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The Assemblage Art of Scot D. Ryersson

Updated: 2018-03-05T21:44:43.278-05:00


A Little Hard to Swallow


Arcanifacts have slunk back to the River Edge Library just in time for Hallowe'en. The exhibition entitled Hard to Swallow will be on display until Wednesday, 22 November. The River Edge Library is located at 685 Elm Avenue, River Edge, NJ - hurry before they slink back off into the shadows!

L’envoi – The Wonderland Excavations VIII


L’envoi—the conclusion.September.The days are growing shorter, the air colder; the leaves hang heavy and muted before the change.The autumnal equinox is advent.And I’m another year older.The damask drapes are drawn against the imminent gloaming, the chamber dark save for the dancing shadows caused by the flickers of candlelight and the flames on the hearth. The warm, ligneous scent of pipe tobacco mingles with the bittersweetness of opium fumes and stings the nostrils. There’s a high note of burnished black leather, a base note of old potpourri, dusty and floral.On the polished mahogany desktop, a wood whose colour is as deep, as gleaming as spilt blood, lays my notebook, open to the last page of my inventory. I pick up my pen, dip the nib into a fathomless pool of atramental ink and begin my scratchings:One Side Will Make You Grow Taller and the Other Side… (inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Handmade miniature hookah (antique glass beads, brass fixtures, floral wire, gold fabric, brown thread, floral tape) genuine mushrooms; dried moss; dried leaves, twigs, cones, and pods; rocksWhat I show here is my final offering—the last of its kind.I tarried too long in Wonderland…what was left of Wonderland. The fantasy has come to an end; the rabbit hole has collapsed, the Cheshire Cat’s grin has evaporated, and the last cup of tea has been drunk, while somewhere in the background the Mock Turtle’s miserable sobs echo before falling silent, leaving the ear orphaned. In the twilight I was facing a large blue caterpillar, sitting atop a mushroom with its arms folded, quietly smoking a hookah. We looked at each other in silence until, at last, the creature took the pipe from its mouth, exhaled in misty rings that dissolved into nothingness, and addressed me in a languid, sleepy voice.“Who are you?”And like Alice, I was left perplexed, answering, “I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”The caterpillar gazed back at me sternly. “What do you mean by that? Explain yourself!”I shook my head. “I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir, because I’m not myself.”I’m not myself.Then who am I?Who was the me that started all this?And who am I now?I sit perpetually in a dreamworld between the real and the imagined, between what is and isn’t, lost in the past, contemplating the present, and in wonder of the future.Was it all real? This six year odyssey of finding that which should not exist. But I have the proof—numerous proofs—right before my eyes.And right before my eyes sits at present a tiny hookah, once smoked by a three-inch blue-tinged caterpillar with a fondness for asking psychologically-probing questions.“Who are you?”And now I have the answer—and it is paradoxically the same I would have given at the start of our journey—I consider myself an archaeologist of the arcane, a preservationist of the bizarre, a taxidermist of dreams. Humbly, I lay before you all that I have discovered travelling darker and curious byways. The relics I have returned with are evidence—faint echoes of desecrated realms and passions long interred. May they prove the existence of what was wrongly believed the stuff of but fevered imagination only.Thank you for coming along with me.I lift my pen and blot my words.I close the book.L’envoi.Let Lewis Carroll have the last word—Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:Thus slowly, one by one,Its quaint events were hammered out—And now the tale is done…  [...]

The Wonderland Excavations VII


Shards of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cup(inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Antique nineteenth-century pharmacist’s bottle; vintage Royal Albert bone china saucer and matching tea cup shards; antique sterling tea pot/mouse charm; antique Holmes & Edward silver teaspoon; sterling Mad Hatter charm; black and gold cording; large black and gold tassel; grunge harlequin paper Which way?This or that?One or the other?Alice had asked the same of the Cheshire Cat oh so long ago:‘What sort of people live about here?’‘In THAT direction,’ the Cat said, waving its right paw round, ‘lives a Hatter: and in THAT direction,’ waving the other paw, ‘lives a March Hare.’….After a minute or two Alice walked on in the direction in which the March Hare was said to live. ‘I've seen hatters before,’ she said to herself; ‘the March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won't be raving mad—at least not so mad as it was in March.’She had not gone much farther before she came in sight of the house of the March Hare: she thought it must be the right house, because the chimneys were shaped like ears and the roof was thatched with fur.The March Hare’s house is nothing more than rubble. The foundations are all that’s standing; keystones at each of four corners, delineating a domicile no longer there. Hewn timber beams, splintered and scattered, are all that remain of the roof, the rabbit ear chimneys gone. The surrounding lawns have grown wild, the grass at certain intervals almost knee high. It was here on this verdant expanse that a massive table had been laid for tea time; a perpetual tea time, one that promised to stretch on into eternity. But that promise was broken and time returned, took hold, held sway, swept away. The table collapsed, its cloth, its napkins and cozies, riven and rotted. The profusion of chairs that lined either side, erect and straight-backed, like soldiers awaiting orders, withered, their joints swelling, loosening, giving way, their whittled wood decaying. A large armchair that had stood at the table’s head—the large armchair in which Alice had situated herself when sitting down without being invited—is reduced to its naked frame and jute webbing, its springs lounge in the shade of a leafless tree, scraps of worn burgundy velvet clinging. Bone china crunches underfoot. The tea things—the cups and saucers, the pots, the plates, the milk jug and sugar bowl, the forks and spoons—all broken, bent or buried. (It is just such a broken tea cup, just such a bent spoon that is recovered and removed.)And what of the curious trio who once made up this mad tea party?One can only surmise.The March Hare was most likely a humble European brown hare (Lepus europaeus). And that old adage, “mad as a March hare”, was due to the species’ erratic and bizarre behaviour during the third month of the year, the thirty-one days that made up its breeding season. Their odd actions consist of boxing other hares, jumping vertically into the air for seemingly no reason, or remaining stone still, staring. An early fourteenth-century record of this strangeness appeared in the poem Blowbol’s Test, where it was said:Thanne þey begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare(Then they begin to swerve and to stare, And be as brainless as a March hare)Hares live only four to five years in the wild; such a civilized example as the March Hare would probably have made it to seven or eight. Or he might just as well have ended up in a nice pot of Hasenpfeffer.The Dormouse was almost certainly a specimen of the hazel dormouse or common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) that is prevalent in English isles. They are mainly nocturnal, which is perhaps why the little fellow Alice met on that late-spring day in May, couldn’t keep his eyes open. Their name is actually based on this drowsy trait; it comes from Anglo-Norman dormeus, which means “sleepy”. In Elizabeth[...]

