The Scoop on Poop: Mouse infestation at the public storage unit

Storage surprise at Public Storage in

There’s a dead mouse sitting three steps down from the second landing in the public stairwell at Public Storage on Park Avenue in Cranston. It’s probably not getting much attention, since most people take the elevator, but it’s a strong representation of what’s going on at this storage facility.

When Ronnie opened his storage unit to vacate it on March 17, he found a thick blanket of mouse droppings and a liberal sprinkling of mouse urine covering everything. That included items not easily cleaned and items with irreplaceable sentimental value. “I was planning to donate a lot of this to Big Brothers / Big Sisters,” he said, describing the many boxes of his son’s old toys. “They can’t take it in this condition – some of this will never get clean now.” Ronnie wanted to come back with proper cleaning implements and clothes, but was told he had to vacate the unit immediately or be charged for an additional month. “I’ve had my belongings here for almost four years, I’ve checked on them periodically, and I didn’t see any problems until today,” he told Motif. In the frenzy of his move, it was easy to smell and taste the feces in the air, and if you stayed near any of the units we investigated, you could feel that gritty sensation in the back of your throat from breathing in something bad, unless you had the foresight to bring a mask. “We’re out of masks,” said the facility manager, who had been giving them to customers earlier in the day.

We found four other storage space renters whose units all contained copious mouse droppings, and one customer who told us his unit was clean. None of the units with droppings, according to their renters, had contained any food. One also housed the desiccated remains of one of the rodents.

Jim Nichols, who has a unit in the facility, stored his personal belongings while he was between apartments. Everything in his unit, front to back, had mouse droppings on it. “I don’t see how anybody could ever use that couch again,” he said, pointing to a brown sofa stored on its side – the part facing upward covered in droppings and urine stains. “I’ve been renting here for four years. I haven’t checked on it in a while. We can’t take this into my apartment. Why should we have to put our safety and health in danger to take our ruined stuff to the dump?” Nichols was cleaning out the unusable items because, if he didn’t, he would be charged an abandonment fee. “It’s been going on for three weeks for me, wearing the mask and gloves – I work at a Walmart pharmacy – but I didn’t think I’d need those here,” Jim said. For many who use storage facilities, it’s an attempt to save belonging while between apartments or while in economic difficulties – which makes each additional fee a greater source of stress.

“If we don’t they’re going to charge us an abandonment fee, but it’s all stuff we can’t possibly use now. How is that fair?” asked one customer. Mark Montero, who was helping Jim move, said, “If this were my stuff, I would lose my mind. You can’t use any of that now.”

Local hip-hop musician Aura, formerly Iris Creamer, who has been profiled by Motif in the past (motifri.com/iriscreamer), found droppings around and inside her packed storage unit. “I’ll hope for the best for the rest of my stuff,” she said with concern about the droppings she could see. “I’m worried about what will be in there when I move out!”

Everyone we spoke with told us they were not storing food in their units. Another customer who wished to remain anonymous told us, “I was between apartments, now I have a place to bring my furniture, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this. It’s just disgusting when you pay to have things secure and then they’re ruined. I’ve had this unit for just over six months. We don’t store food or anything edible here. For the amount we pay – just over $200 – we would expect better care. My sister has a unit toward the end of hall, and she had a similar situation.” This customer had already talked to the management a week earlier. “They said they would get someone up here to clean up and make sure mice weren’t in here. But nothing happened. I’m a very clean and particular person, so this does not feel good at all.”

The storage facility is indoors, with open ceilings that feature a metal grid to top off each unit. It’s easy to imagine mice running along the grid and dropping their spoor as they go, regardless of whether they enter the unit. In this case, a lot of mice. We asked Tony DeJesus, Vice President at Big Blue Bug Exterminators how an infestation like this can grow, and how dangerous it can be. “There are alpha mice, and when the younger mice mature, the alphas kick them out of their territory. They say, ‘go find your own place,’ and that’s how infestations spread like that. One little mouse can generate as much as 50 [feces] a night.” Why are the droppings dangerous? “The first thing is hantavirus, that’s in the urine and the feces. The feces you see, the urine you don’t see, but if either are dry and you disturb them or try to sweep them up, those particles become airborne, and if you inhale them they can make you sick. You can also get things like dysentery – people will get diarrhea from being around the droppings – you can get salmonella, which can make you very, very sick. The key thing is the cleaning – if you clean, you need to use a disinfectant. Bleach and water is the CDC recommendation … you spray it down, and then you wait a while and you don’t sweep. You try to pick them up as much as you can. You’ve got to be careful, wear gloves, wear a mask, even goggles.”

“I’m paying over $200 a month to keep my stuff here – I don’t really expect that to come with mouse poop,” said another storage customer. “I feel like Public Storage is effectively saying, if you can’t afford our insurance, and we mess up, too bad, you lose,” added another person helping with the move. “No one would agree to store items in a place that they’d assume would cause harm to them and render them unsalvageable.”

While some customers had purchased insurance offered up front, Ronnie’s attempt to file a claim met with only more frustration – the insurance only covered up to $250 in rodent damage, less a $100 deductible (a total of $150) and that only for items for which he could provide both damage photos and original receipts of purchase. “It’s not going to be worth the amount of paperwork,” he concluded.

Public Storage is a national franchise. The manager on site declined to comment. Their national office, in California, said it is their company policy to never talk to the press. About anything. Cranston’s building inspection department could not be reached for comment. We asked each customer we spoke with, “Would you rent a unit here again?” No one said yes.

