a part of myself I wasn’t sure existed before.
On the surface, the town has a very home-spun “Mayberry” quality. For example, the gentleman who runs the museum, Ron Nagy, was kind enough to unlock and open the museum for a private visit, so I could research there off-season. Ron called me and said, “Where are you? I’ll come and pick you up in the truck!” And I replied “ I can probably walk there.” (The entire town is just a few small blocks.) And he said “no, no I’ll come and pick you up.” OK, so then here comes this truck and I’m thinking well, who knows, maybe he’s going to take me outside the grounds or something… but I get in, and he drives to the end of the block, and he says, “…here we are!” I could have walked there quicker than waiting for him, it was so funny.
All the residents were very gracious and welcoming to me. Even as the outsider musician alone in a town of Spiritualists and mediums. The mediums really respected and were fascinated with what I was doing. They would constantly tell me I had mediumistic power, and I learned much in turn from them.
One thing that took me a couple of days to get used to—It was awkward, but then I started to love it— was the idea of “Spirit.” The fact that they believe in an ever-present Spirit, and are constantly getting messages from “the other side.” Spirit is used as plural. You or I might probably say the “Spirit World” or “Spirit Realm”, but Spirit, to the residents of Lily Dale, is akin to the all-knowing power of the Universe.
When I first arrived, the medium I was staying with said, “Oh, Spirit told me you would probably love to stay in THIS room.” I thought to myself, “…ok?” And I replied jokingly, “Well, Spirit has good taste!” But then you realize quickly to them this isn’t funny, this is just daily life as a Spiritualist. Those “on the other side” were constantly with us, even blamed for unlocking doors and leaving dimes on the living room carpet. I began to find it enchanting. Much like when you were a child and had an invisible friend who was always with you.
And then there’s the architecture. The eccentric, charming clapboard houses, very Victorian, they look like dollhouses! The proportions are quite strange. They’re small, and often the windows appear too big for the house. The history is that Lily Dale began as a camp with tents, these Spiritualists and free-thinkers wanted to meet and share ideas. But then there was a desire to settle and create an actual town— and it wasn’t like they were able to bring renowned architects in there. So it was essentially the local folks and craftsman building these homes. They would borrow trends of the time— some have Roman columns, and some very classical or Greek looking facades, and then others very Victorian in appearance. So the proportions are all very strange and whimsical.
There are no sidewalks or curbs. So it feels like a movie-set. Everything is all inclusive, open, and connects to everything else. Even without knowing these facts, you subconsciously get a peculiar sense of connection, whether via otherworldly forces or otherwise.
What can you share about the energy in Lily Dale and how it shaped the music you created?
How did you begin the process?
When I first walked into the empty 1883 auditorium. I felt enveloped by this energy, like a welcoming fog. Imagine the particles of memory in this place—the site of historical spiritualist gatherings, séances, lectures, for over 100 years!
I don’t believe energy ever truly leaves a place, it all becomes collective. Time is non-existent.
Susan B. Anthony spoke here, as Lily Dale was very supportive of the Suffragettes and the Women’s Movement. Harry Houdini supposedly walked these grounds in his ongoing hunt for fraudulent mediums. Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a devout Spiritualist— the home I stayed in was actually one of his favorites on his beloved trips to Lily Dale. And now I was here too…
The grand piano sat on the stage — a very old, rare instrument made locally in Buffalo, NY by C. Kurtzmann Company. I was told it was the only piano on record being purchased for the auditorium. I Think of all the people who had touched this piano, and sat on this very stage summoning spirits for over a century. I was altering the very dynamic of the place now, adding my imprint just by being there.
I would spend my days doing research and exploring, and then enter the auditorium alone, just before sunset. I had a key, and would lock myself in. I would rarely turn the lights on.
I loved playing the piano as the last shards of sunlight cut through the vast room (with about 300 empty seats and massive angular ceiling.) I felt like I was performing for an invisible audience, which slowly faded into complete darkness.
At first I began setting up the microphones as I would do in a professional recording studio, attempting to get a clean, close sound from the piano.
But as I began to listen back to the tracks, I became more and more enamoured of the tremendous watery echo of the room itself, the hollow sounds of the building, and the birds outside.
In fact, I went completely against my original idea, and began setting up mics all over the auditorium, so the piano was set into the scene— instead of trying to disguise or hide the background noises. These textures were so compelling to me, they began to drive the actual work. The environmental and unidentified sounds are as much the orchestration as the music. As you listen, it’s like you’re there WITH me as it happens.
At dusk, the birds would always go crazy, and gather around me in the auditorium— in almost an Alfred Hitchcock-like fashion. It got to where I would sometimes play a melody, and then a BIRD would sing it right back to me! I couldn’t believe it. So there are lovely moments of compositions featuring call-and-response from native Lily Dale birds.
I like to surround myself with significant objects that hold the story of the location. I was given an antique spirit trumpet and also an actual piece of stone from the cottage of the legendary Fox Sisters. (The remains of the cottage, which burned down in 1955, are in Lily Dale.) I kept them with me on the piano.
Lily Dale dislikes paranormal investigation and does not welcome it on the grounds. As Spiritualists, they believe spirits are everywhere, communicating with the dead is part of daily life— so why disturb our tranquil, private community with noisy crews and electronic gadgets? It seems invasive and pointless to them.
Mine is a more parapsychological approach. It’s not about chasing or “hunting a ghost,” but rather to bask, and gently immerse in the collected energy of the place—be part of it. Allow it to mingle with me as it chooses.
My piano is the portal.
I’m fascinated with what I call “sonic residue,” echoes, and impressions that remain in environments, buildings, and objects. For me, uncovering the hidden music within these spaces is the closest thing to time travel or channeling. It’s it own ghost.
I would say every night aloud— as I sat alone inside the auditorium: “ I am going to play some music now. Any spirits here, are welcome to join. Any spirits here, are welcome to make their presence known.”
And things do happen.
One night I became very frightened; there was this odd melody appearing in my head— constantly, as I walked the narrow Lily Dale streets, and in the woods. When I was in the auditorium later that night, my mind found it again and automatically started to play it on the piano—a key I’ve never played in— and the building just started to—react. I’ve never gotten scared doing these projects, but I suddenly became terrified— but forced myself to keep going. And it was not an evil-type of feeling, but just pure magic. I knew I had discovered something powerful. Like I had crossed a bridge between worlds. The building wanted this melody to exist. And it was to become part of it.
As the melody progressed, I heard a thunderous crack, thuds, steps, whispering, and I mean— this is late at night, 1am, there is no one around. You’re next to the woods, there’s just nothing. And I had locked myself in. My heart pounded. I kept playing in the dark. I wanted to flee, but I realized as I played the music that this was everything I ever wished would happen. This was absolutely, undeniably real.
You will hear this in the recording. As I listened back days later, I heard things I never recalled experiencing that night. I became unnerved even listening.
“The Secret Music of Lily Dale” pretty much manifested itself into being. I did not expect to create an entire album during my time there. But it’s the kind of album I’ve always wanted to do. Like Erik Satie, Brian Eno, or Harold Budd— it’s got that sort of graceful, eerie ambience. But also this dark classical, cinematic feel, a bit of Pink Floyd, Bernard Herrmann, akin to instrumental pieces I’ve released previously. But— these are all spontaneous!
A sonic souvenir of my nights alone inside that mysterious town beyond the veil.
How do other elements of Lily Dale come across in these pieces?
I did various field recordings. I spent a lot of time in the Leolyn Woods surrounding Lily Dale. There is a gigantic tree that was struck by lightning in the 1800s– and it’s purported to be the most powerful location of energy in Lily Dale. They call it Inspiration Stump. People from all over the world gather at the stump to receive messages from Spirit. I decided to record at that exact spot, capture that experience to tape. What is it like to be all alone, standing at Inspiration Stump— or at night in the woods when there’s absolutely nobody around?
One afternoon, the weather forecast called for a thunderstorm. I went into the old auditorium, and underneath that vast roof, could hear the elegant tinkling of the rain. I got all the mics set up, I heard the first thunder clap—and started recording. I had to be super quiet— so I just ended up lying on my back in the dark, in the middle of the 1883 Lily Dale Spiritualist auditorium, dozing on a little blanket, gazing up at the ceiling, listening to the rain. It was just the most beautiful thing, being alone in this renowned auditorium with over a century’s worth of spirits and seances— all of this history and its echoes enveloping me.
I also recorded Lily Dale’s legendary bell that rings throughout the town to beckon people to the Spiritualist service— and receive messages from the other side.
Do you believe in spirits? The ability to communicate with them?
Were you changed by your time in Lily Dale?
I approach this project as neither a believer nor non-believer, but expanding my mind to possibility. I do believe in other realms, phenomena, and collective energies far beyond human comprehension. There is so much we don’t know, we can’t even begin to fathom.
