Being a student of the Ray Bradbury School for Creative Arts has its challenges. I am educating myself in the studies of fine arts on my own. The local library is where I study and my home studio is my campus. I am the faculty, superintendent, guidance counselor, Dean, student body and janitor. However, I am not my one and only teacher. I am guided by the voices of the artists that I study, artists who send their ideas out into the universe like a message in a bottle.
So when I’m standing on the beach of my education and the tide carries in the bottles containing the lessons for the day, what washes up? Well, men who play with dolls. I’m receiving messages from men who play with dolls.
The first of these messages comes from the first man I remember playing with dolls, Jim Henson. I can sensibly say that I have been a fan ever since I can remember. This man entertained me with puppets, taught me to read and created many of the worlds that I love to escape into. Kermit taught me friendship, compassion, humor and how to like myself. Jim Henson played with dolls and I loved him for it. The book; It’s Not Easy Being Green and Other Things to Consider is one of my favorite books of all time. It is a collection of quotes from Jim himself and quotes about him by the people who were close to him. Jim Henson is a wonderful mentor (even though he has long since left this world) and one of the greatest creators of all time. He taught me that imagination has no boundaries.
As an adult I found a documentary on Netflix called Marwencol. I unearthed this gem when searching for art films to further my personal education, its part of the curriculum here at The Ray Bradbury School for Creative Arts. Marwencol is the true story of artist Mark Hogancamp.
Hogancamp survived a brutal beating outside of a bar that resulted in a coma and brain damage. When he was released from the hospital he had suffered from memory loss. He built a 1/6th scale town in his backyard and populated it with dolls, alter egos of himself and others he knows. He photographs his town and tells the most amazing story with his photos, as a therapy to cope with his abuse and injuries.
I love Marwencol and I love Mark Hogancamp. I have already watched this movie about 50 times and I continue to watch it. If I’m ever feeling hurt or lonely I put on Marwencol and sit down in front of the TV with my projects. Mark Hogancamp teaches me to be myself. He motivates me to work harder and by his example I use my own art as therapy and it works. Everybody has their personal stories of abuse, we’re all at least a little bit broken inside from the horrors we face in our lifetimes. Creating is the most healing therapy I have ever experienced. Mark Hogancamp plays with dolls. He has created a parallel universe to his own, a detailed, dangerous and awesome place. I find myself visiting Marwencol on a regular basis; it’s a home away from home.
Recently I was turned on to another wonderful man who creates and plays with dolls, John Frame. A few months ago while I was out performing with my band The Little Black Bottles, I met a lover of art and music who was asking me about my art and music. I talked about how I’ve been studying stop-motion animation and then I was asked if I knew of John Frame. I hadn’t heard of him at the time, but I was soon intrigued when told about the exhibition at the Portland Art Museum that my conversation companion had just been to.
When I got home I researched John Frame to learn as much about him as I could and watched all the films I could get a hold of. John is a sculptor who creates his own characters. He carves his puppets so delicately out of wood and in manner so lovely that it would bring a tear drop to the eye of Geppetto. I was immediately drawn into his bizarre world like I was visiting a place I had long forgotten.
When I went to Portland for The Sketchbook Project, my friends and I took a trip to the Portland Art Museum. John Frame’s exhibit, Three Fragments of a Lost Tale completely took my breath away. The hall was dark and dramatically lit. The puppets from the films were displayed in glass and on a small stage in the back. I spent a lot of time there observing the details from all angles, trying to imagine watching the creator while he invented these marvels. It was spellbinding and I did not want to leave.
There was a dark room at the exhibit where you could sit and watch the films and a short documentary about John Frame. While watching the documentary I gained the best advice as an artist that I have ever come across. On a wooden shelf in John Frame’s personal studio was a hand carved sign that said the most brilliant thing that anyone could ever say to an artist, CREATE WITHOUT FEAR. I have really been thinking about that; to create without fear. I write it down over and over. I say it to myself.
“Create Without Fear”
I love Jim Henson, he created without fear. I love Mark Hogancamp, he creates without fear, and I love John Frame who put up the sign in his studio to remind himself to do the same. Create without fear.
These 3 teachers have given me some powerful lessens and I’m quite sure that they have no idea that did such a wonderful thing for me. So I say thank you to them even though they may never hear me.
I love men who play with dolls.
If you’d like to see me play with dolls, check out my book Allegory of the Dolls (here).