Additional reporting by Mike Ryan

Hagiography or New Saints

Local Rhode Island artist Norlan Olivo will be displaying his work in the group show Hagiography or New Saints, at Distillery Gallery at 516 East 2nd Street, Boston. As a long-term resident of AS220, Olivo hopes to highlight Providence’s evolution as a collaborative arts community, while challenging some of Providence’s darker undertones. Providence on Fire, the title of Olivo’s first sculpture and political piece, is in response to Providence’s parking and ticketing system as it applies to economically disadvantage communities. The sculpture is a car cut in half and covered in parking tickets. It will be on display from March 6 through April 3. To learn more about Olivo and his upcoming shows, visit Instagram @yoonorlan

The Intelligent Treatment of Clothing: Reed McLaren on the sustainable wardrobe

Reed McLaren has spent time researching how to make timeless clothing pieces last. Initially helpful in the curation of her exquisite natural material vintage collection, The House of Ama, she now focuses her efforts on exploring this subject matter to help others. McLaren shared some of her knowledge at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum as a presenter in The Lost Art of Garment Grooming and Mending in the Modern Age. The presentation reviewed some of the ways the lifespan of garments could be extended through the use of care and tools. She was gracious enough to let Motif in on some of these secrets.

McLaren says some of the keys to maintaining clothing are how and how often they are cleaned. Below are a list of items and tips that can help ensure clothes stay looking fresh:

Garment brushes. According to McLaren, garment brushing was once considered an essential practice and is still an excellent way to keep our clothes, especially coats, suits and blazers, in great shape. Clothing is not only exposed to the dust and debris from the outside environment, but the oils from our own skin can damage fibers over time. Brushing against the nap of the garment removes debris and oils, while brushing down restores the nap and appearance of the garment. The best garment brushes contain natural hair, but a velvet-faced lint brush also works wonders. 

A sweater comb. Sweaters and knits are naturally prone to pilling, especially in areas that are exposed to friction during wear, and need a little help to stay looking new. A sweater comb, which has a fine mesh screen, can be used to remove pills and reveal a rejuvenated layer, and is most useful for resilient natural fibers such as wool and cashmere. 

Invest in a garment bag. A mesh washing bag can help protect garments from agitation that can occur during the wash cycle of a machine. To save money, a white pillowcase tied at the opening is sufficient in doing the trick and allows a variety of items to be washed in the machine. If one has the time, handwashing in a no-rinse formula such as Eucalan or Soak can be a great way to safely clean your favorite pieces and minimize water usage.

Avoid the dryer. The dryer, especially at high heats, can shrink clothing and cause damage that can shorten the life of a garment, particularly true for active wear, leggings and jeans that contain spandex. Air drying on a rack is good practice for the pieces you care about, and airing out, in general, can help reduce the need for washing by freshening garments in-between wears. 

When shopping for garments, McLaren says that selecting pieces made from resilient natural fibers, such as linen, higher quality cotton and fine woolens, are a solid choice. She also searches for signs of well-made construction, such as sturdier seams and thicker material used for wovens and knits. There are other benefits to taking care when selecting, such as having positive effects on the environment and your wallet, McLaren says.

Cost. With the ready availability of cheap clothing, many people have concerns about spending a higher sum for one or two quality items. For most, it is more practical to spend smaller amounts of money on a higher quantity of clothing in order to get more bang for your buck. But are they? The cost-return on this reasoning does not quite add up. Clothing that is cheaply made will deteriorate much faster than quality made items, which can cause consumers to spend more on clothing in the long run. This is not saying you shouldn’t negotiate or look for deals. Thrift stores can be helpful in this area and often carry garments made from a previous era which can be of higher quality.

Environmental impact. Consumer choices and habits can have a huge impact on the environment when it comes to clothing. While a significant amount of energy is used in the manufacturing process and beyond our control, it can be surprising to learn that an equal amount of energy can be consumed by the washer and dryer during the “use phase” of a garment. Washing less not only reduces energy use but helps us hang on to our clothes longer, which means less is going to the dump. According to the US EPA specific-data, there were 33.8 billion pounds of textiles discarded as municipal solid waste in 2017, of which 22.4 billion pounds went to landfills. Hopefully, with smarter shopping and care, this can be fixed.

One of the final benefits is that with lasting garments comes a story. The longer we help them last, the more history a sweater or blouse can carry. As we develop a deeper relationship, the idea of simply discarding these items is no longer an appealing option. With this in mind, there are many positive reasons to choose sustainability. If one doesn’t have the budget to completely transform their wardrobe, try adding one piece of clothing at a time and start exploring intelligent methods of care to see what works for you. In the meantime, the environment, your wallet and the world is looking forward to your next outfit.

To learn more about the care and keeping of clothing visit @thehouseofama

The Monster Is in the House!: How to never be in a horror movie

Does the hallway in your house look like this to you right now?

If you’re bored while stuck at home, and if recent events have not frightened you enough already, you may be brave enough to use this time to catch up on horror movies and learn something about how to avoid being the star of one yourself. This isn’t for those of you who feel like you are already living a horror movie and couldn’t possibly watch one. 