Lily Dale certainly transformed me. I experienced many things I can honestly never explain. A medium took me into the woods late at night and taught me to find orbs and fairies. There are the most utterly chilling photos of me at the piano— surrounded by glowing blue orbs, or in the woods, with floating white spirits surrounding me. I stood in the woods late at night, in pitch darkness, and sang different frequencies aloud, which supposedly the fairies are drawn to—and a group of us began to see glowing winged creatures (with our own eyes) emerge from deep in the trees. We all saw them. And were stunned. These were not fireflies or insects. I will never be able to explain these moments, but they were real, and brought me to tears.
Music and sound has always been my bridge between hidden worlds. They are both strangely similar.
Music in itself is a ghost. It’s completely intangible. Once a note is played, it vanishes into the air, never to be heard again. I find that simultaneously chilling, inspiring and heart-breaking. The only way we can even hold onto music is to have an archive of it, a recorded version. But the real thing is only played once— and disappears. Where does it go?
The most beautiful questions of all are the ones for which there are no answers.
(This interview first appeared on Haute Macabre and UnQuiet Things.)
The Secret Music of Lily Dale (music album + companion book) is now available in both hardback and digital versions HERE.
Juliane has previously reviewed both The Art of Darkness and The Art of the Occult, and it was a real pleasure to share a bit about the process that went into these writings and the curation of the art included in the books, as well as having the opportunity to articulate why I even want to write about–or look at!–these things in the first place!
This interview was originally published at Haute Macabre on February 19, 2018
Maude Nibelungen is a textile artist with a passion for knitting unique, wearable objects of desire–evocative, avant garde knits full of elegant contradictions, which are equally lovely as sultry loungewear in the boudoir or as unexpected, expressive streetwear–and which are also equally encouraged for all types of people and all of their wonderful bodies.
In our interview, below, Maude stressed to me that her knitting designs are for absolutely everyone. Everyone! Including you! With your unruly human curves and planes, gorgeous angles and hollows, beautiful bumps and lumps and bits. If the sizes listed on her site don’t match up to what you may need, she will work with your individual measurements to create a customized treasure that fits like a glove. She wants everyone to feel special in her designs, to feel like a precious piece of art, to evolve into their fabulous selves alongside and inside her pieces.
Read further for more insights on Maude’s inclusive vision, her desire to express her feelings and exorcise her demons through her craft, and the special bond she creates between her knitted intimacies and those who would wear them.
Maude! There are so many things that I want to talk with you about. But first, one thing that I want to comment on right away, is how often I see you modeling your own pieces–and I love that. One, because I always want to see the creator of the things I love adorning themselves with the things they have created– instead of modeling them on impossible fantasy humans. And two, because it’s always refreshing and exciting to see someone comfortable in their own skin, showing a little skin. Can you speak to these observations?
I’m glad to hear because honestly, I’m always afraid that people will be annoyed with seeing me! I was modeling my pieces before I really started my brand. When I launched my first collection, I worked with “real” models because I wanted everything to look as professional as possible, and I still do! I didn’t really model my pieces for a few years after that. But I started again in 2014. It was a big year for me. I had an on-and-off phase as I was pregnant and then had some issues accepting my postpartum body. But I’m trying to see/ do things differently these days! I think everybody is beautiful and I am trying to show that to whoever wants to read/ see.
In that vein, you recently wrote a fantastic piece for Lingerie Addict on how to wear underwear as outerwear – how empowering it is to take your “unmentionables” out and let them see the light of day! It was a fairly comprehensive guide, but I’d love to know the impetus for this article, which pieces of yours you might choose for this purpose, and do you have any tips for the timid, in getting started with this trend?
Thank you! It was exciting putting this piece together for them. Well, first I think it’s important to say that lingerie as outerwear isn’t necessarily something that others will notice; one can easily create a simple/ casual look. For the more timid, the Alice crop top can be a very nice way to ornament the skin under a v-neck or any other open neckline. The Audrey socks are perfect to add some texture to a skirt/dress ensemble or also under shorter pants/ shorts. I would also suggest layering the Marlene dress over any plain black dress for instant glamour. For anyone more daring, well I’d say any piece could be worked into an outfit, haha; but my favorites would be the Anais Bodysuit, Denise Dress, Lola Chemise, Jean Step-Ins, and Georgia Capelet.
I read somewhere that you “turn your demons into knitwear” and I am curious about this concept, though, as a knitter myself, I think I know, after a fashion, how you mean that in a general sense. Tell me how you came to knit, how your demons became entangled into your stitches…and how row by row, piece by piece, these exorcised demons transformed knitted lingerie?
That’s… the story of my whole life haha! But basically, I always dabbled in some type of art form, migrating from one to another as I nothing felt quite right; I had to find an artistic medium in which I could create something unique. I just felt like I could play piano, make jewelry, but nothing… different enough. Eventually, I started knitting more (I started when I was 5 but wasn’t doing it every day). In a particularly rough time in my life, I had a flash where it became clear that knitting was what I had to do. It just felt right. I finally was able to process and express all the feelings and thoughts that were locked up inside of me, in an artistic/ unique manner. I had found my voice… As for the lingerie, it was at first kind of a joke (an inside joke, that’s what happens when you spend hours and days and weeks knitting alone). When I started modeling my pieces again, in 2014, I was feeling the need to express myself differently. That, combined with the fact that for a while, I felt like I had to prove to people that knitting wasn’t a thing that only grandmothers did . It seems silly now, but not that long ago, and you must remember this, knitting wasn’t trendy. SO, I started modeling my sweaters but with only knickers on, or in more provocative angles. Knits make me feel good and that’s something I wanted to show and share. I started using the hashtag “knits are sexy”. One night, I was joking with some friends and said: I should just go all in and make a lingerie collection… that was in 2015, I have since put out 3 (and a half) lingerie/ loungewear collections. That’s also what I sell the most of these days. too!
You’ve described your designs as “Matter and anti-matter dancing on the skin”-that’s a beautiful sentiment, can you elaborate on that?
Yes! It’s somewhat like the demons we were just talking about. I play a lot with the gauge (the tightness) of the knits I create. I design for people, with them in mind. I like to play with their skin too, create pretty patterns, make them feel like they are part of a piece of art.
And until I see my designs on someone else, I feel like that they are fully complete/ alive.
Texture is everything to me. That’s actually the sentiment behind my permanent collection, “Peau de Chagrin“; the pieces are all black, but I tried to recreate prints (floral, plaid, polka dots, stripes etc).
How would you describe your personal style? How does that inspire and influence the designs you create? And where else do you find your inspiration for your collections/individual pieces? I saw mention in a previous interview that patterns in music inspire you, which I find very intriguing, and I would really love to hear more about that, as well.
It’s a bit of everything; I wear a lot of black but also love certain florals, reds and pinks. I’m actually finding more ways to wear colors lately without “betraying” my style. I often go for very structured/form fitting, femme fatale-type outfits, but I also love wearing power suits, and going for a more androgynous look with leggings and oversized tops and big sneakers. I love Japanese fashion and I think it does inspire my style to an extent. What I wear influences my work, as I am always trying to make thing I want to wear everyday. I love staying home and being cozy, but I care about how I look, so I’m perpetually trying to mix those two things together. Otherwise, my inspiration mostly come from feelings, seasons, things around me. I think of the way certain things smell, and I long for them. I remember how the sun feels in a certain season, how it affects the colors of the trees and the sky. I feel the vibe of things around me; sometimes it’s the city, sometimes it’s the country, very often it’s a place that only exists in my head. As for the music (patterns), I think it can create a lot of these feelings/ vibes I just mentioned. You can just close your eyes, listen to music and travel to somewhere unique. That’s what inspires me.
As a further to that, tell me about the type of people that you envision wearing your pieces.
Everyone! I think that a lot of my pieces can be incorporated to a lot of different styles/ looks. If a person can appreciate the organic process behind my knits, I think they will find a way to wear them. I am talking about organic, because all my pieces are handmade and I like creating little irregularities. No one will ever own the same piece from me. It’s a special bond between me and my customers.
Can you share any thoughts or give us any peeks as to what we might expect from your forthcoming collections?
I am in the process of moving to the USA for March! So I am expecting to work with a lot of new people (email me if you want to work with me! NYC/ NJ/ Philly!) I am currently working on a ready-to-wear a lingerie line for a collaboration with another company (but that’s all I can say for now). I’m also torturing myself with the thoughts of a whole new unisex collection I would like to launch this summer. I say torturing myself, because between the orders, the move and the family, I have to wait a few weeks before I can actually start designing and sampling. Right now it’s all marinating in my head. Oh, and I also just started a Patreon to support and share my endeavors!
This interview was originally published at Dirge on January 16, 2016.