The Wonderland Excavations VI


Gryphon Feathers and the Mock Turtle’s Lachramatory (inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Antique silver-leafed wooden frame; nineteenth-century crystal tear bottle with sterling embellishment; vintage pheasant feathers; beach sand; sea shells; dried flower; rusted tacks; colour print of sand; hand-stained recipe for “Mock Turtle Soup”; colour print of hand-stained illustrations of the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle by Sir John TennielThe scent of the sea suddenly assails the nostrils; briny, damp and bracing. It startles, surprises. How can we be near an ocean? Has the pool of tears swelled? Has it left its banks and flooded the lowlands? The cat’s cradle of woodland roots and branches untangles, dissipates. There is clear blue sky overhead. The forest floor gives way incrementally to sand—pure, pale beach sand, thick, soft underfoot. A veritable Stonehenge of boulders arise, worn smooth by time and tide, wind and water. Salt encrusts, sparkles. Verdant ferns become water reeds; knots and snarls of seaweed proliferate. Seashells dot the strand, half-buried. The rhythmic roar of waves lures one closer. Up and over a dune and a whole seascape stretches out before us. The sky and sea are of the same colour; where does one end and the other begin?Above the continual grumble of the ocean, another sound comes to the ear—a sobbing, ghost-like, ethereal, faint but perceptible. No. Impossible. Just an auditory hallucination spurred by the knowledge of what happened here on this lonely sweep; here where a high-spirited Gryphon and a woebegone Mock Turtle once roamed and ruminated.A Gryphon you must know—a mythical beast with the body of a lion and the head, wings and front claws of an eagle; a magnificent creature emblazoned for history on heraldic shields and family crests.But the Mock Turtle? Ahhh, there’s a different kettle of fish entirely. You all know that turtle soup is made from turtles, then what could be the main ingredient of “mock” turtle soup? You guessed it! This pre-dinner delicacy was quite popular during the Victorian era, and what with real turtle meat being such a luxury (with a luxurious price tag to match), more frugal cooks replaced the costly component with the morsels of veal calves usually discarded—the head, the hoofs, and the tail. And thus the waters of Wonderland spawned Mock Turtles—another peculiar corporeal composite, this one created of the shell and front flippers of the turtle and all those unwanted cuts of bovine butchery. The poor creature has a heavy heart, though, he pines away, weeping, and wishing he was in fact genuine and not faux. After all, how can you spend your lifetime being what you’re not?Digs here reveal a surfeit of fine feathers—too large to be any ordinary bird’s; the Gryphon must have molted evidently before becoming nothing but mythical once more. And here, what’s this? An ornate crystal and sterling container—a very rare lachramatory, or “tear bottle”—a strange bit of nineteenth-century mourning paraphernalia in which one saved up the teardrops shed in bereavement, in sorrow for someone or something lost—the spirit of grief made manifest. And, in the end, what are tears?Simply salt water.Just like the sea.  [...]

The Wonderland Excavations V


Dentis ex Jabberwock(inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1871 novel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There) – Hand-distressed ornate oval frame; genuine bison tooth; genuine desiccated cicada; curled tree bark; cardboard curlicue; hand-stained prints of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” poem (both forwards and backwards) and Sir John Tenniel’s “Jabberwock” illustrationBeware the Jabberwock, my son!The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!The Tulgey Wood thickens, grows dense and dark, any pathway is now hardly discernible, just a well-worn rut filled with rotted leaves and lichen-cowled stones. The air is dank, heavy, and has a musty, earthy smell. The ground swells, rises into a small hillock, nettles snatch and sting. The climb is not long and at the summit a new vista opens out—a flattened countryside once visibly divided into large, neat squares, as if the landscape from horizon to horizon was one continuous, vast chessboard. The effect is unnerving, mystifying, disorientating, an impossible reality—has M. C. Escher taken up horticulture?There comes a strange cry. Bird or animal? It is impossible to say. The Tulgey Wood is home to many a peculiar indigenous species: there are mome raths (a sort of green pig) and borogoves (a kind of parrot. They have no wings, their beaks turn up, they make their nests under sun-dials and live on veal) and toves (they’re something like badgers, they’re something like lizards, and they’re something like corkscrews, who live solely on cheese) and we are warned to beware the Jubjub bird (described as “A desperate bird that lives in perpetual passion”) and shun the frumious Bandersnatch (a swift moving creature with snapping jaws, capable of extending its neck). But by far the worst inhabitant of the Tulgey is the Jabberwock.Or perhaps I should say “was” the Jabberwock.Only one was ever known to exist; it was a winged monster, toweringly tall, befanged, beclawed, both hairy and scaly, and attired quite nattily in a bespoke buttoned waistcoat. It terrified the area, until its day of reckoning, when a young knight ventured forth to slay the creature. And as history records:He took his vorpal sword in hand:Long time the manxome foe he sought—So rested he by the Tumtum tree,And stood awhile in thought.And as in uffish thought he stood,The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,And burbled as it came!One, two! One, two! and through and throughThe vorpal blade went snicker-snack!He left it dead, and with its headHe went galumphing back.Excavations here uncover but a lone object—a single tooth.So small a something to prove the existence of a so large and so frightful beast.But the shadows grow long. There’s a rustling amongst the scrub. The time has come to once again move on.  [...]