Volumes have been written on how to survive a horror movie, but what about those lazy/sane people who have no interest in being in a horror movie in the first place? For those people, I have compiled a list of helpful suggestions that will help you avoid situations that are commonly the plots of horror movies, so that you never find yourself in those precarious and deadly predicaments in the first place. Due to the breadth of terrifying creatures, killers, catastrophes and other worldly beings that threaten human existence, I have listed, in no particular order, rules to abide by if you wish to stay out of the horror limelight. 

  1. STAY OUT of the water. This includes: oceans, ponds, lakes, rivers, deep puddles, swamps and even sewers. You never know what giant, flesh-eating monster is lurking below. Take giant sharks, for example. Or piranhas. There are crocodiles, alligators (mostly found in sewers), mysterious blobs, giant squids or deep-sea creatures that amalgamate you into their skin. Though recently it has been discovered that sharks can fly, and maybe even gamble, at least if you are on land, you have a chance of outrunning them. Humans are not natural swimmers, unless it’s in shallow water. Like a tub or something. There you just have to worry about ghosts trying to drown you. Okay, maybe just take showers… Oh, wait no. Just don’t bathe at all.
  2. DO NOT go into space. Space is a breeding ground for crap. Nothing good comes from space, especially if you are in a spaceship going after another spaceship that mysteriously lost contact with Earth. Avoid this mission at all costs. The results could be devastating: having your whole crew eaten by an alien; becoming part of an alien hunting game and having to choose sides (and who wants to choose sides?); coming to the realization that androids are jerks; being impregnated by an alien and having to get an alien C-section without an epidural; and Sam Neil. 
  3. DO NOT have children. Children get possessed by Satan, make deals with Satan, run away to corn fields and take orders from Satan, or are born Satan and grow up into, well, Sam Neil. And it’s not just Satan. Oh, no. Occasionally, children even commune with evil spirits or some ancient deity with a knack for filming them murdering their parents. I wouldn’t adopt children either. You think you are getting a cute little girl from Russia and then BAM! she’s actually a 30-year-old psychopath who kills your husband (don’t get any ideas, ladies and gentlemen). 
  4. NO DOLLS. Some dolls are harmless, but some are possessed by evil spirits, serial killers who will use voodoo on your kid (which is also why not having a kid comes in handy) and more evil spirits. Teddy bears, Jacks in the Box, action figures and puppets also will try to kill you. In my opinion, don’t risk it. Your kids don’t need toys anyway, because you don’t have kids.  
  5. DO NOT go in basements or attics. First off, most basements and attics smell and have rats. Second, most basements and attics have secrets that will get you murdered or cause you to lose your mind. If you hear a noise in one of these places, engage all locks, turn up the radio or television and avoid inspection. You know the old adage: Curiosity killed the person who decided to see what all that noise was about. 
  6. DO NOT TOUCH old stuff. Stay out of antique stores, museums, your grandma’s attic (we’ve covered this) and away from anything that has not been made in the past few years. If you see something that is particularly shiny and is beckoning to you, RUN! If you’re not allowed to get it wet or feed it after midnight (I am not talking about your significant other) run! If for some reason you find yourself in contact with a jewel, puzzle box or oil lamp, avoid the rubbing motion and have someone else throw it into the ocean since you are not allowed near the ocean. 
  7. DO NOT have sex. Sex makes you vulnerable to machete-wielding maniacs, werewolves, teeth in weird places and pretty much everything else. This is especially true if the sex takes place when you are camping, are in high school or college, or are a 30-year-old pretending to be in high school or college. If none of these apply to you, still avoid sex, except in the safety of your bedroom (no hotels). The only exception to the “no sex” rule is if a religiously zealous cult needs a virgin to sacrifice and you are the only virgin in sight. In that case copulate with the nearest available being. No one will judge you after — except maybe the people trying to kill you — but they don’t matter. They are so 1600 AD. 
  8. DO NOT run over other people’s family members. You probably shouldn’t run over your own family members either, but that’s not for me to say. What I can tell you, is that if you run someone else’s family member over and do not immediately report it to the cops, they or their surviving kin will know! Especially if this occurs during the summer months. They will find you. They will kill you. You will die. 
  9. DO NOT read from books that were written in an ancient language. If you can’t spell it, don’t read it (unless you are 6 and learning how to read. Yay learning!). If it involves cutting your palm and drizzling your blood on a pentagram, put the book down. If it says, “DO NOT READ,” guess what? Don’t read it. Unless, that is, you want an invisible evil chasing after you to a really distressing violin assemblage while you’re being assaulted by a tree. Say NO to reading! 
  10. DO NOT look into the mirror and chant stuff. There is no need to say anything into the mirror more than one time unless it’s something existential or encouraging like you go girl or why, God, is this my life? There is no shame in this, we’ve all done it! However, under no circumstances ever say the words Mary and Candy(man) into any reflective surface. These are two names that should be easy to remember since they cannot be more opposite in their stereotypical associations. 