When I began knitting in the winter of 2005 as a means of keeping both warm and sane during a weird and terrible time in my life, I never dreamed I would come into contact with and eventually become part of such a diverse community. As I knit and purled away the hours, and eventually the years–in what I now refer to as “the shitty black abyss of Central New Jersey”–I was soothed by the slow magic of softly slipping each stitch from one needle to the next.
I came to think of this wooly sorcery, this stitchy witchcraft, as “yarnomancy.” It provided a connectedness, sometimes quite literally, that I was sorely lacking in my life at that time. As I gave form to each new knit I crafted–connecting each stitch, one at a time–I tapped into a creative drive I didn’t know existed within me, and in my growing confidence, I connected with a community of like-minded people. These knitters, along with their craft, saved me.
One such knitter who believes in this ritual connectedness is Portland, Oregon-based designer Angela Thornton, of Morph Knitwear.
Designed for individuals who want to feel “powerful, mystical, and like a total bad ass,” Angela Thornton’s Morph Knitwear is an intensely personal endeavor melding artistry and utilitarianism to create handmade garments that challenge the traditional perception of knitwear, while retaining classic virtues of durability and timeless elegance. Her pieces are fashioned from a single strand of fiber, the process of creation “giving a unique connectedness to the fabric of each piece, a connectedness which allows the knit to give form to the emotional processes and explorations of its maker. “
We recently caught up with Angela after her completion of Morph Knitwear’s Sand and Storm collection and its corresponding editorial. Read on to learn more of this bad ass knitter’s unique vision and the magic that she weaves into each of her creations.
As a fellow knitter, I can’t help but to be immediately interested in how you came to knit in the first place. I think I read somewhere that you began knitting in 2010 or so, is that correct? And what prompted the desire to learn?
Angela Thornton: I actually began knitting as a little kid. I can’t recall who it was who taught me, but all of my grandmothers knit, as well as my mother, so it’s safe to say it was one of them. My earliest solid recollection of knitting a real project is with my grandmother–we would visit her in Minnesota in the summers and she would set us kids up with a ball of cotton each and some old plastic needles to have us knit dishcloths for her kitchen. I loved that kind of project when I was younger: fast, and satisfying. I casually knit through high school (especially after I had seen Rodarte’s knit tights from their F/W ’08 collection), but then didn’t touch a pair of needles again until I was living in Germany in the summer of 2010. Through that summer and fall I re-learned the basics and then that winter I got bored with what everyone else was knitting and began designing my own patterns.
What was the catalyst behind launching Morph knitwear? What was/is your vision for the brand? How would you describe your brand, the essence of Morph Knitwear?
The catalyst behind launching Morph Knitwear was really experimental, and a direct result of beginning to design my own patterns. I decided as a personal challenge to try to create pieces that were cohesive, and as I did so I also thought, “hey, fuck it, why don’t I try to sell this online?” I was actually really surprised when things sold! I took that, coupled with my immense creative satisfaction as signs to keep at it, and I think I’ve essentially kept it very true to me, and to what I see the brand to be–evolutionary, textural, and created with integrity of design, method of production, and ethics. My vision for Morph Knitwear is and has been essentially the same since my experimental launch: to create clothing that I want to wear, made using ancestral techniques in a non-exploitative manner. Morph Knitwear has definitely become more refined as I have honed in on my own personal style and simultaneously grown in my technical ability, but essentially it is born of the same concept-to create because I cannot fathom not creating, and in doing so, bringing awareness back to mindless material consumption.
I have read your remark that the things you make are really just an extension of yourself. How would you describe your personal style? How does that inspire and influence the designs you create? As a further to that, tell me about the type of people that you envision wearing your pieces.
They really are! Not only because I make each piece by hand, so while in the process the pieces are physically extending from my body, but in a more liminal sense as well. Everything I make comes from somewhere in my head, from the need of somehow being able to express myself. I’ve always used what I wear as a direct method of self-expression, so naturally I feel the need to create things that can be worn as such. My own personal style has evolved and solidified over the years, and at this point is basically an armor of black. I value tactile quality and timeless shape in the clothing I wear, as well as integrity in its method of creation. I envision people who are self defined, strong willed, tender, and unique as the wearers of my creations.
Do you wear your own knits? What are some key pieces that you can’t live without?
I do wear my own pieces, though not as many as one would expect! That being said I absolutely can’t go without my merino wool vest or the newer pieces I’ve designed for Sisters of the Black Moon (the Haze sweater in particular) once the temperatures drop. I also wear a lot of my lighter weight dresses in summer, so perhaps upon reflection I do wear more of my work than I think!
How long does it take you to design a knit? And how often is one of your creations knit by hand, as opposed to a knitting machine? I’m assuming that there is an entirely different kind of pattern for hand-knit vs. machine knit? Do you have a team, or are you a one-woman operation?
The length of time it takes to design something is completely arbitrary. Sometimes I won’t even make a sketch of a piece, I’ll have such a clear vision of what I want it to be that I just get working and bust it out. Sometimes, though, a piece can take me weeks to make and remake in order for it to be right. That process holds true for both machine and hand knitting, though the actual pattern writing process is different between the two. For each collection I usually do about 60% of the pieces on the machines, and 40% handknit, though it really just depends on the end product I want to make–handknitting is ideal for some, and machine knitting for others. At this moment I have one amazing intern who helps with production, but other than that Morph Knitwear is a one-woman operation!
That brings me to my next question; I know you have made a few of your patterns available for intrepid knitters who may want to bring one of your creations to life for themselves, with their own hands. How do you choose which patterns to release for this purpose? Many knitwear designers eventually release a book of patterns–is this something that interests you at all?
The patterns I’ve chosen to release are generally archived pieces that I am no longer producing, though honestly several of them have been popular designs that I just got sick of knitting myself! (Re)writing patterns to be readable to the general public is such a time-consuming job for me that I don’t see myself releasing a book of them anytime soon, but I think if I ever have the spare moments I will try to release several more of my archived pieces to Ravelry. And who knows the future? A book might happen sometime!
Your previous collections–Infinite Abyss; Behemoth; Blood, Ash and Bone–these all conjure wonderfully dark, gritty, fierce, primal imagery. Can you talk a bit about the inspirations for these collections, and what we might expect from future collections?
I think the inspiration for the collection names (as well as the collections themselves) all come from a place of wanting to imbue my creations with those aspects. I want to create pieces that express a deep, dark, primal ferocity, a connection to the old while being a clean slate for the new. I want the people who wear my pieces to feel the fierce, animal beauty and power of natural fibers, the human magic and intent woven into each piece. I want the clothing I create to simultaneously be a shield and a proclamation of self. The places I find myself most shielded and most myself are in shadows and mystery and the cycle of light from darkness. I simply try to create worlds reflective of these feelings through each of my collections.
This interview was originally published at Haute Macabre on April 10, 2020
Not to sound tone-deaf–I realize we are all experiencing these strange times quite differently, and we are coping with them in our own ways–but for me, at least, I am finding that diving headfirst into my obsessions is alleviating at least some of my anxiety, as well as that vexing tendency toward distraction, and lack of focus that occurs when I am feeling freaked out about something beyond my control.
Anyone who knows me probably can guess where I am going with this. KNITTING. In the past month or so I have become a knitting fiend, even more than I was already. I have knit two sweaters! And I live in Florida! Where am I even going to wear these heavy woolen things? Who cares? It’s keeping my hands busy and my attention on tricksy stitches, and I haven’t yet had a complete nervous breakdown, so here we are.
Another thing that helps quell the horrors, of course, is learning more about those brilliant folks who share in an interest I have…but through creativity, talent, and a much more driven nature than I possess, have put their singular spin on that mutual obsession, and who have elevated these passions to an extraordinarily beautiful art form. April Carter of Our Widow is one such individual, and I am utterly obsessed with her gorgeous knit and crocheted creations.
Using skills she developed as a child, and others acquired along life’s path, April is a fiber artist who aims to honor age-old handcrafted traditions, while also seeking to imbue her work with a distinctive unconventional quality. She believes that fashion should seek to complement the individual wearer, while also existing in a realm free from boundaries, expectations, and criticism.
I am thrilled to share with you our recent interview, below, where we discuss her splendidly heart-warming familial influences, the joy and inspiration found in breaking free from tiresome rules and dated constraints and taking a good, hard look at what it means when you realize that your passion–or its practices, or people involved in the community built around it–has become problematic, and what you, as an individual, can do to change that and do better.
And April, thanks again, from the bottom of my heart, for taking the time to answer my questions and share of yourself during what I know is a strange and scary time for you, for me, for everyone.
Haute Macabre: You hail from a long line of creative women–seamstresses, painters, fiber artists, and “one chain-smoking, black coffee guzzling grammy with a passion for ceramics.” I’m curious as to who it is in this marvelous line-up you may have been inspired by in your own craft and does how does their influence inform your practice?