The Wonderland Excavations IV


Cheshire Cat Whiskers(inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Black wood-framed shadowbox; glass vial with cork stopper; old cat gut strings; twisted wooden branch; dried cherry; black paint; colour print of antique cat tintype; colour print of forest at duskWhat remains of a path is now nothing more than a grassy furrow worn into the earth. It winds, twists, traverses a field and continues straight on to the wood. The forest spreads in all directions, like black ink spilled on patterned silk, its edges ragged and blurred. Trees with gnarled trunks and knotted limbs seem to scrape the sky and nearly blot out what little sunshine penetrates. Moss is springy, spongy, underfoot. Everywhere stalks of vividly purple foxgloves genuflect in the balmy springtide breeze, their flowers oh so beautiful and oh so venomous; Dead Man’s Thimbles they’re called, the random mottling on their petals believed to be a warning of the toxic juices pulsing within. Could this be the Tulgey Wood—the stretch of strange and sinister timberland that divides Wonderland from Looking-Glass Land? If so, then…?There’s something caught in the brambles, something incongruous, something odd, almost absurd (as if anything in Wonderland could not be called absurd)—tattered bits of flannel, shreds of delicately-woven lace, and the threadbare remains of a baby’s bonnet. So, evidence at last! This must be the point where Alice tired of carrying the Duchess’ infant—that wailing, chubby babe, with a pink, pink face and turned-up nose, given to the most violent snorts and grunts; a babe who metamorphosed finally into a genuine porker, a transformation our young heroine took in quite unperturbed:‘If you're going to turn into a pig, my dear,' said Alice, seriously, 'I'll have nothing more to do with you. Mind now!' The poor little thing sobbed again (or grunted, it was impossible to say which), and they went on for some while in silence. Alice was just beginning to think to herself, 'Now, what am I to do with this creature when I get it home?' when it grunted again, so violently, that she looked down into its face in some alarm. This time there could be NO mistake about it: it was neither more nor less than a pig, and she felt that it would be quite absurd for her to carry it further. So she set the little creature down, and felt quite relieved to see it trot away quietly into the wood. 'If it had grown up,' she said to herself, 'it would have made a dreadfully ugly child: but it makes rather a handsome pig, I think.' And she began thinking over other children she knew, who might do very well as pigs and was just saying to herself, `if one only knew the right way to change them—' when she was a little startled by seeing the Cheshire Cat sitting on a bough of a tree a few yards off." That adjacent oak was once mighty given the circumference of its trunk—and the trunk is all that remains. Thick barked, its huge roots run wide and deep, but the rest of the tree is gone, felled it appears as if by a stroke of lightning. Burn marks singe far into pale wood, splinters rise up sharply, dead branches lay scattered hither and yon. And what’s this?Brushing aside the debris, the leaves from countless autumns past, a skeleton is revealed—long, thin, four-legged and finely boned, obviously felinic. Bits of gray and black fur cling; its claws are formidable. Its skull still grins (but all skulls grin, do they not? As if they alone appreciate the punch line to life’s final jest). One touch and…the cat vanishes—not slowly as it was prone to do while thriving, leaving naught but that insidious rictus behind—no, this time the feline fades swiftly, instantly, into dust. Is there nothing to be salvaged? Wait. Here and there, a few all but imperceptible strands sparkling silver in the sunlight—whiskers. Cheshire Cat whiskers.Collected.Bottled.Labeled.Time to move on.On[...]

The Wonderland Excavations III


Peppercorns from the Duchess’ Kitchen(inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Antique nineteenth-century pharmacist’s bottle with original cork; black, green, and pink peppercorns; vintage kitchen twine; hand-stained print of illustration of the Ugly Duchess, her Cook, and the Cheshire Cat by Sir John Tenniel It was the epitome of Georgian elegance; a veritable jewel box of a house—three-storied, white-walled, black slated roof adorned by a pair of matching chimneys. Egg-and-dart cornices surrounded. A triangular portico rose high above its main entryway, where liveried finny and froggy footmen once hurried in and out, bearing royal invitations. Its classically sashed, twelve-paned, rectangular windows at the front looked out upon a clipped carpet of grass. In the spring and summer months, rhododendrons blossomed in explosions of white, purple, and fuchsia. The whole spoke of simplicity, of refinement. It was owned by a duchess, that much is true; the duchess of what and who she was (or the duke was, for that matter) is now lost, unrecorded. What is known, though, is that she was very ugly, had the deportment of a bulldozer, and had a penchant for garish flowered prints and oversized medieval millinery.The house is a wreck now, barely standing; its exterior battered and blighted by time and weather. The chimneys have fallen, the roof caved, the windows smashed. The formerly immaculate lawns are unmown, weed-ridden, and strewn with splinted slates and slivers of shattered glass.Beyond the collapsed bricks and past the absent front door, the foyer stretches, the terrazzo there a chess board of disjointed marble tiles where dead leaves gather and swirl; the skeleton of a grand staircase is straight ahead, its steps ascending to nothing more than the ghost of upper levels. On either side of the foyer, rooms lie open to the elements, paint peeling, wallpaper stained, buckled, and bubbled. No furniture remains, fireplace hearths are bare, carved mantelpieces chipped or missing. The only chamber that continues to reflect its former function is the kitchen. The floorboards are a minefield of broken crockery, scattered knives and spoons, a badly-dented, tarnished coffeepot. On walls besmirched by smoke, an empty plate rack encircles, embroidered with spider webs and encrusted with desiccated beetles. The stove—a massive wrought-iron monster—stands cold and rusted. It was here that the duchess’ cook, in apron and mobcap, held sway before steaming soup cauldrons, ladle in one hand, peppermill in the other. The strong pungency of that overused spice can still be smelt above the rot; clinging, saturating the woodwork, almost eliciting sneezes while peppercorns crunch under foot. It was in front of this stove that the duchess would sit, nursing a howling, porcine baby, singing to it strange, unsettling lullabies:I speak severely to my boy,I beat him when he sneezes;For he can thoroughly enjoyThe pepper when he pleases!It was here too that a curious cat curled, warming itself by the fire, purring, content, one could almost say grinning.From above, beams suddenly creak ominously, a blizzard of dust drifts from the fissured plaster ceiling—it’s time to grab what little can be salvaged and be gone.  [...]