  11. FORGET trying to prove urban legends. They are legends for a reason. They belong in the past and are not meant to be drudged up. Any time anyone tries to do a dissertation or documentary on some myth, they end up failing — I mean dying (and probably also getting an F because they are not alive to hand their paper in to their professor). The Blair Witch Project, The Ripper, that movie that I am almost certain was trying to prove some sort of crap because it is called Urban Legend, and the movie named after the word you were just told not to say into the mirror multiple times; all of these are examples of why not to do your homework (you’re welcome, teenagers). 
  12. DO NOT take vacations. Vacations could lead to you being sent home in a body bag, or at least with some of your organs missing. And definitely do not go to Slovakia, or any country ending in “okia,” especially if you plan on cheapin’ out on a hostel. It’s just not okay. Save your money for a real hotel. You’re grown. This especially goes for camping. Along similar lines to the point above, do not rendezvous to destinations that involve sleeping, hiking or otherwise exploring in the woods. This includes attending summer camp, camping in a cabin, camping in a camper and camping in a tent. Stuff gets real when you go camping. Forget lions, tigers and bears — bigfoot, hockey masks, campfire tales that turn out to be true, oh my. Oh, and witches who rip your teeth out of your head and make you stand in the corner. If you want to save on dental, go camping. If not, stay home!
  13. DO NOT join a cult. Sometimes you don’t know you are joining a cult until it’s too late. A good indication that it is a cult is if there is a large gathering of people whose garb is slightly outdated and who hold any kind of ceremony worshipping something that a normal person would consider metaphysical. If the word sacrifice is mentioned, you find things lying around made of hay, or everybody in the group stops what they are doing and stares at you for more than five seconds AND you are not in a biker bar, you might be in a cult. The most telltale sign that you have accidentally gotten involved in a cult is that they will not let you leave. By then, it may be too late. To be safe, you may want to avoid any of these so-called “retreats.” They are not retreats that you will ever come home from. 
  14. NEVER steal a leprechaun’s gold. If you steal a leprechaun’s gold, he will murder you in the worst ways possible. This includes bursting out of your naughty places (yes, these are facts). There is no hiding from a leprechaun. He will even find you in space (see above regarding space). And let’s face it, what are you going to do with a leprechaun’s gold? It’s old European currency. It’s like finding a stash of Canadian coins mixed in with real money and hoping no one will notice. I mean really, are you going to walk into a store and throw down some leprechaun gold and expect the cashier to say, “Oh cool, leprechaun gold,” and then sell you some items. No. So don’t bother. 
  15. If a bomb or chemical experiment once took place there, DO NOT go there. It is never safe to go into quarantined areas, not only because of lingering chemicals, but also because of mutants. Yes, mutants. And if for some reason you do escape these mutants, the government will kill you. So, best not go, even if it’s just for kicks. 
  16. NEVER — I repeat — NEVER go to an independently owned gas station. Independently owned gas stations are known for screwing you over. Though it’s nice to support mom and pop businesses, those who work at independently owned gas stations tend to steer you in the wrong direction. Sure, they try to warn you at first, but if you’re a narcissistic, annoyingly pressing a-hole, they will eventually send you in the direction of the nearest murder house. 
  17. AVOID the south. Not the whole south. Mainly just Texas. Though Louisiana is known for its voodoo, the more imminent threat is inbred families, which for some reason seem to all be located in Texas (or nearby states, shout out to y’all). Though I don’t think this is a statistically accurate representation of familial relationships, if you are in an area where a tumble weed manifests itself, turn around and go the other way. You do not want THAT southern hospitality. 
  18. AVOID MAINE. A lot of weird stuff happens in Maine. Like cats and creepy-looking toddlers resurrecting out of the ground. Yes, it may have terrific lobsters, but it also has clowns that eat children, which is not as much a problem for you because you do not have children. So, I guess you won’t be burying your children in desecrated ground either — so I guess you really can go to Maine. But at the first sign of trouble, GET OUT! Oh, also, watch out for vampires. They seemed to have taken up residence there as well. 
  19. BE NICE to girls named Carrie. Those girls will whoop your butt. In fact, follow the golden rule that says you should treat everyone as you would treat yourself. Unless of course, you treat yourself like crap by sitting on the couch watching YouTube for days and eating a ridiculous amount of chips and sugar (why, God, is this my life?). You never know when how you treated someone in the past could come up and bite you. They WILL get their revenge. So watch out!
  20. DO NOT buy houses where people have been murdered, that you know are haunted, that you inherited and know are haunted, or that are on Indian burial grounds. This also goes for apartments. For some reason, condos seem to be okay. Just to be safe, do your research. If you find yourself living in a house that is haunted, get out immediately. Don’t wait to see if things resolve themselves. They won’t and you will die. 
  21. DO NOT take detours. Detours lead to death. The less pavement on the detour road, the more painful the screams. When you see a detour sign, but there is obviously no construction, plow through that crap. The bridge is never really out. (And for those of you who have not yet picked up on the fact that this is satire, please obey all traffic laws).  