Our Widow: Every one of those marvelous ladies has inspired me in some shape or form, personally and in my craft, but I am most indebted to my mom for passing onto me the skills that helped guide me to where I am now. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of her crocheting, sewing and embroidering. She was constantly creating things for us kids, I had crocheted afghans, embroidered pillowcases with my nickname (Pumpkin), rag dolls, dresses with lace collars and pinafores, custom Halloween costumes, punch needle rugs, clothing for my stuffed animals, and even couches for my Barbies. It all looked like such fun, and not only did she let me peek over her shoulder and watch her work, but she also encouraged me to learn, taught me as best she could, and kept her patience with my clumsy kid fingers.
It was only when I was older that I realized the reason she did so much was due in large part to our financial situation, or lack of finances. Even then though, the things she created were never drab or dull, and although they were made on a budget, they always looked splendid; she loved using vibrant colors throughout her work, cute prints, pretty lace, ribbons, ruffles, and oodles of flowers. Not only did she enjoy her finished creations, but she also delighted in seeing our eyes light up with glee at each new masterpiece we were presented with. Through her I learned to be proficient in different mediums, take pride in my work, be true to myself, and to have fun with design; it also seems apparent now that I’m writing this, that I too have quite an affection for lace, ribbons, and ruffles, so I can confidently say that her influence has indeed endured long past my childhood.
You consider yourself more of a “fiber artist” than a “knitwear designer”–can you share more about that distinction and what it means to you, both personally and in terms of your business?
The distinction is not important to me on a personal level, they’re just words, and have no impact on my creative process, professionally though, they exist purely in an attempt to be direct about how I run my business. My online presence has grown quite a bit since I started focusing mainly on knitting, in that time, I have received an abundance of messages inquiring if the written patterns for my pieces are available for purchase. The short answer to this question is “Thank you for asking, but no they are not.” The long answer is a rambling list of all the reasons why it’s probably never going to happen – I’m erratic and unorganized, I hate taking notes, I rarely plan ahead, choosing instead to wing it roughly 96% of the time, I often mix mediums, I’m a perpetual procrastinator, I haven’t the faintest concept of how to write a proper pattern, and I do not swatch, ever.
Knitwear designer sounds so polished and professional, I see many pattern writers using it to describe their occupation, and aptly so, but it is far removed from where I am as a maker. I am not a fan of labels, but the word “artist” carries with it certain stereotypes that allow those labeled as such a pass when it comes to existing on the fringes. I had hoped characterizing myself as a fiber artist would allow me the freedom to create without expectations, and possibly clear up any confusion as to what individuals who stumble across my website, or social media accounts could hope to find within.
You urge your fellow creatives to “learn the rules, then break them all”–what broken rules can one expect to see in the fiber arts of Our Widow?
In this instance, the word “rules” to me encompasses that which can be thought of as traditional, or every day. Knitting, crocheting, and similar fiber-based art forms have generally been looked upon for generations as “homemaker” crafts. When I was a teenager, my contemporaries would poke fun at me for crocheting, sewing your own clothes meant you were poor, and in media, knitting was something only grannies did, while rocking away in their wooden chairs. These stereotypes persisted throughout my 20’s, and into my early 30’s, with fiber arts only becoming trendy within the last decade. I’m thrilled with the rise in popularity of my favorite pastimes but feel like bits and pieces of that tired old mentality still exist, which is why it’s important to me as an artist to continually push the boundaries. By “breaking” the rules, I’m encouraging my fellow creatives to not be constrained by what is routinely expected from a knitted design, a crocheted piece, a sewn garment, or any other discipline.
In my work, I prefer to utilize techniques that I feel are oftentimes overlooked. Mixing mediums, such as working a crochet edging onto a knit cape, adding fabric trim to a knit collar, or sewing chiffon bell sleeves to a crochet top, has been one of my favorite approaches for constructing fresh styles. I enjoy using unconventional shaping methods, like those which help to create the long defined points on my neckpieces. I like unusual designs with bold details, like the loops on my Tentacle Cowl, or my collars made with highly contrasting colors.
I refuse to chase trends, will make chunky knits in the summer, delicate cobweb knits in the winter, and am not bothered when things get a little off-kilter, or look a bit strange once blocked out, it’s not important to me that every seam line up, or that my stitches be perfect, I have more fun just rolling with it, and embracing the imperfections. I also have a tendency to shy away from traditional knits such as sweaters and afghans, choosing instead to focus on pieces that are not typically made from yarn. One of my personal favorite designs has been a cabled piece that resembles a knight’s gorget collar; I am more than just a little obsessed with it, and desperately want to make more knitted armor.
Your tagline is “Unorthodox Pieces for Peculiar Souls”– aside from family lineage, I’d love to hear about some of your other unorthodox and peculiar inspirations.
I grew up in an isolated area of West Texas, far away from any cultural centers, so early exposure to the arts was limited. I have since branched out and could say so and so designer inspires me, or this painter is where it’s at, but honestly I’m very much a product of my youth. I was born in 1980, and cut my teeth in an amazingly weird and wonderful decade, I spent my days playing Atari and Legos, riding bikes, shooting BB guns, jumping off houses, and beating up trees. Being an 80’s kid had many perks, but undoubtedly the best part was binging on bizarre TV shows, and fantastically dark movies, of which there were many to choose from. I was obsessed with The Dark Crystal, The Last Unicorn, and The Secret of NIMH, asked Santa to bring me my own Falkor for Christmas, cried when ET almost died, sang (terribly) along with the Chipmunks, and screamed my head off when someone said the word of the day on Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
I grew up feasting on the brainchildren of former acid popping hippies turned producers, writers, and children’s entertainers, and I could not be more grateful. The sheer creativity and wackiness of it all, the gorgeous (trippy) visuals, and the absolute detachment from reality that could be found in these creations was a haven for me; early on I realized that imagination was a sacred and powerful thing, with no limits to its depths. I still hold true to this spirit, spending my days immersed in my own fantastical creations, watching cartoons, reading comic books, playing Legos, and casually tossing out 80’s catchphrases to my very unimpressed teenager daughter.
Can you share anything about the pieces you are working on right now?
Since COVID-19 began spreading, it’s been difficult to find any sort of inspiration or direction, the world at large is in complete upheaval, and I’m not going to kid myself by saying what I do is essential in any way. I have never felt quite so insignificant, and motivation has been scarce. I usually have several projects going at one time that I can jump around and work on, but for weeks, I had nothing on my needles. I have busy hands though, and started to go a bit mad without anything to keep them occupied.
Fortunately, spring comes early in the south, and the fields around my house began bursting with wildflowers. They’ve been a beautiful oasis in an otherwise ugly world, and although it took a little time, I eventually found myself digging through my yarn stash looking for skeins that mimicked the poppies, bluebonnets, and larkspur outside. I usually stick to a moodier color palette, but working with these lively shades has helped uplift my spirits. I also recently purchased a collection of lovely Japanese crochet books online that have some gorgeous edging patterns; I’m very excited to tweak those for use in my collars and cuffs. Also pink, I never thought it would happen, but I made something pink; these are strange days indeed.
As someone only recently again paying attention to knitting blogs and knitters of note, I became aware, sometime in 2019 I guess, of various platforms opening up the conversation on knitting and inclusivity and reckoning with instances of racism, prejudice, privilege, and whitewashing in the knitting community. That’s tough to reconcile with a hobby or a career that you love–and that maybe you, or I, might be part of the problem, even inadvertently– but it’s also a conversation that can’t be ignored. Do you have any thoughts on this?
I was also not a very active participant in the knitting community when this subject really started gaining attention in the media, so it was only after Ravelry (an online knitting community and pattern database) sent out an email stating hate speech would no longer be tolerated on their platform, that I educated myself on what could have pushed them to that point. While what I found was alarming, it was not at all surprising– intolerance has an uncanny yet incessant way of seeping into every foundation of society. Initially though, upon realizing the scope and scale of the situation, I did not feel as if I was a part of the problem. I kept mostly to myself, stayed far away from the forums and Facebook, and, as I stated, rarely interacted with the knitting community, but after more consideration, I realized that my lack of awareness was a very clear sign of my privilege.
It is easy for me to roll my eyes and say “Are you kidding me??” at the absurdity of those who would try to spoil something as seemingly wholesome as knitting, because those same individuals would not scorn me, but instead, likely support my business. I have yet to face a situation where I was denied recognition for my work, or been unjustly criticized for my individual style, nor have I ever received a derogatory comment on my public accounts based on my sexual preferences, or the color of my skin. The same cannot be said for many others in the knitting community, those who have suffered through the discrimination, and encountered a lack of visibility, continued harassment, and probable loss of business, as a result of pages and groups specifically created to identify minorities, POC, and LGBTQ designers, with the sole intent of shunning them, and sabotaging their livelihoods.