The Wonderland Excavations II


Painting the White Roses Red(inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Lacquered burlwood frame; dried white rose; red paint; white wax; custom cut mat; colour print from the original illustration by Sir John Tenniel; colour print of grunge hearts; colour print of dripping red paintAnd then she found herself at last in the beautiful garden, among the bright flower-beds and the cool fountains.The beautiful garden that so entranced Alice is now nothing more than an overgrown thicket. Neglected, abandoned, nature has reclaimed that which was once originally hers. The fountains have long since dried up; their pipes rusted, their marble basins splintered and silvered, where weeds flourish in the ever-expanding cracks. The manicured trees, the pruned boxwoods, and the carefully-tended topiaries have gone wild, their tidy geometric shapes scarcely distinguishable from the rest of the tangled wood. Cypresses sway, taking leisurely, theatrical bows prompted by each passing breeze. In the distance stands the dome of a massive orangery, its metalwork bent and twisted, a steel skeleton barely supporting its last few unbroken panes of glass. And surrounding all is a confusion of rosebushes—once the pride of the garden they, too, have proliferated untamed, untrimmed, their branches a cat’s cradle of thorns. Here and there, lost in the leafy turmoil, can be found the heads of a few withered white roses, their dried husks mottled, splashed and splattered with red paint; the haphazard and hurried brushstrokes of a trio of living playing cards a testament to the frantic correction of an error long past—“Would you tell me, please,” said Alice, a little timidly, “why you are painting those roses?”Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began, in a low voice, “Why, the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put in a white one by mistake, and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off…”Gardeners in threat of being deadheaded; much like the flowers they care for—that’s pure Wonderland logic.  [...]

Curiouser and Curiouser: The Wonderland Excavations


Everybody Has Won, and All Must Have Prizes (inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Antique nineteenth-century pharmacist’s bottle; antique nineteenth-century sterling thimble; genuine beach sand; sea shells; drift wood; blue jay feather; wired French heliotrope-coloured ribbon; altered art pieces—“Carroll’s Comfits” candy label, hand-coloured dodo bird printThe English countryside summer afternoon, heat, dragonflies buzz on prismatic wings, living darning needles skimming the tranquil, mirror-like surface of brackish ponds, towering oaks standing in sun-mottled shadow, clouds of pollen and gnats, infinite silences, time stands still—just the sort of afternoon that once sent a drowsy little girl named Alice dreaming. Tall reeds converse in whispers by the riverside, their roots extending down into damp soil, crisscrossing past and along worm tunnels, pressing ever deeper until they burst through the ceiling of an improbable hallway, doors to the right, doors to the left, paneling and frames warped and snapped, brass knobs and hinges corroded. A small three-legged glass table lies shattered, a tiny golden key fallen, cast aside. And what’s this? A bottle labeled “Drink Me” by some unknown hand. Doors? A glass table and bottle? One tiny golden key? But how can this be so far underground? Wonderland.The rabbit hole has long since caved in, the pool of tears evaporated, leaving nothing in evidence but crystals of salt. Moving deeper, fungi proliferate, mushrooms of variegated colours sprout, some bright, some muted—on which did a large blue caterpillar smoke his hookah lethargically, stopping only now and then to pose psychologically probing questions? Broken crockery is strewn about, an outsized peppermill tossed casually in the scrub. White roses grow in abandon, untended, their heady scent perfuming the air, their stiletto thorns lethal, protecting secrets. The surrounding lawns, formerly a well-maintained and manicured croquet ground, are now neglected, overgrown, tangled, the game long abandoned; the flamingoes taken flight, the hedgehogs lost in the underbrush.What to uncover here?Much.Each article retrieved carefully, cleaned and catalogued.The first of the Wonderland artifacts presented was taken from the shores of the lachrymal lake, that said pool of tears, the one formed by Alice’s weeping. A sample of beach sand, mixed with an abundance of dehydrated salt, has been poured into a Victorian pharmacist’s glass-stoppered bottle; the relics here include a pair of sea shells (so far from any known ocean), a bit of drift wood, a timeworn label from a disintegrated box of sweets, and a nineteenth-century sterling thimble—the latter two oddities, to be sure, until one remembers the nonsensical events, which took place so very long ago on this very shoreline: a loquacious Dodo bird presiding over a competitive lunacy called a Caucus Race. In addition, we have an, as yet, unidentifiable ornithological specimen - a feather from that very same long extinct Dodo, perhaps?  [...]

Frigid Jr.