So, there you have it! A drinking age number of helpful hints and suggestions on how not to get yourself killed. Stay safe and see you at the next horror flick! NOT. 

Royally Creepy Creations: Local artist Jesse King’s art will fuel your nightmares

Jesse King

Jesse King is a self-taught artist living in Rhode Island who turns ordinary children’s toys into freakishly ghoulish monsters. One of King’s creations was recently seen at an event hosted by PVD Horror to benefit The Providence Animal Rescue League. The creepy, razor-toothed bear was extremely popular among the crowd and left attendees wondering where they could see more of King’s work. King answers this question and more below in her interview with Motif.

Amanda Grafe: How would you describe what you do? 

Jesse King: I use my special effects artistry skills to transform ordinary toys into creepy creations. I have a growing inventory of unwanted dolls and stuffed animals that I acquire from thrift stores, friends and yard sales.  There is an abundance of unwanted porcelain dolls and toys out there. I see this as a unique way to rescue these objects from ending up in the landfill by repurposing them.

Sleep well!

AG: Besides stuffed animals and dolls, what other materials do you use?

JK: I use a variety of materials, but what I consistently use are liquid latex, paint, stage blood and a glue gun.  

AG: What is the process of creating like for you?

JK: I have a dedicated corner in my living room for my SFX art. It’s this awesome storage cube shelf that holds most of my supplies and it has an attached table. I take a “before” picture of the toy in its original form and think of how I could make it completely disturbing. Or I just start working on it and see where it takes me. I may start by melting and molding a bunch of sharp teeth from plastic or building many layers of liquid latex and tissue paper on the doll’s face depending on what look I’m going for. Or I might just do a three-step process that gives the dolls that old cracked look. I aim to make every creation one-of-a-kind. I am resourceful and have used body parts and pieces from other dolls or teddy bears. I once used a decapitated Barbie head to make a shrunken head look. Once I piece and mold everything together and blow dry what needs to be dried, I get to paint. The painting is my favorite part. I love mixing custom colors and blending them into my work. That’s when everything starts to come to life. I think finding a suitable outfit for a doll is the toughest part. Most of the time, I can just use the outfit they came with after I dye it a murky gray or brown color.  Sometimes, they just don’t have a suitable outfit so I’ve been known to shop the thrift store in search for the perfect outfit in the baby clothes section.  Once, I even debated bringing my creepy clown doll in with me to find an outfit that would fit him, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.  When everything else is completed on my creation, stage blood and a clear coat sealer are the final touches. I list my creation online with its own name and short back story.

AG: What first inspired you to begin transforming children’s toys into scary creatures?

JK: I’ve loved horror movies and books since I was a little kid. I’m a fan of made-up horror, gore, monsters and anything strange. I’ve loved special effects makeup for a long time. I used to do SFX makeup on people for practice and for Halloween. I even volunteered my services for a low budget movie one time. It was a lot of fun, but what I loved more than anything was creating my own gory prosthetics. I was so happy and content working on a dangling eyeball or a set of exposed ribs for hours. Then I just stopped doing SFX for years because I wanted to go back to school and get a “grown up” job. Life just got really busy and I never had the down time to be creative. I always missed doing SFX makeup, but I didn’t see how it could provide a good return on the investment of my time. I actually stumbled on the idea of creepy dolls by accident. In addition to my full-time job, I was selling stuff on eBay on the side. I used to watch YouTube videos to learn what kinds of products were selling online. One day, I came across a YouTube video about “Creepy Dolls that sold on eBay” and I was intrigued. I did not know that people collected creepy dolls! I guess I never even thought about it.  I’ve seen those “creepy dolls” at the stores around Halloween and I even own one but it never occurred to me that there are people who collect them year round! After this, I immediately started researching what kind of creepy dolls were selling and what people were looking for. I saw that people were transforming ordinary dolls into scary dolls and I knew right away, this was my niche! Soon after that, I was at a yard sale and this woman was selling a ton of dolls. I saw this as a sign and was so excited that I bought them all! I dug up my old special effects train case, ordered a new gallon of liquid latex and stage blood and I got to work! It was then that I discovered that I LOVE transforming dolls into my own works of horror art. It was the perfect kind of work for my introverted personality. Dolls don’t feel uncomfortable sitting for hours while I paint them. I don’t feel obligated to make casual conversation with them. Most importantly, I don’t feel like it is a liability to work on them. I don’t have to fear them having an allergic reaction to the materials and I can use a hot glue gun on their face and not worry about getting sued. When they are finished, I can spray them down with a clear coat of spray paint and not have to worry about them passing out …  just kidding on the last parts. I’ve always been responsible with my art, but it is so refreshing to be able to practice my art in a less demanding, quiet environment that is comfortable for me.

AG: Do you create by yourself or are other people involved in what you do?

JK: All my creations are made solely by me. My dog, Hank, likes to claim he is supervising me, but he really is just napping on the couch nearby.

AG: Are there any people in particular who you have learned from or have inspired you who work in a similar genre of art?

JK: I’ve always been a big fan of YouTubers, Glam and Gore and Ellimacs.  They are special effects makeup artists who create their own prosthetics and do mainly horror looks. I’ve learned some techniques from them. I also appreciate SFX makeup on films like “The Walking Dead” and ’80s horror movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, Killer Klowns from Outer Space and I guess Puppet Master and Child’s Play are similar to my genre of art as well.

AG: What role does the horror genre play in your creative process?

JK: My creative process is primarily based on horror. I aim to create cringe-worthy art that reminds you of being a kid and imagining a monster lurking under your bed. Almost every creation looks better with some more blood.  

AG: What is your favorite horror movie?

JK: I don’t have a particular favorite movie. I’m a big fan of monster, zombie, vampire and paranormal movies. It’s fascinating to me to see a creature that was once in someone’s imagination come to life in a movie or a work of art. My favorite generations of horror are the ’80s through ’90s.  This is when, in my opinion, horror movies were actually scary. There were a ton of handmade special effects that were just creative, messy and scarier than a lot of cookie cutter scenes that are digitally done today. There was something disturbing about a real person actually being behind the monster on the screen.

AG: What are you trying to say with your work?

JK: There is nothing more powerful than the imagination. You’re never too old to play with toys.

AG: How is your work meant to contribute to the world of art?