I should not have realized all of this after the fact, it should not have taken an email to enlighten me, I should have known it was happening all along. These issues have existed for ages, and go well beyond knitting, spanning across all art forms and disciplines. Each and every one of us benefits from taking the time to inform ourselves as to what is happening within our own little worlds and beyond, be willing to accept a level of responsibility for the unpleasant things we might discover therein, and decide individually how to proceed from that point. For me, that means engaging more with my fellow yarnies in the knitting community, becoming more cognizant and compassionate concerning the struggles of my fellow creatives, and increasing my efforts to support artists of all colors, genders, faiths, and cultures.
Note: this interview with Han of Handsome Devils Puppets was a collaboration between Maika and I for Haute Macabre, a few years back. I love writing with Maika, they are the most thoughtful and imaginative partner-in-crime to work alongside, and I know this interview was a dream come true for both of us. Unfortunately, the Haute Macabre blog is gone and it broke our hearts to think that no one would read Han’s marvelous insights or get to peer inside her big, weird, beautiful heart again. So, we fixed that. And so now you can find it here, at Unquiet Things, eternally. We love you, Han.
Speaking from a writer’s perspective, interviews are funny things. Although this introduction is what you’re reading first, it was the very last thing written. It was also, somehow, the hardest part for me to write. Sarah and I had a wonderful time composing questions for Han. The hard work, as far as I’m concerned, was for Han herself, answering all our queries, which she did so thoroughly and thoughtfully, with grace and humor, with beautiful frankness and vulnerability. Sarah and I were both a mess of tears while reading her answers. (Consider yourself forewarned: have the tissues handy.) All I’m supposed to do here is get you from the top of the screen to those Qs and As. But I have such deep, intense feelings about the work of Handsome Devils Puppets. I’m so ensorcelled by Han’s every creation and performance, and I’ve been fortunate to grow to count her as a dear friend, that I don’t know how to verbalize any of those things.
Thank goodness you’re not here to listen to me rhapsodize about how much I love Han and everything she does. You don’t actually need to know that I first began interacting with Han when I contacted her in hopes of commissioning Eve and Adam from Only Lovers Left Alive.
Or about how last year I sat down and lost myself in the process of describing a piece of my heart to her and how she has since created an exquisite vessel for it.
You also don’t need to know that I finally got to see Han perform here in Portland during her 2018 West Coast tour. Or how my cats met Pips. Okay, maybe you do need to know that. My cats met Pips! Mutual nose sniffing took place. Who am I kidding? I met Pips! And I got to give Han hugs, which I want to do pretty much every time I exchange messages with her.
I hope you enjoy reading Han’s interview as much as I did. It might seem straightforward and simple, but I find there’s something magical about coming up with questions for another person – someone you consider extraordinary – and having them answer those questions and trust you with their answers. Sarah and I so enjoyed this co-interviewing process that we’re hoping Handsome Devils Puppets marks the first in an ongoing series of cooperative interviews with singular people who endlessly inspire us.
S. Elizabeth:Do you recall your first knowledge of the existence of puppets? I sure do. It was lady Elaine, the eccentric and (to my three-year-old brain) oddly glamorous old broad who ran the Museum Go Round in Mister Roger’s neighborhood. I was both captivated and vaguely disturbed by the stillness of her ruddy wooden features and unblinking blue eyes fixed in an eternal semi-squint, as contrasted by the scratchy, but lively, and very human voice asking the silly questions and posing ridiculous solutions that came out of her inanimate scarlet smirk.
This initial awareness of these uncanny vessels that we can bring to life by manipulation and mastery of their tiny movements has led to a life-long…not quite fascination…but a sort of hushed reverence, stupefied awe, really, for puppets, and puppetry, and the artists who create and control them. The idea that we can give voice to our thoughts through the mouth of a completely separate entity, even and especially when our thoughts aren’t actually very nice, seems to me like a fantastical catharsis, and is partially what brought about the idea to commission Han, whose Handsome Devils Puppet work I had quietly admired for ever so long, for a mini marionette version of Sei Shonagon.
Shonagon was a brilliant diarist, poet, and courtier, but also a bit of a Heian-era mean girl and guru of gossip, rumor, and scandal. I have long loved her writings: her elegant lists, her acerbic observations, her beautifully intimate and wonderfully catty diaries; these strangely random and tangential stories have informed and inspired my own writings for many, many years now, but if I am being honest, it is this mean streak that appears throughout her beautiful, clever writings that fascinates me endlessly.
Now, though, this marvelous vessel that Han created from the wisp of an idea and from what beautiful bones and scraps I could scarcely guess, I have an exorcist for my unkind scrutinies, my snarky opinions and observations, and my highly critical notions. Little Sei Shonagon with her clever brush and invisible ink coaxes my ugliness into the ether and leaves no trace of its unflattering existence. From her perpetually suppressed smile, I almost believe that she derives no small amusement from the expulsion of my cranky demons, and, while indulging myself in daydreams, I often recall the long-ago Lady Elaine’s tiny sneer and I am quite certain these two would either be great friends, or great rivals, or both!
But back to the business at hand. As Maika mentions above, we had such great fun in our back and forth brainstorming and bouncing ideas off of each other for this Handsome Devils Puppets interview. It was terribly daunting but so massively thrilling to put together these questions for Han about her inspirations and processes and great loves and wonderments– and for me, who has not yet had the opportunity to meet this incredible artist in person yet, it was an extraordinary look into a dazzling mind and a heart so big, there seems no end to the pieces of it you’ll find in her remarkable creations.
Prepare to be thoroughly enchanted and to have your heart broken and humbled and reformed anew as we take an intimate, emotional, and powerfully human peek at the lives of Han of Handsome Devil Puppets and her sentiment of spirits. I hope you will take as much pleasure in reading the following interview as we have in dreaming it, creating it, and sharing it with you.
M+S: Why puppets? You’ve spoken about how making and performing with puppets came to you during a particularly dark period of your life. Without prying into what was going on in your life at the time, why do you think it was through puppetry that you found your voice, as opposed to another creative outlet or form of performance?
HDP: I actually fell upon puppets quite by accident while accompanying a friend to a craigslist audition to be her ‘muscle’ (because what screams ‘murder’ louder than a puppet show audition in a warehouse?). I was recovering, floundering, alone, reclusive and without a voice in a city that was far bigger than anything I’d ever experienced. Life seemed a fanged, gaping mouth and I a mere scrap in its teeth. The audition ended not with murder but with an offer to help build the upcoming show. I wasn’t an actor, I had previously wept my way through a failed semester of 2D art, quit ballet after 6 years, piano after 10. I had so much to say, so much to feel and suddenly there was clay in my hands aching to sing and dance, to do everything and say everything I thought I couldn’t. There were no rules here. It was salvaged components and salvaged people weaving the silliest, saddest stories. It was all so heavy and so light.
Do you find yourself expressing things through your puppets that you’d never say otherwise? Not even necessarily things you’d dare not say, but simply things that wouldn’t have occurred to you until the puppet brought them forth. Conversely, do you ever find yourself saying things to puppets that you wouldn’t say to a human?
This is one of my first and favorite things I learned about puppets. Being a ragtag group of starving, drinking artists, how we were going to get people to listen to us? The city was full of us, how do you make them listen? One beautiful example of our solution came when we performed a piece based on the Tom Waits song “Georgia Lee.” It tells the true story of 12-year-old Georgia Lee Moses who disappeared in ’97. She had a troubled home life, she was poor, she was African American, she was not reported missing, there was no front-page news story and no rallying cry. Georgia’s body was found under a tree next to the highway far too late and her killer has yet to be found. How do you address that? How do you bring people together and force them to care, force them to listen to this sickening, heartbreaking example of a much greater problem? Our solution was puppets, a little girl made of sticks, buried in the earth who emerged to dance with the moon before her twigs shattered and she returned to the earth. How could we have accomplished that ourselves? How else would we have made people face this darkness?
(And now a shorter answer if you prefer! I often will not address certain darkness in me until suddenly it’s coming to life in my hands, or until it’s being written in song. You become so accustomed to your own particular melancholy that you sometimes fail to feel its subtle shifts. I trust no one, connect with few, but I have poured forth every shadowed corner of my Self to a puppet on many a night.)
Why do you think it is that puppets appear to connect with people differently than humans connect with each other?
Puppets cannot lie! What you say, they say. What you do, they do. They are honest little vessels. They look like us, but stranger. They are us, but innocent. They are both cosmic and primitive. We want to believe in their magic. It may not make any sense right now, but I spent most of my life screaming into an abyss of faces and never truly felt heard until those screams were screamed by a puppet.