Frigid Jr. (inspired by Gabriel Setoun’s 1920 children’s poem, Jack Frost) – Hand-distressed frame; beer; Epsom salts; dried honey locust thorns; sterling silver paint; watercolours; black paint; matte varnish; cardboard; colour print of antique Victorian daguerreotype; colour print of icicles; colour print of winter grunge wallpaper; hand-stained colour print of vintage “Frigid Jr.” embalming fluid bottle label

For, creeping softly underneath
  The door when all the lights are out,
Jack Frost takes every breath you breathe,
  And knows the things you think about.

Mother Goose X


What a Good Boy Am I! (inspired by the 1725 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Little Jack Horner) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained Victorian green damask wallpaper; tarnished Christmas tinsel; antique blown-glass miniature Christmas balls; vintage rusted “jingle” bells; dried mistletoe; dried roses; matte varnish; watercolours; black paint; enlarged colour print of antique Christmas postcard; colour print of Victorian boy holding plum tintypeLittle Jack HornerSat in a corner,Eating his Christmas pie.He stuck in his thumb,And pulled out a plum,And said, "What a good boy am I!"[...]

Mother Goose IX


They Licked the Platter Clean (inspired by the 1765 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Jack Sprat) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained vintage menu art; shattered pieces of an antique china soup tureen; genuine desiccated longhorn beetle; dried grape stem; dried carrot flowers; Fuller’s Earth; cardboard; watercolours; gold-leaf paint; matte varnish; colour prints of two antique carte de visites of circus sideshow performers; colour print of grunge Victorian wallpaperJack Sprat could eat no fat;His wife could eat no lean.So between the two of them,They licked the platter clean.[...]

Mother Goose VIII


And There He Kept Her Very Well (inspired by the 1825 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained orange grunge paper; antique key; desiccated Hexarthrius parryi paradoxus beetle; dried pumpkin seeds; rusted tacks; dried leaves; matte varnish; watercolours; colour prints of pumpkin pulp; hand-stained antique engraving of chastity belt; colour print of nineteenth-century daguerreotype of a young womanPeter, Peter, Pumpkin eater,Had a wife but couldn't keep her;He put her in a pumpkin shell,And there he kept her, very well.[...]

Mother Goose VII


The Lamb was Sure to Go… (inspired by Sarah Josepha Hale’s 1830 nursery rhyme, Mary Had a Little Lamb) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained dictionary pages; genuine raw white lamb fleece; custom cut mat; black paint; rusted tacks; old thumb tack; dried lily pods; matte varnish; colour print of antique Victorian postmortem daguerreotype; hand-distressed postcard of the real Mary’s Lamb School, South Sudbury, MA; colour print of antique “Mary Had a Little Lamb” illustrationMary had a little lamb,Its fleece was white as snow;And everywhere that Mary went,The lamb was sure to go.[...]

Mother Goose VI


Come Blow Your Horn(inspired by the 1744 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Little Boy Blue) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained music pages; vintage blue glass Christmas horn with gilt tassels; genuine desiccated blue weevil; dried leaves; hay; dried Indian corn cob; rusted tacks; watercolours; salt; black paint; matte varnish; cardboard; colour print of antique Victorian postmortem carte de visite; colour print of grunge Victorian wallpaperLittle Boy Blue, come blow your hornThe sheeps in the meadow; the cows in the cornWhere is the boy who looks after the sheep?He's under a haystack, fast asleep[...]

Mother Goose V


And a Merry Old Soul was He… (inspired by the 1709 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Old King Cole) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained print of Victorian wallpaper; colour print of silk moiré pattern; colour print of sterling art nouveau frame; colour print of dried tobacco leaves; colour print of antique pipe tobacco tin; hand-stained “King’s Mixture” pipe tobacco advertisement; matte varnish; watercolours; black paint; rusted tacks; grunge harlequin patterned paper; colour print of antique tintype of a violinist; colour print of antique photograph of Henry Cyril Paget, the 5th Marquess of AngleseyOld King Cole was a Merry Old SoulAnd a merry old soul was he;He called for his pipe, And he called for his bowl,And he called for his fiddlers three.[...]

Mother Goose IV


The Clock Struck One(inspired by the 1744 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Hickory, Dickory, Dock) – Handmade “grunge” clock—illustration board, smooth Bristol board, copper metallic paint, watercolours; soot; genuine mouse skeleton; dried leaf; dried rose; bits of genuine rusted metal; antique key; cobwebs; spray varnishHickory, Dickory, Dock,The mouse ran up the clock;The clock struck one,And down he run;Hickory, Dickory, Dock[...]

Mother Goose III


How Does Your Garden Grow? (inspired by the 1744 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary) – Hand-distressed frame; crackle paint; watercolours; eucalyptus bell pods; large cockleshell; dried tulip petals; dried rose with leaves; thorn branch; antique pharmacist’s bottle; genuine desiccated longhorn beetle; sterling silver paint; matte varnish; black paint, cardboard; colour print of framed Victorian postmortem tintype; colour print of Victorian mourning women tintype; colour print of dead flower design; colour print of antique Murton’s Concentrated Arsenical Weed Killer labelMary, Mary, quite contrary;How does your garden grow?With silver bells, and cockle shells,And pretty maids all in a row.[...]