JK: They are a fun escape for people who enjoy horror and appreciate the art of transforming an ordinary object into something dark and creepy. My creations are an awesome way for horror collectors to creep out their friends or trick or treaters on Halloween. I’d like it to be that I can contribute to keeping handmade horror art alive in a generation where everything is CGI or digitally done.

AG: Where can we find more of your work?  

JK: Follow me on Facebook and Instagram @RoyallyCreepyCreations and visit my Etsy shop at Royally Creepy or use the web address: etsy.com/shop/royallycreepy to see what’s for sale.

Academy’s Carrie: A bloody good musical, period.

Photo credit: Samantha Gaus

Carrie: The Musical is based on the Stephen King novel (and subsequent film) Carrie, and written for the stage by Lawrence D. Cohen. Directed by Jimmy Calitri, Carrie is a unique retelling of the horror story through the conduit of musical theater. Produced by the Academy Players in Providence on an open and inviting stage, Carrie: The Musical recalls the events leading up to a tragic prom night, where the title character takes supernatural revenge on her not-so-nice classmates.  

Before the play even begins, the atmosphere is set when Sue Snell, played by Dalita Getzoyan, arrives on stage with a terrified look on her face. She humbly makes her way to a room with a single dangling lightbulb and paces back and forth for almost a full 10 minutes before the rest of the cast takes the stage and the house lights go down. By then, audience members are eagerly awaiting the answer to the question of why this teenage girl appears so noticeably horrified. Then, it begins. A voice comes over the intercom and robotically questions Sue about events that took place at her high school one fateful evening. As she recounts, the audience is led through her story by a series of wonderfully executed musical numbers. 

The star, of course, is Carrie, a high school outcast who is incessantly tormented by her peers after getting her first period in the girl’s locker room. Played by Betsy Rinaldi, Carrie finally gets her chance at normalcy when asked to prom by one of the popular kids. Rinaldi delivers every line with emotion and has a singing voice attuned to something you would see on the finals of a reality talent show. Coupled with her expressions and exaggerated movements, which are so on point they often left the audience either laughing or slightly teary eyed, her interpretation of Carrie is moving, to say the least. Her crowning moment may be the final scene where she desperately tries to escape the arms of Sue in order to make her way toward — well, wait and see.   

Courtney Olenzak, as mean girl Chris Hargenson, gives one of the best performances of the night. Her eye rolls, tone of voice and delivery of dialogue are so convincing, it sparks flashbacks to every high school movie with that entitled bully you just can’t help but hate. Her partner in crime, Billy Nolan, played by Marcus Evans, is a wonderful complement to Olenzark. Together, they formed the perfect duo of obnoxious, retribution-deserving teens. 

And who can forget Michelle Schmitt’s interpretation of Margaret White, the obsessively devout parent of Carrie White. Not only is Schmitt’s voice fantastic, but she performs one of the best refrains in a tone so bursting with emotion, chills were running down spines. In perhaps the most eerie melody of the night, the religious zealot mother sings of how menstrual cycles are a curse from God before physically attacking her daughter and locking her in a closet. 

Supporting roles do not fall short, either. Both Paula Glen and Jomo Peters act terrifically in their roles as teachers at Carrie’s school. Glen, in particular in her support of Carrie, made theatergoers wish they still had that one well-meaning adult who had their back. Of course, high school would have been much more entertaining if they all had fantastic choreography and unbelievable harmonies, which here created a string of praise-worthy moments for the entire cast, who nail it every time.  

The lighting, by Alexander Sprague, is effective and essential to the storytelling, bathing the cast in red and white at all the right moments. Carrie’s supernatural abilities are accentuated by strobes and projections on the walls, allowing objects to appear as if moving on their own. The cast is sometimes hard to hear when in harmony, with many strong, beautiful voices competing for the spotlight, but this was rare and did not take away from the story. The small live band (directed by Emily Turtle) of keyboards, guitar and percussion was in sync with the characters and added to the emotional impact.    

Yet, although this show deserves high praise, some of the play’s weaker points lie in its structure. Since Carrie is such an iconic film, it is hard not to compare the storyline and interpretation of characters to the original feature, which, in general, is far darker and bloodier than its stage counterpart. At times, the musical feels rushed and off-focus and does not leave much room for the audience to get particularly attached to most of the characters. So, if you find yourself making direct comparisons, don’t — this is a completely different creature. 

With that said, as the one thing in this world that starts with a period, Carrie: The Musical is entertaining, engaging and definitely worth seeing. 

The Academy Players of RI present Carrie: The Musical, through Feb 23. 180 Button Hole Dr., Bldg. 2, PVD. For tickets and more information, visit academyplayersri.org

A Man’s World: Victoria St. Louis on being a female tattoo artist

In a small coffee shop in Providence, Victoria St. Louis described the ups and downs she experienced along her journey to becoming a female tattoo artist in Rhode Island. Her work not only displays her talent as a creative mind, but her ability to connect to her fellow humans despite sometimes facing adversity. St. Louis’ art transcends the fine lines of drawing upon the shallow of the epidermis, and goes deeper into the heart and experience of those upon whom she leaves a lasting mark. 

St. Louis, who originally went to school for mechanical engineering, decided to pursue tattooing after receiving body art helped her cope with problems she was experiencing in her personal life. Tattooing, though an outlet for emotional pain, was something St. Louis initially doubted she could master in any real capacity. Instead, she supported herself as a fine artist until she gained the confidence to pursue her passion. St. Louis’ first tattoo was of a tiger with roses, given to a relative who was confident in St. Louis’ abilities. When St. Louis expressed doubts about her final product, she was encouraged to continue by her supporters. And continue she did. 