I had so much to say, so much to feel, and suddenly there was clay in my hands aching to sing and dance, to do everything and say everything I thought I couldn’t. There were no rules here. It was salvaged components and salvaged people weaving the silliest, saddest stories. It was all so heavy and so light.
Have you ever found a puppet? Something you didn’t make with your own two hands, perhaps something that one wouldn’t necessarily even recognize as a puppet, but you knew it for what it truly was when you saw it.
Are we counting Pedro, The Man Stuck in a Coffee bag? (….it was my child-hand…in a coffee bag…a riveting living room dramatic performance). Every single day. Everything is a puppet, I say this at all of my shows. If you feel powerless, pick up the nearest thing to you and literally have power over it. Make it fly, make it scream, make it dance. There is actually a form of performance very similar to puppetry call Object Theatre in which everyday, found objects are manipulated to tell the story. In a way it’s very therapeutic, to imagine how this plastic bottle would ‘breathe,’ watching the rise and fall of your own chest to and mirroring it in your little plastic pantomimist. In a different way, I also have a crippling need to puppet when I people-watch. There are some people who would make the most incredible puppets! (I was reprimanded at a job long ago for telling a woman that her “baby has good shapes.” …In my defense that baby was round and adorable and cartoonish and was just begging to be a puppet. Y’all, I haven’t an ounce of social grace…)
You have previously observed that, “The power of the puppet is vast, but it is little without the power of your person.” What, in your opinion, is the role of the puppeteer?
Just be honest. Above all things be honest, be human. You are bringing something to life, there cannot be any insincerity, there cannot be any pretense. I am just up there crying and sweating and manically jiggling a puppet around and there is truth in that, there is vulnerability despite me being in ‘control’ of them. It’s not about power in terms of skill, it’s about your willingness to pour your soul into this little vessel.
In your experience, do you find that puppets have a will of their own? Do your puppets develop opinions about each other? Do some prefer each other’s company or need to be kept apart?
Ooooh this is such a shameful bit of me. Maybe it’s a symptom of being a recluse, maybe I’m just unhinged but yes, yes and yes. With the increase in film and book characters in my work the strangest friendships are forged between puppets who share time on my table. Frida Kahlo mingled with Vincent Price. Tom Hiddleston chatted with a conjoined sheep.
If you feel powerless, pick up the nearest thing to you and literally have power over it. Make it fly, make it scream, make it dance.
In a 2017 interview, you shared that you started making puppets when you felt you didn’t have a voice, and that you “…sculpted powerful, magical women to dance and sing and cry and give me that voice.” This lends to a curious question on our part regarding that voice and how it factors into the genesis of each new creation. Do you start with that small soul’s voice, and give it form? Or create a vessel for it to take root? Further to that question (or perhaps to ask it another way?) at what point in the creation of a puppet do they come to life/wake up for you? Or are they alive from the moment you conceive of them?
It honestly happens in each of these ways, depending on the puppet. Sometimes while idly fiddling with clay it will take form and begin telling its own stories. Sometimes I sculpt from dreams. Sometimes I will experience something unbearable and the only way I can process it is by creating a puppet capable of doing so. In those instances the intention and the emotion are so potent it feels the puppet is crying out from the moment the mouth is carved. Now that I’m working with original songs more it has happened that a melody came first, the melody searches for the right voice to embrace it, and a character takes shape. It honestly can take some time for that spark of life, sometimes longer than I’d like. But oh when that spark catches tinder, I just cradle that little soul and let forth a litany of coos, cries, praises, affirmations, and REALLY embarrassing giggles.
Tell us about Grannie Good-Witch’s jewelry box! I believe this is a box of heirlooms that you incorporate into your various creations as are working on them, even to the point that you travel with it and it accompanies you on the road. We’d love to hear more about these precious pieces of your family history and are interested to know how/where/why you decide to parcel them out.
(I am coincidentally typing this on Granny’s birthday!) My Granny was an absolute bat. She had her faults, she had her lows, she was forgiven, she was accepted, a pattern for our gene pool. She would take my sister and I on adventures across the state in her car, “Pokey,” made of cigarette smoke and dog hair (or so it seemed to be to me) and tell us stories of her childhood adventures in China. Fortunately for me, grannie was a hoarder and I inherited many a box of her trinkets from jewelry to small toys. I, on the other hand, move around far too much to amass very much, so when I first needed puppet accessories I pulled from this magical tiny wooden chest. Since then my collection has grown to include other boxes of the baubles of a few other powerful, magical, misunderstood women who have left this plane. Some pieces I can’t bear to part with (great-grandma’s itty-bitty miniature pink hand-fan) but others are so special they beg to be shared. A fingernail-sized bird to perch on the edge of a victorian infant’s coffin, a tiny silver cross on a commissioned memorial piece, a snippet of her hospital bracelet in a Plague Doctor’s pouch, an onyx earring post becomes a brooch. The possibilities are as vast as the depths of her strangeness.
Most of your work is individually commission-based, but every once in a while we’re delighted to see a HDP small collection of roses, skellingtons, animals, or wee babies. What sparks the ideas/motivations for a limited release of these coteries of clay creatures?
There’s a technical, business reason behind them as well as emotional. I try to have a few releases a year to give people who cannot afford a marionette a chance to welcome a puppet into their home. It is so important to me to drown the world in puppets and I don’t want anyone to feel excluded due to finances. Once I feel it has come time for a release I keep a little portion of my brain open to receiving little whispers of what it should be, but you can’t rush it. They have to be simple but effective. They have to be puppetable. They have to tell a story. I think of themes or visuals that are accessible to people who are taking baby steps into strangeness but that are also of meaning to me. Often times you can catch a glimpse at where my life was by the collections i was releasing at the time. Conjoined animals when I longed for closeness. Post mortem victorian infants when I was coming to terms with my unpromising body. Little Roses that blow kisses when I decided to scoot the gloom aside for a moment.
What is your favorite thing about making and/or working with puppets? Between painstakingly creating these creatures, vs. animating, storytelling, performing with the pieces–which do you prefer? What do you get out of performing for an audience that you can’t from creating your puppets and working with them solo?
I know it’s cheating but I could never choose! They are such different beasts. When sculpting I get to be alone, crawl into myself and create and it is heaven, soothing. I learn so much about myself while creating. I learn so much about the world while researching for them. By all accounts I should hate performing. People everywhere, looking at me. Me making an absolute dingus of myself, spilling my guts, singing through stage-fright tremors, the opposite of the solitude of creating. But despite all of the terror, stress, anxiety, and vulnerability that comes with a show, I am addicted to it. The shows are a humbling chance to keep sacred the sorrows and needs of strangers. Yes, it is wonderful to get to sink into my own world, but there is a whole world of people out there just as human as me. And if just one of them leaves my show feeling heard, feeling healed, feeling something, then it is worth it and I will never stop. I will always come out of hiding for it.
Some puppeteers are actors more than puppeteers – their puppets serving as props more than anything else – but the puppets of other performers seem to either be living individuals or extensions of their puppeteers. How do you view your own method of performing?
I have seen some incredibly effective shows where the puppeteer is fully shrouded and the illusion of a sentient being is achieved, or where the puppeteer acts as their own character opposite the puppet. Both are effective and respected by me, but I make it no secret that I prefer to treat them as an extension. I believe in the magic of the illusion, but I don’t want that to become a distraction. You know it’s a puppet, you know I’m back here moving it, let’s focus on the story as opposed to the trick. These puppets are small and they can only emote so much so I make sure I’ve got a big ol’ face chock full of feelings. I feel their pain because it is my own, I celebrate their joys because they are my own, if I make a mistake, they make a mistake. It’s a far far cry from performing, it’s really just a conversation. That being said I (being the consummate professional) sometimes catch myself congratulating a puppet during a song for completing a move well, or console them if they look especially sad. It’s accidental (and embarrassing) but it helps me be easier on myself. If I can have empathy and love for these little creatures while they tell my story, shouldn’t I be able to love myself? Basically shows are my therapy and I am the most undeserving dirt-person to be able to do them for a living.
It’s not about power in terms of skill, it’s about your willingness to pour your soul into this little vessel.
During your live performances, you don’t use particular voices for your puppets, rather you serve as their respective voices. It’s as though you’re a puppet medium, a channeler. That represents a great deal of trust between you and the puppets. And there is clearly a great deal of affection between you and most of your puppets. But you also speak directly to them during your shows – do they speak back? We won’t ask you to divulge any of their secrets, but is there a language we cannot hear, that only you can?
The puppets are true professionals, I’m up there drinking and crying and talking, but I’ve never seen one break character. Even though I perform the same songs on each show of a tour, every show is different. Audiences respond differently to different songs, to different puppets. If I see certain faces reacting more I feed off of it and in turn the puppet does. The puppet becomes tasked with gaining that person’s trust, carrying them through to the end. I often find myself comforting a puppet when a piece is over or congratulating them. They pick up pieces of every person who connects with them. It’s a blessing and a burden and their little clay shoulders must carry it with grace night after night. Yikes, I’ve never sounded crazier than I do when I talk about puppets. With friends like these who needs hallucinogens?