Mother Goose II


To Fetch a Pail of Water (inspired by the 1765 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained brown paper; rusted tacks; high-gloss liquid varnish; matte varnish; trio of desiccated water beetles; dried hydrangea with leaves; black paint; watercolours; cardboard; colour print of antique Victorian tintype; colour print of desolate well (image taken from the 2002 film, The Ring)

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

One Mean Ol' Mother


Ahhh, old Mother Goose, a staple of American childhood. The nursery rhymes ascribed to this mythical materfamilias epitomize the happiness of cooing babes in their cradle, of a young child's introduction to reading, to playing with sound, language, rhythm, and rhyme. They also introduce preschoolers to the ideas of character, simple plotline, and the literary conventions required for more complex stories and poems. Yup, all that's true — it’s also true that Mother Goose can be one mean old witch when she chooses to, terrorizing children into good behaviour, her sharp-billed, white-downed avian associate snapping at their heels to keep them in line. In short, Mother Goose is a tot’s first taste of terror. Talk about child abuse! Little Miss Muffet’s assaulted by a lactose-intolerant arachnid; Jack (a favourite name for boys in nursery rhymes, it seems) takes a tumble and splits his head open while on bucket-filling duty; Wee Willie Winkie is dragooned into wandering the cold and lonely nighttime streets in his pajamas shouting out the hour; and a whole herd of future orphanage-destined waifs are crammed into a shoe for shelter, force-fed broth, and then whipped for good measure (you can double-check all this for yourselves; I’m not making this stuff up). Animals don’t fare too well either, just think of that trio of typhlotic rodents and their rump-maiming encounter with the farmer’s spouse or old Mother Hubbard’s starving pooch. And we won’t go into “Ring Around the Rosie,” which is about the Black Death, or question just why that baby was left unsupervised, rock-a-byeing way up there on that tree top… and that bough looks like it’s about to break. As one respected children’s book author said: “I couldn't overlook the violent, scary, mean-spirited, or just plain weird aspects of many of the rhymes...”— a statement, which, of course, sent me straight to them like a shot! So, I dusted off my dog-eared copy of the elderly ornithic dame’s verses to take another look… and treading carefully in the footsteps of that master of the macabre, Charles Addams, who conjured his own unique vision of Mother Goose almost fifty years ago, I will present here for the next ten months my interpretation… beware. And, so, since leg of lamb is such an Easter dinner table staple, let’s begin with…Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep, And can't tell where to find them; Leave them alone, and they'll come home, Bringing their tails behind them.Little Bo-Peep Has Lost Her Sheep…(inspired by the 1805 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Little Bo-Peep) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained brown butcher’s paper; old butcher’s twine; antique Oxford silver plate cold meat fork; dried leaves with berries; rusted tacks; brown wax; watercolours; colour print of antique framed tintype of young girl in a shepherdess costume; colour print of antique French butcher’s sheep diagram poster; colour print of Victorian tiles; colour print of antique P.C. Flett and Co. Mint Jelly label; colour print of vintage Mutton Tallow Ointment label; hand-stained print of Wood Brothers Butcher’s letterhead  [...]

Love Bites


Irena Dubrova’s Key to the Zoo’s Panther Cage (inspired by Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 film, Cat People) – Vintage 1920s art deco glass lithographed picture frame; vintage lion “Master Lock” security key; black and white print of art deco panther illustration by Major Felten; black and white prints of cage bars, distressed tile work, cement with claw marksGod made the cat in order that man might have the pleasure of caressing the lion. —Fernand MeryMan is an animal, as much as he might try and deny it.Darwinian theory aside, man has the same needs, the same wants, the same desires as all our mammalian brethren—food, warmth, safety, sleep, and sex.And think of the zoological similes which abound!Stubborn as a mule.Blind as a bat.Busy as a bee.Sly as a fox.Poor as a church mouse.Strong as an ox.Sick as a dog.Dead as a dodo.Happy as a pig in…well, you get the idea.And as we head into spring, that proverbial mating season, rutting males of the human genus are classified as wolves, young studs, or horny old goats (randy men used to be compared to hares in March, because those wild rabbits went crazy during those thirty-one consecutive days in their attempts to propagate their species—thus the term “Mad as a March Hare” and that’s why the March Hare’s bonkers in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but I digress).And women—don’t think you’re getting off scott-free—you’re minks and minxes and currently if you’re on the prowl for younger meat, you’re cougars.This seems an apt way to begin our amatorial tale for this Valentine’s Day.Meet Irena Dubrova, a Serbian-born stunner—sleek dark hair, almond-shaped eyes, slinky shape, a true catch in any man’s book. But now I’ll let the cat out of the bag…Irena has—shall we say, a slight problem when it comes to the subject of love. It appears that when Cupid’s little arrows strike her, and her hormones are raging, she has the nasty habit of transforming into a black panther, one that has the capabilities and compunctions to devour her mate.Oops, fellas, better cancel that dinner date!Poor Irena. She does her best not to let her heart rule her head—that’s until she meets Oliver, and she falls head over tail for him.But Irena has a rival for Oliver’s affections; Alice, a beautiful, smart and savvy co-worker of his, and before you can say Fancy Feast, the green-eyed monster of jealousy rears its ugly head and softly-treading, padded paws are following Alice to the YWCA swimming pool—and you know how much cats like water. Picture it: Alice, alone, doggy-paddling in the pool, the lights go out, a low growl is heard, and—what’s that?—a long, skulking shadow flickers across the tiles, here, then there and…Alice screams.The shadow darts away, vanishes.Alice leaps from the water, the lights snap on, and she comes face-to-face with—Irena, who claims she’s looking for Oliver. Alice’s left believing she’s just imagined the whole thing, until she finds her bathrobe mauled and shredded.Things just go from bad to worse—Oliver proposes; Irena accepts in spite of knowing what awaits. The marriage goes unconsummated—and mercifully, Oliver goes unconsumed—but Irena’s spending far too much time pussyfooting around the zoo’s panther cage than what could be deemed healthy. Her pet kitten hates her and the entire cute and cuddly inventory of a local pet shop freaks out—howling and hissing—the minute she walks through the door, the sweet little old lady of a proprietor intoning wisely, fa[...]