St. Louis’ first tattoo depicting a tiger and some roses.

 Looking for proper guidance to build a career was not easy, according to St. Louis. It’s a male dominated profession, and the tattoo industry was not as welcoming to females. “There is no set way, no set degree for learning the art of tattooing simply because it’s more contingent on the mentor’s approach,” St. Louis says. For this reason, St. Louis was at the mercy of those already established in the field and willing to teach her. It wasn’t until she began working for fellow female artist Audrey Mello that she felt she was in a safe space to really explore her craft.  

St. Louis expressed humility when describing the quiet by-appointment-only practice where she now works, a venue that allows her to get to know her clients one on one. To St. Louis, trust is the most important factor in the relationship between a tattoo artist and her client, and this cannot occur without meaningful interaction. St. Louis strives to create a comfortable space for her clients, both environmental and emotional. She sees the tattooing process as a collaborative effort where the client can openly communicate fears, doubts and questions, something St. Louis was not afforded in her apprenticeship. Sometimes, St. Louis finds, clients are afraid to express their feelings because they feel intimidated by the process. St. Louis hopes to help ease this by making sure the person is “110% comfortable.” 

St. Louis’ recent work of art depicting a snake and some roses.

St. Louis still experiences prejudices in the industry despite her best efforts. “People say things that are disrespectful,” says St. Louis. “Things that they wouldn’t say if I were a man.” Customers will tend to associate feminine art styles with female artists, when this is not necessarily the case and is detrimental to both male and female artists. It is hard also, St. Louis explains, to gain trust from clients when comparing her three years of experience to someone who has been working for 25 years. “Check out the person’s portfolio,” St. Louis encourages potential clients. “If their style matches up with what you are looking for, then that is your artist regardless of their sex.” Still, St. Louis is hopeful that the art of tattooing is opening up more and more to women. She encourages women artists to communicate with each other and share their experience on the best ways to success. St. Louis’s goal is to create a multi-services female run facility including hair, makeup and tattooing, with trust and security at the center of their services.  

To view St. Louis’s work, go to @tattooria.

Pop One Open in Style: Crandon Whitsitt-Lynch and the art of wax casting

Students at Rhode Island College (RIC) may recognize alumni Whitsitt-Lynch as the school’s building technician, but after hours, this former pupil uses his BFA in printmaking skills in the studios of the facility he manages. It is hard not to notice what Whitsitt-Lynch accomplishes in these off hours: beautifully crafted metal bottle openers. And they are amazing! 

One of Whitsitt-Lynch’s bottle openers

“It is the perfect marriage between functional art and the type of free expression I have with my prints,” says Whitsitt-Lynch of his bottle openers. “People who are not into prints may enjoy something they can use.”  

Whitsitt-Lynch holds a BFA in printmaking from RIC, but has been up and coming in wax casting since 2016 after a brief encounter with a student inspired him to his current medium. Whitsitt-Lynch decided to take the skills he developed from creating 2D printmaking and use them to create something 3D. The process, Whitsitt-Lynch explains, goes something like this: 1. A cast of an object, in this case a bottle opener, is made out of wax. 2. A pattern or shape is carved into the wax cast. 3. A master cast is made and cleaned of any imperfections. 4. The cast is used to create a masterpiece. 

Whitsitt-Lynch says that the most significant challenges of wax casting come in the carving stages. For example, getting each line correct in these intricate pieces is very important, because fixing them after they are carved is a difficult process. And wax can be a difficult medium. “Wax is heat sensitive,” says Whitsitt-Lynch. “I have to use gloves, so it doesn’t melt in my hands.” 

In addition, Whitsitt-Lynch mentions that one of the things holding him back from expanding further is something he calls the shrink factor. Things such as pens and light switch plates, which Whitsitt-Lynch recently experimented with, must remain an exact size to function properly. “With wax casting,” says Whitsitt-Lynch, “things will end up shrinking 1% to 7%. This doesn’t matter so much with bottle openers, but it does with something that requires it to fit perfectly with something else.”

Despite these obstacles, Whitsitt-Lynch finds the process of wax casting soothing and an appropriate outlet for his obsessive-compulsive tendencies. And he certainly has a knack for it. The elaborate designs on each of his bottle openers were created without preparation. That is, Whitsitt-Lynch does not plan out any of his designs before he begins to carve. Everything comes from what he refers to as his stream of consciousness. Such talent has recently landed him a gig with Narragansett Beer. The company has asked Whitsitt-Lynch to create a bottle opener specifically for their use. Though sneak peaks of this project are only available to few, Whitsitt-Lynch did explain that this piece is the most intricate and challenging he has done yet. 

Whitsitt-Lynch spoke about the next steps in his career. Making silverware may be on the horizon, as well as perfecting other functional pieces where precision matters. Though Whitsitt-Lynch says that he is perfecting the more difficult parts of his trade and always studying new techniques, his intricate pieces of art are entrancing and he is hopeful about sharing his knowledge. 

To view Crandon Whitsitt-Lynch’s work, visit his website at cwlartistry.com

From Astronauts to Eyeballs: The Pawtucket Arts Collaborative helps solve the equation “Identity Equals Emotion Plus Time” with six amazing artists

On January 11, 2020, the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative (PAC) was filled with spectators eager to get a look at the new show “Identity Equals Emotions Plus Time.” Curated and headlined by Jeremy Schilling, six artists presented their work exposing philosophical theories about the human experience. At the opening, the large, comfortable mill space was abuzz with conversation and all the displaying artists were on hand to explain how the theme of the show rippled through the realities each of them created.