Have you always performed solo? Or perhaps you’ve previously performed as part of a troupe/ensemble? Have you done other sorts of performances besides puppetry?
I never performed with that troupe I started out with, I only built. Used to having absolutely no organized idea of what I’m doing, I stuck to solo performing once I made my own company. I attempted theatre in high school (we don’t talk about it) and spent a good deal of time on stage during my ballet years (we can talk about half of those) but really my shows the past couple of years are my first attempts at singing/puppeting in public.
I spent most of my life screaming into an abyss of faces and never truly felt heard until those screams were screamed by a puppet.
Your live performances are very small and intimate. Do you see yourself ever performing in larger venues or is small and intimate your preference for the foreseeable future?
Every once and I while there will be a flash of that fantasy, a vague little pipe-dream of something bigger. But I really don’t think it suits me right now. The puppets would have to be larger and in turn I would likely have to recruit company members, something I am strongly opposed to doing. I’m too stubborn and horrible and intimately attached to this to subject innocent humans to the complete disaster that is my methods/life.
What do you hope your audience members get out of your performances?
HDP: Anything, any little thing. A glimmer of hope, a moment of levity, an assurance of their power. Hell even if it just brings them joy to see me making an ass of myself, I’ll take it. I’m genuinely floored each time anybody chooses to leave their house for what, on paper, sounds like an evening of watching that crazy old man on the street corner rave at you except he’s holding puppets and you have to sit on the floor. I open each show with a song I heard at a time in my life when I needed it most. It seemed to be written just for me, it calmed me, it gave me strength, I held it close until I didn’t need it anymore and now I have to believe that somewhere in some city is somebody who needs it as I did. I am humbled by the stories people bring to me after shows, completely reduced to rubble by their ability to so beautifully and purely be a part of this bizarre little journey.
If it’s alright with you, Han, we’d like to switch things up for a moment and ask a few questions of Pips and any other members of your menagerie who’d like to participate in the conversation.
How did you feel the moment you first opened your eyes, and what was the first thing you saw?
P: “Familiar. They say I had closed them for such a long time, but this same familiar face pressed close to mine. There was that same familiar feeling of being the only two creatures in the world. I saw my legs in a pile, my patient body waiting, I saw tears in two familiar eyes, two unfamiliar cats, curtains of lace. I felt real.”
Do you consider yourself a puppet?
P: “I do but it isn’t a bad thing. I’ve spent a longer time on this earth as a puppet than I did as a deer so, in a way, to be a puppet is to be more alive than ever before.”
In your opinion, what is the role of the puppet?
HDP: From a box in a corner comes a chorus of dusty voices, “Yes, tell us, Han! When comes our role?!” From atop a makeshift stage a wearied woman cries, “To mourn when the human heart can no longer bear to.” A ball of clay with the suggestion of a face mumbles through carved lips, “She had a recurring dream that plagued her, I’m here to understand it.” Pips glares, irritated at being interrupted, but softens to say “To tell a story, whatever that story may be”.
What have you learned from Han?
P: “I helped her survive. And my story could help others do the same. It seems like quite a task for a wee fawn that creaks and crumbles but I am powerful. Oh also, you can get out of a traffic ticket if I’m riding shotgun.”
What’s your favorite thing about working with Han/performing?
P: “The post-show chin-scratches from the audience! But mostly the post-show nighttime campsite/stranger’s house/cheap motel/truck stop cuddle times. I don’t want to embarrass Han but…she might have more successful relationships if we didn’t spoon so much…”
Now back to you, Han, what have you learned from your puppets?
I am powerful. I am incapable of sculpting ears but I am powerful. I am a great writhing, unstable mass of flesh and boiling blood who really didn’t need another excuse to stay inside and talk to herself but I found one and it made me powerful.
HM: Can you share any puppetry-specific influences? For those who don’t know much about puppetry, who else should we check out?
So many! Kevin McTurk and his company The Spirit Cabinet are creating the most truly breathtaking puppet films. I learned of them when I was just starting out on this journey and I remember thinking “Welp, I’d better just give up now cause I’ll never be this good and the real world will never be as perfect as the one he’s created.” Bruce Schwartz created and manipulated some of the most achingly beautiful puppets in the most poignant pieces. When I first learned of him my heart leapt to see a puppeteer whose methods were so similar to my own, from his decision to show his hands to his desire to force folks to feel. Watch his performance in The Double Life of Veronique and his bunraku feature on The Muppet Show and get ready to see what makes me cry. Ilka Schonbein will show you her viscera and make you like it. Handspring Puppet Company will make you question reality. Ugh, puppets are great.
Knowing that you’re a self-taught puppet-maker and puppeteer, do you have any advice for someone looking to get into puppetry themselves?
There is no wrong way to puppet. That’s the whole point of puppetry, it’s limitlessness. Learn from those who came before you, those you admire, but always count yourself among your muses. If what they did doesn’t work for you, do it your own way. Keep your eyes more open than ever before to the world around you, to muscles, to movements, to faces, to moments; you will then become your greatest resource.
Any tours or other big projects planned at this point?
A million things planned but nothing on paper! A North/Northeast tour or two for sure. A west coast return for sure. Writing more music, some longer pieces. Hoping to gather up the courage/abandon my stubbornness and record audio of some of my songs (but no promises). Hopefully some music video work (fingers crossed). Other than that, everything in the world. I want to do everything.
I spoke with Suzanne LaGrande for The Shaman’s Notebook podcast over the summer and it slipped my mind that our chat was published last week! This was a fun conversation, and as always I was awkward as hell and said some weird things, but c’est moi I guess.
I have been enamored of petals and blossoms and flowering things far longer than my love of ghost stories and scary things. It goes further back even than my obsession with magic and fairy tales, or pretty dresses, perfumes, and glittering gems and jewelry. Before I could turn the pages of the books that I love, before I could slice or stir or simmer or in the kitchen, before I even learned how to lose myself in daydreams…there were flowers.
(These are all of the things that make up my heart, both the shadowed corners and the illuminated spaces. But flowers were there first.)
When I first saw the lustrous blooms and kindred glooms of Alyssa Thorne’s midnight floriography, my heart skipped a strange beat and breathed a soft, fluttery sigh, recognizing pieces of itself in this photographer’s exquisite arrangements. Evocative of tenebrous twilights and somber echoes of the past, as well brimming with lavish, luxuriant regeneration and reawakenings, it encompasses all of the beautiful, terrible contradictions and certainties and even the liminal gateways between life and death. Lensed through Alyssa’s dreamy, thoughtful eye, flowers are all of these things. As my own heart always instinctively knew.
I am so thrilled that Alyssa agreed to an interview and you will find our chat below, wherein we discuss the secrets and storytelling of the still life photograph, art as a powerful, jeweled sword of rebellion, and working with what you’ve got, where you are, to create things of indescribable beauty and connection.
To keep this 31 Days of Horror-related, I pressed Alyssa for a few favorite horror movies. Her response? Though she confesses she does not especially care for Rob Zombie (ha! sometimes I don’t, either!) she shares that she is a huge Wes Craven fan, with her favorite of his films being Scream. A “real sucker for good cinematography and a haunting score,” she loves The Vvitch and It Follows. But she also loves Sam Raimi’s silliness!
What is it about the still-life as a realm of artistic expression that appeals to you?
I recently spent a lot of time writing an artist statement for my current body of work, and thinking about my “why” – I don’t think I can say it any better than I did in the statement, so I will put it below:
“Still life – Meanings hidden, shown, and yet to be discovered. I want to show that an entire world can lie in a bowl of fruit, or even a vase of flowers. I hold still life sacred. It serves as a means to truly shape an image, rather than simply take a picture of what already exists. I do not just document, I conduct. I orchestrate small universes, existing among the petals and juice of spilled fruits. I find the cosmos in a single flower. I heal my wounds with dirt-caked hands, using tiny symbols as small as an apple seed. Melding parts into a whole, I create an ephemeral waypoint before the items depart to my dinner table, shelves, or back to the earth. Classical vanitas, memento mori, floral still lives – all within the dark world of my table.
With simple tools and familiar objects, I spin tales of how death has touched my life, share stories of where I come from, echo songs taught to me by the forests and hills of the land. I create from myths, folktales, and literature. I create beauty for beauty’s sake – to escape out of reality into a lush and vibrant place, bursting with life, possibility, and love. Birthing art into a cold and hard world, with no other motivation than to show beauty and connection to lost souls, is an act of rebellion. Women have been historically scorned for lack of substance when creating conventionally beautiful work. I reject this notion and weaponize it. Beauty is power. It can cut through monotony like a jeweled sword – and I intend to wield it as long as I can.”