 Man is Not Truly One, But Truly Two (inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) – Art Nouveau gilt wooden frame; genuine nineteenth-century chemist’s etched-glass measuring beaker; dried rose and rose petals; custom cut mirror strips; rusted tacks; rusted nails; dried leaf; colour print of Victorian conjoined twins skeleton; black paint; red paint; violet glass paint; soot; cobwebs; spray varnish“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” —Bill VaughnWell, if you’re reading this, it looks like we’ve survived the end of the world. The Mayan calendar ran out and we’re all still here. Another apocalypse averted. Now we can look forward to the next.Looking ahead is a New Year’s tradition; so is looking behind. Making future resolutions to try and correct the blunders of the past.That’s why January is named after the Roman god, Janus—the double-faced, bearded, laurel-browed deity, who had the ability of seeing both backwards and forwards simultaneously. He was the god of beginnings and endings, of foresight and hindsight, who allowed mankind to learn from its prior mistakes so that it wasn’t condemned to relive them.But, in checking the pages of any ol’ history book, it seems that we’ve been really poor students, always rushing in where angels fear to tread, stumbling, making the same missteps over and over again.So, class, we will start out the New Year by recalling the hard lesson learnt by one of literature’s ultimate two-faces——Dr. Henry Jekyll.Dr. Frankenstein wanted to resurrect the dead, Dr. Moreau’s mission was to turn beast into man, while Dr. Jekyll? Jekyll’s noble quest was to separate man’s good side from his bad—yes, a noble quest, indeed, and one doomed to failure from the start.We’re all familiar with the oft-told tale—honorable, moral, upright doctor seeks the division of the dishonorable, immoral, and downright foul aspects of his makeup, in hopes of eradicating them permanently, like a virus. Such a cure! Thus mankind would change its path, amend the errors of its way. Via chemical, almost alchemical, distillation he creates a potion, which brings about a single personification of his every loathsome characteristic, an iniquitous creature that calls itself Mr. Hyde—appropriate name if there ever was one, he the lurker forever in our shadow. Hyde does terrible things, from “harmless” vices of drinking and gambling to the true atrociousness of child beating, all culminating in the ghastly murder of an innocent old man. It is only then that the good doctor sees the error of his way, but by then Hyde has taken over, the dark side is too strong…suicide, total self-annihilation, the only way to end the evil and save the world.Robert Louis Stevenson, Jekyll’s creator and author of such literary classics as Treasure Island and Kidnapped, claimed that this macabre allegory came to him as a dream, fully formed. His wife recalled the moment well: “In the small hours of one afternoon,” said Mrs. Stevenson, “I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare I woke him. He said angrily, ‘Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey-tale.’ I had awakened him at the first transformation scene ...”Now all Stevenson had to do was put that “fine bogey-tale” to paper.Stevenson’s stepson remembered that: “I don't believe that there was ev[...]

Visions of Sugar Plums


Der Letzte Traum des Unsinnigen Königs—The Last Dream of the Mad King (inspired by the life and legend of “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria) – Black wood-framed shadowbox; antique German mercury glass peacock Christmas tree ornament; antique square silver frame; genuine white swan plume feathers; vintage metal and crystal hanging embellishments; silver cording; colour prints of King Ludwig II and Neuschwanstein Castle photographs by Angelika Schnell-Dürrast; negative print of Ludwig’s handwriting and signature One-hundred and twenty years ago, American writer and literary critic, William Dean Howells wrote a short story titled, “Christmas Every Day.”Ahhh, a child’s fondest wish!But as the old adage warns, be careful what you wish for…In Howells’ story, one little girl makes such a foolish wish, asking a fairy if it could be Christmas every day of the year. And, lo and behold, her wish comes true. Every day without cease—the Christmas tree, the Christmas carols, the candy, the presents, and the turkey dinner. It’s Christmas on Valentine’s Day, it’s Christmas on Easter, it’s Christmas on the Fourth of July! And, as Howells penned:“After a while turkeys got to be awfully scarce, selling for about a thousand dollars apiece. They got to passing off almost anything for turkeys—even half-grown hummingbirds. And cranberries—well they asked a diamond apiece for cranberries. All the woods and orchards were cut down for Christmas trees. After a while they had to make Christmas trees out of rags. But there were plenty of rags, because people got so poor, buying presents for one another, that they couldn't get any new clothes, and they just wore their old ones to tatters. They got so poor that everybody had to go to the poorhouse….It was perfectly shameful!”Of course, at the end all is set right again, with Christmas coming only once a year.Excellent example, I suppose, of another old adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”But the idea of getting everything one wants, every day still entices.Still corrupts.But that was only a story, I hear you saying. That’s fiction.True, so now I will present a parallel tale—a real-life lesson…Once upon a time, a baby boy was born into the royal family of Bavaria. His name was Ludwig. He was handsome, he was precocious, he was destined to one day be sovereign of his own fairy tale kingdom. But as in almost all fairy tales, Ludwig had been born under a curse.He had inherited the taint of his lineage. Insanity pulsed rampantly through the blue-blooded veins of the Bavarian royal House of Wittelsbach. Ludwig’s aunt wore only white, walked sideways down corridors, and was under the delusion that she had swallowed a grand piano made of glass (fight that one, Freud!); his younger brother, Otto, was so unbalanced that he was literally barking mad (his vocal impersonations of various members of the canine species at the most inconvenient moments got his leash yanked from public appearances); and his favorite cousin, the exceptional beauty, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, was a health fanatic, a peripatetic wanderer, and acute recluse, whose only son and heir to the Austrian throne committed suicide after murdering his mistress. Elisabeth herself would later die an appropriately eccentric death at the tip of an assassin’s stiletto (Ludwig almost married Elisabeth’s sister, Sophie, but the wedding bells never rang, probably because Ludwig’s companions in the boudoir [...]