Artist Jeremy Schilling exemplifies the concepts in the show’s title with his astronaut series The Overview Effect. His study of the human psyche examines feelings of homesickness, acceptance of change and the solitude of exploration. His lifelike and exquisitely detailed creations — whether by oil paint, pen and ink, or mixed media — are meant to spark emotion. To achieve this, Schilling depicts many of his astronauts without their helmets: insulated from their colorful and often fantastic surroundings by their suits, yet exposed from the neck up, letting you see the subject’s face and expression. The approach allows onlookers to connect with, even empathize with, the subjects. 

A particularly interesting collection is by Joe Bradford, who presented his work publicly for the first time at this show (he also provided ambiance for the event through his guitar and DJing skills). Bradford’s pieces focus on digital artifacts — documents that have been uploaded to the internet and forgotten. These artifacts are combined or obscured in different ways with the intention of “exploring memory, meaning and the consequences of digital nativism,” according to Bradford. This is best revealed in Bradford’s series “Time Like Water, is a Solvent,” which shows the decay of a house in reverse, exposing themes of recollection, memory and what we may be losing with time. 

This is also artist’s Kim Gammell’s first gallery show and her work does not fall short of stunning. Not only are her pieces anatomically educational, but the use of ink, pencil and watercolor work together to make a not so alluring topic ironically beautiful. Stripping the flesh from a portrait, the bare bones are left for Gammell to present to viewers in an accurate and visually interesting way. In addition, Gammell displays her skills in embroidery and ink with muted and dark colors, which are not only esthetically pleasing, but full of story. 

In contrast, the bold and colorful geometrics of Jon-Michael Baribault’s acrylic paintings feel as though they are popping into the concrete world. A creator of dreamscapes, Baribault blurs the line between conscious and subconscious through surrealism. Many of his works are larger scale and full of what look like human eyeballs, which is important to Baribault’s theme of how the world observes itself in the age of convergence of the artificial with reality.

Also displaying their work is a duo of artists who joined forces from across the country to create brilliant photographs. Alena Sison from Massachusetts and Josh Francis from California used Google to collaborate on the series “Haze.” Sison has been on both sides of the camera as a photographer and as a model, which gives her a unique perspective on how to convey the story of “Haze.” The collection explores infatuation, obsession and toxic intimacy, and the decision to stay in turmoil or leave it. Sison expands on this idea saying, “The meaning can extend to identity and whether to reveal that part of oneself to others or stay hidden.” 

“Identity Equals Emotion Plus Time” will be on display through January 25 at the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative. 

A Grand Adventure in Nature Photography at Common Fence Point Center

Deidra Ricci, founder of Grand Adventure Nature Photography, held her first show at the Common Fence Point Center for Arts, Wellness and Community in Portsmouth on Sunday, December 8. Deidra’s captivating stills graced the walls of the center in the form of canvas, framed prints and postcards. Deidra, a travel enthusiast, used the catch phrase “photos from as far as Alaska, to right down the street” to help define her show to spectators as a range of scenery from intriguing journeys to the uniquely familiar. 

“It is a pleasure having Deidra’s work at the hall,” said Lee Ferreira, member of the arts group at Common Fence Point. “She is a neighbor who has taken great photos, many of which highlight the neighborhood.” Since 2016, Common Fence Point, a non-profit organization, has been showcasing local artists and musicians. Recently, Common Fence Point Center upgraded their venue by adding gallery lighting, classrooms for teaching theater and art, and purchasing concert equipment for music shows. The beautifully designed building is not only a great addition to Portsmouth, but was constructed while keeping in mind with the goal: to maintain a healthy, happy, and resilient community. By owning a house right next store, Deidra was the perfect candidate to uphold the Common Fence Point mission. 

Deidra Ricci poses in front of some of her works from Rhode Island
at Common Fence Point Center.

Deidra spoke highly of her time taking photographs locally. She did not hesitate in acting out her routine of moving back and forth while pretending to hold her camera. She even mentioned getting down and dirty to take some photos of the Newport Bridge. The budding photographer claims, “God sets the scene, I just take the picture,” but does admit that her part in capturing these aesthetic masterpieces lies in their composition.  Her strengths, her admirers say, is her ability to add depth to her photos through her special attention to her subject in the foreground. Her photos from Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, South Dakota, Maine and Rhode Island all have at least one enchanting use of this type of configuration. 

Though Deidra had been taking pictures for years, it wasn’t until commemorating a recent trip to Alaska in the form of scrapbooking that gave her the confidence to share her work with others. For her, spending time carefully curating pieces for this project sparked revelation — she began to see her photographs as works of art, each with its own history. For Deidra, the photos became more than just a snapshot in time, but each a conduit for telling a story – her story.  It is for this reason that Deidra does not yet title her work. She wants her viewers to create their own fiction – or truth — from what they see.  

Deidra’s works will be on display at Common Fence Point Center December 2019 – January 2020, 933 Anthony Rd, Portmouth. For venue inquiries, contact Lee Ferreira by e-mail at leemcph@hotmail.com; for more information on Grand Adventure Nature Photography, contact Deidra Ricci by e-mail at grandadventurenature@gmail.com.