Some of your arrangements and creations recall classical vanitas paintings, works of memento mori–can you speak to these influences in your practice?
Yes! These are all incredibly important influences in my work. A little background – I have been photographing since I was 15, so about 18 years now. I began making still life work in college, where I was a photography major and art history minor. I went to The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as well as Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I was incredibly lucky as a student to be at these schools, especially as I was a poor kid on grants and loans. Both were on the fenway in Boston, and being a student, I was allowed free entry into all the museums. My first school was actually next door to the Boston MFA itself, and I was a short walk away from the magical, irreplaceable Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I spent lunch breaks and days off wandering the halls of museums, staring at statues, Vermeers, and Van Eycks.
I soon specialized my art history classes and research on the Dutch masters and other great still-life artists. The sheer amount of history and the volume of work to look at drew me in and held me there. Still lives seemed magical to me, and still do. The symbolism, the luxurious colors, the dreamy, liminal qualities they all seem to share. Every still life has secrets and layers to uncover. I especially felt drawn to memento mori and vanitas. Both serve as reminders or allegories of death. My life has been colored by death and grief in so many ways from a very young age, so it’s important to me to represent this in my work. I hope history echoes a little in my pieces. I only started showing my still life about 2 years ago. For the longest time, I thought no one would like them, or even care about such traditional work, when the landscape of current popular photography is so portrait-focused. But I was wrong! I didn’t gain any type of audience online until I started posting my still life and writing.
What other influences and inspiration do you draw from in your daily art practice?
Film. Cinematography and lighting, color grading. I took a lot of elective film studies in college and I will never be able to get enough. I think my work is as reflective of this as it is of traditional painting. I learned how to use color from film. I have seen In the Mood for Love about 80 times just to study the lighting. I also really draw on seasons and the local landscape. I live in the Pacific Northwest, so the ability to forage for my work is not something I take for granted. Of course, I am heavily influenced by painting, so I look at some form of painting daily. My favorite book I have is a hefty tome, with every painting in The Vatican. It’s a lovely thing to flip through while I have my morning coffee. It might surprise you to know I avoid looking at photography altogether, and almost all the photographers I follow online are friends. I think there is enough to inform my work out there that is not related to photography at all.
When I look at your art, brimming with petals and blooms in varying stages of blossom and decay, I think of the symbolism and language of flowers, of how, for example, in the Victorian era, flowers were primarily used to deliver messages that couldn’t be spoken aloud. I also find myself contemplating the various magical properties of the various buds and leaves within your compositions and wonder if you’re not gathering the ingredients to do a bit of spellwork. I am curious as to whether there are elements of either floriography or flowerwitchery in your creations or is my imagination running away with me?
I love floriography and in most cases, my choice of flower is deliberate. I have a small collection of books on Victorian Floriography and I refer to them often. Choices are always made, whether for a traditional meaning, a color-coded to a feeling, or a secret meaning I have devised. Almost all of my work is posted alongside a lengthy artist statement where I detail my choices for the viewer to demystify the work a tiny bit, and I often talk about the flowers, or other symbols, and their meanings to me. I think this is an essential part of the work for me, imbuing these objects and blooms with new meaning.
As for spellwork, I am not the least bit involved in actual witchcraft! I am terribly sensible and not very magical at all. I am deeply fascinated by various occult practices, but unfortunately, I am just a plain old atheist and the magical properties of any of the pieces I use is quite lost on me. For me, the magic is in the storytelling I do with these materials.
Ok after that monstrously long question, a far simpler one (maybe?) What is your favorite flower, and why?
Roses! Which sounds so mundane, but I grew up outside Portland, Oregon – the City of Roses. The famous rose gardens there are one of my favorite places to be. They remind me of home, of the gardens, of my grandmother’s face powder – it was called Ombre Rose, and I used to sneak into her bathroom to smell it as a child. There are seemingly infinite variations of rose, which fascinates me to no end. The smell, the thorns, the velvet petals. Easily my favorite to look at and to work with. My daughter’s middle name is Rose for this very reason. Beauty, nostalgia, and a cure for my homesickness.
Do you keep a flower garden as part of your artistry? Do you grow any of the gorgeous posies that find their way in front of your lens?
I have not a single plant in my home, nor a garden, just a revolving collection of cut florals. I live in a tiny 895 sq ft apartment with my partner, child, and rabbit, so there is a bit of a space issue. In the future, when we find our forever house, I would absolutely love to (and plan to) have a garden to work out of. My love affair with flowers began way before my beginning with still life. I grew up gardening with my grandmother and kept my own flowers as a small child. I spent a lot of time outside and in the forest, so I have held onto a deep attachment to trees, flowers, and plants of all kinds. Much of my very early, awkward teenage photography consisted of black and whites of the neighborhood gardens, printed in the void of my high school darkroom. For now, I source flowers from local farms and markets, as well as responsible foraging in our area.
What is your space like where you compose and shoot these lovely arrangements? And with regard to space in general, I’m wondering if we peeked in your home, would we find a house-sized version of one of your photos, or is your interior decor style totally different from your work? I’m sorry if that’s an obnoxious question, I’m really nosy!
This answer is for some reason, very astounding to most people. I guess most expect me to have some kind of gigantic studio or fancy lighting setup. As I mentioned above, my apartment is miniscule, so I actually shoot all my still life on a very small end table with a backdrop, next to my living room sliding glass door. I do not use studio lighting by choice, but there is plenty of sun there and I can shape the light however I want using many pieces of $2 black poster board from Staples. It is very utilitarian and not romantic at all as far as space goes. It’s next to my couch and my rabbit is always lurking under the table, hoping I will drop a rose petal for him to eat.
I am actually really proud of this weird little space in my apartment, and that I can churn out my best work from my living room end table with nothing but my subject, a camera, and some poster board. I post a lot of reels of my process with this decidedly boring area on full display, because I really want the young photographers or people just starting to know that you can create ANYWHERE, and with anything. You do not need expensive equipment or an aesthetically pleasing studio to make high-quality work. Art is for everyone, not just people with money. It’s really a mission of mine to spread that message because of the recent influx of aesthetic obsession on social media. It’s easy to think everyone has it better or easier than you, you know?
As for my decor, it’s not too nosy! I love decor. I am very proud of my work, but I am just not compelled to hang my own art. 98% of the work in my house is in my bedroom/office space, and it is almost all prints of classical work. I have a lot of still life paintings, transportive landscapes from the Hudson River School, any painting of rabbits I can find, and my all-time favorite portrait – Sargent’s Madame X. All my modern art, and pieces from friends and other independent contemporaries, is in the kitchen.
Do you have any rituals or practices that accompany the act of creation? And conversely, I suppose, what inspires you when you find yourself blocked or in a rut?
I do a lot of planning, so pieces may be conceived months before they appear on my page. With all pieces, I spend a really long time getting to know the flowers or food before I use them. I need to know how something will bend, flow, move. Will it snap or break? Does it need supports? Can I pin it? This is ritualistic in nature I suppose, as I go into deep, almost meditative thinking when I spend time with my subjects. It can become trancelike, and my partner has to shout at me if he needs something! haha.
When I am in a rut, that only signals to me I need a break. I simply take time off making work if I can allow it with commitments and such. I work two jobs and have a small child running around, so it’s easy to get burnt out. Taking a small break from creation allows my brain and heart a rest. It offers a slow-down, and lets the stream of ideas begin to flow again.
This final photo, as you can tell from the change in quality and arrangement, and well, everything, was one that I took last night. Of a cocktail that I created in celebration of this interview and inspired by Alyssa’s work, “Flowers from the Underworld.” We both agree that despite some contemporary reframing by poets and writers, the myth of Persephone’s captivity in the underworld is very much not a love story. It’s gross and it’s terribly, profoundly sad. In “Flowers from the Underworld” Alyssa does not discount or dismiss the tragedy, but instead, imbues it with a sense of hope, and of healing. Capturing and conveying the sentiment of how even in the midst of hell, roses may grow. I love that.
And I will admit, “Flowers from the Underworld” is a better name for this cocktail than my original name, which was “Poisoning that fucker, Hades!” I don’t have measurements, just use your pre-booze eyeballs and good sense.
Ingredients and loose recipe
-gin (1 oz? 2?)
-unsweetened pomegranate juice, fresh or bottled (2 tbsp?)
-half a lime, juiced (but lemon is okay in a pinch)
-a bit of orgeat (2 tsp? a drizzle?)
-spicy ginger beer
Shake pomegranate juice, citrus, gin, and orgeat with ice in a shaker until well chilled. Strain into coupe glass (or whatever you want). Top with the spicy fizzes of your favorite ginger beer. Heal your wounds, love yourself, and grow some roses.