 Screws from the Lady Madeline Usher’s Coffin(inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story, The Fall of the House of Usher) – Antique nineteenth-century poison bottle; antique bronze doorknob; genuine nineteenth-century coffin screws; dried branches; pale pink “coffin-lining” satin ribbon; antiqued silver medallionThe table’s set.Everyone’s got their own seat at it. Your mother sits there, dad here, grandma and grandpa down that end. Brothers and sisters scattered in-between, and the little kids have got one all their own.And you?You’ll take your place where you always have, the far left corner, where the dining room table leg will be jammed between your knees for the next couple of hours.Comfortable, no?But there’s not much to be done about it.It’s tradition.It’s family.Everybody’s family tree grows a bit off-kilter. There are a couple of lemons, some nuts, and a few bad apples to be found.What are you going to do?Well, you could offer up a prayer of thanks that you’re not related to the Ushers.Before you ask, I’ll elaborate.The Ushers were once a fine, upstanding family, one passionately devoted to the arts, one lauded for their dedication to charitable causes. But as the years went by, the Usher bloodline became tainted, poisoned. The roots of their family tree had rot, the branches withered, becoming gnarled and twisted.And, in time, the Usher coat-of-arms was no longer a shining shield, but one made from strong canvas that tied at the back—a straightjacket.The last two pieces of bitter fruit surviving from a past proud lineage were a brother and sister—twins—Roderick and Madeline. He suffered from an acute sensitivity of the senses, eating only the most flavorless of foods, wearing only the lightest of fabrics, veiling his eyes from the brightest of glares, guarding his ears from nothing but the softest of sounds.And she?She suffered from a mysterious, wasting ailment and frequent bouts of catalepsy.The Usher manse was just as pitiful, just as musty, mildewed, and moldy as its occupants. Its former glory turned to wrack and ruin, its lush grounds now nothing but a far-stretching, foul-smelling tarn, a veritable swamp of fetid decay.Evenings there must have been so jolly, what with Madeline slipping in and out of consciousness upstairs while Roderick entertained, strumming his lute, singing such cheery ditties as “The Haunted Palace” or reading from his trove of books on humorous subjects—palmistry, satyrs, a treatise on the Spanish Inquisition.In short time, Madeline shuffled off this mortal coil (lucky her), Roderick himself tightening the coffin screws. She was then relegated to the catacombs below, while Roddy took to wandering the corridors above, a mad hilarity seen in his eyes.Things came to a head a week later. A monstrous storm assailed, the wind, the thunder shivering the walls of the already crumbling abode, the lightning illuminating the hideous lagoon from which a putrescent fog oozed. The rooms rang with strange noises, scrapings, scratchings, that culminated in one frightful shriek.The storm blew open the door and upon the threshold stood……Madeline Usher, in a blood-stained shroud. She had been interred while still alive, during one of her cataleptic fugues.With a cry, she fell upon her brother, both of them hitting the floor as corpses—real ones, this time. Outside a sanguine moon watched as the mansion split in two and collapsed, a[...]

The Return of...


Arcanifacts have slithered their way back into the River Edge Library!The exhibition lasts until Wednesday, November 28th - don't miss it!River Edge Library685 Elm Avenue, River Edge, NJ 07661(201) 261-1663Hours: Mon, Tue, Thu, 10am - 9pm; Wed, Fri, Sat, 10am-5pm.Read about the exhibition below:ARCANIFACTS EXHIBIT RETURNS TO THE RIVER EDGE LIBRARYBY MEGAN BURROWTown NewsMANAGING EDITORJust in time for Halloween, an exhibit of borough resident Scot Ryersson's unique works is returning to the River Edge Library.The 20 new pieces will be on display in the library's three cases from early October through the last week in November.The exhibit, subtitled "Something Nasty in the Nursery," includes works inspired by many beloved children's tales, such as Lewis Carroll's "Alice Through the Looking Glass," J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan," Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," as well as numerous Mother Goose nursery rhymes.The pieces are part of "Arcanifacts," a project Ryersson began about five years ago. Each piece in the collection is an assemblage of found objects and pictures inspired by short stories, novels and folklore.As a student, Ryersson trained at Chelsea School of Art and Design in London before beginning a career in motion picture advertising.While living in Sydney, New York, Toronto and London, he designed multi-award-winning graphics for numerous major Hollywood and international films, including "The Silence of the Lambs," "Ghost," "The Hunt for Red October" and "Witness."His work on "Evil under the Sun" and "Another Country" each garnered him an Art Directors of London Award.In 1999, Ryersson co-authored a biography of Marchesa Casati, an eccentric Italian celebrity in the early 20th century, with Michael Orlando Yaccarino. The book, "Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati," has been adapted into a play and the fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano have each based collections on Casati.An illustrated version of the biography was recently released by the art book publisher Abrams.In 2010, Ryersson's book jacket design for "A Dangerous Man," a novel written by Anne Brooke, was nominated for both an Imperial Artisan and a Rainbow Award. He was commissioned specifically by director/producer John Borowski to create props for his documentary, "Carl Panzram," which is released this month.Last July, Ryersson was interviewed for a segment on the local television program "Neighborhood Journal." In the spring he was invited to speak as a guest lecturer at River Dell High School. He said he showed the students a slide show and brought in several examples of his work."Some of them really got into it, especially the ones interested in film," he said.His most valuable advice for a young artist beginning a career: "You have to create your own vision."Ryersson created Arcanifacts, a term comprising the Latin words arcanus (secret) and factum (thing made) to describe an artifact containing both mystery and truth, to explore his "artistic obsessions with the arcane and phantasmagorical."Asked which mixed media piece in the collection is his favorite, Ryersson said the question is akin to asking a parent to name their favorite child, but named one of his most recent pieces, a work inspired by the Ray Bradbury novel "Something Wicked This Way Comes," as a possible contender."Right now I'm still pretty pr[...]