Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You Better Watch Out...

Schwarzes horn von Weihnachts Krampus (inspired by Germanic legend) – Vintage apothecary jar with lid; genuine ram’s horn; mica flakes, faux snow; shattered antique glass German Christmas ornaments; antique glass German St. Nicholas ornament; white wax; tarnished silver tinsel; antique sleigh bell; wired French ribbon; antique German Christmas Krampus postcard; antique rusted chains; switches

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why…

Nope, sorry, it isn’t Santa Claus comin’ to town…it’s the Krampus.

The what? I heard you ask.

The Krampus, jolly old St. Nicholas’ original traveling companion. See, in olden days, in the gloom of the Black Forest in Germany where the legends began, St. Nicholas, or Sinterklass as he was known back then, was a kind, beneficent figure, bestowing gifts upon all good little children everywhere—you know the kind, the ones who say their prayers at night, who eat their vegetables, the ones who listen to Mama and Papa, who do as they are told. But it seems jolly old St. Nick had issues with punishing those kids that made his naughty list. So he hired a terrifying black-furred, black-horned, black-hoofed creature, with bulging yellow eyes and one really long, lolling pink tongue to do his dirty work.

Yup, that’s the Krampus—and he gets his name from his set of spiky, feral claws.

It was the Krampus’ job to chastise the disobedient, the insubordinate, the disrespectful and the rebellious into submission. This was done with the sharp switches he carried. And if after being violently thrashed the miscreant was still unrepentant, the Krampus lugged a great big wicker basket and rusty chains around with him and pop! into that basket would go the shackled, wailing brat and he or she would then be the recipient of a one-way trip to the infernal regions.

In short, he was the bad cop to Santa’s good.

Sometimes the Krampus was lenient; if a child had been just a wee bit too mischievous the past year, a lump of coal would be left as a warning of what they would be stoking in the hellfires below if that bad behavior didn’t improve—and fast!

As the stream of German, Austrian, and Northern European refugees disembarked on America’s shores, they brought with them their customs, those involving the keeping of Christmas being the most prevailing. But the fainthearted, lily-livered folk in the New World couldn’t stomach the darker traditions of the Old, and so the Krampus’ immigration papers were refused at Ellis Island and he was deported back home.

Even St. Nick himself got watered down from imposing holy figure in miter and robes to a small, rotund elf in a red flannel suit. After all, that merry old elf with the white beard and cherry cheeks, whose belly shook like a bowlful of jelly with each giggle was so much easier to take—and so much more marketable. Who’d want an inky devil hawking Coca-Cola to the masses? Or climbing down their chimney flue in the middle of the night. And let’s face it, Herr Krampus would be a real tough fit into a season’s recitation of “The Night Before Christmas”…more Edgar Allan Poe than ho, ho, ho…

…and he probably wouldn’t have gotten on too well with those flying reindeer anyhow.

Gone are the days of being borne off to Hell in a hand-basket; the worst punishment Santa seems to be able to manage now is to dole out underwear and socks.

But as history teaches us, old habits die hard, and the Krampus has clung on tenaciously with his claws, refusing to give in to obscurity. He became a prominent figure during the Christmas postcard craze that hit Europe from the late-1800s to the beginning of World War I; his evilly grinning visage bearing “Grüß vom Krampus,”—“Greetings from Krampus”—arriving in the post to households everywhere. And he even has his own eve of festivity, Krampusnacht, the 6th of December, where young male townsfolk are encourage to dress up, their Krampus costumes made from sheepskin, rams’ horns, and a switch or two that they use to swat children and unsuspecting young ladies.

Just goes to show, you can’t keep a horny old goat down for long.

So, remember, the Krampus is still there, lurking in every shadow where the flickering firelight and guttering candle flame can’t reach…and maybe those sleigh bells are in fact the jingling of rusted chains…and maybe Rudolph didn’t make those hoof-prints in the snow…and maybe those twinkling bulbs on the tree might just be a pair of bright yellow eyes blinking…

…and that often-sung holiday tune suddenly takes on a whole new meaning…

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Family That Preys Together...

A Rememoration of the Bloody Benders (inspired by the legend of the infamous Kansas Bender family)– Papier mâché trunk box, hand-painted and stained; antique hammerhead; dried rose, twigs and leaves; rusted doodad; wax; theatrical blood; genuine human hair; dirt; antiqued and stained newspaper clippings; altered art pieces—antique Queen of Spades playing card, stained black-and-white print of abandoned cabin walls and floor, Benders Drops advertisement

Ahhh, Thanksgiving…

A time to count one’s blessings.

A time to honor hearth and home.

A time to celebrate family…

…the ties that bind…

…round the table.

Ma and Pa and their son and daughter.

Come, you must be plum tuckered out after all that wandering. Sit a spell, dinner’s just about ready…they’re all glad to see you…

But you haven’t been properly introduced…meet the Benders.

Ma (she has no other name it seems) and Pa John are sturdy, hardworking folk, from the old country. They don’t mingle much, stay to themselves mostly.

The children are more sociable, good church-going type. The son, John Jr., is a well-mannered, simple sort with a newly sprouted moustache; the daughter, Kate, an auburn-haired beauty, she’s a bit of a flirt, a young spitfire of a filly who already has local lads’ tongues hanging out, panting, like parched dogs during a summer scorcher.

It’s a heartwarming picture, no?

But take another look…

Ma’s got ‘em shifty eyes, and she ain’t too friendly.

Pa’s a great big bear of a man, dark gaze peerin’ atcha from under heavy brows, watchin’ yer every move.

John Jr.’s really a half-wit, gigglin’ a lot when it, well, just ain’t right.

And Kate, claims to be a healer, she does, cure all yer ills with her patent medicine, her layin’ on of hands, and…oh, yeah, she talks to the dead. Ain’t pullin’ yer leg.

Somethin’ just ain’t right ‘bout ‘em Benders.

Labette County, Kansas, 1872.

The Benders were supposed German immigrants. They settled in on a plot of homesteaders land brought from the government and opened The Wayside Inn, just off the main route of the Osage Mission-Independence Trail, surrounded by miles and miles of unspoiled Sunflower State prairie. The Wayside was a small, dingy place—but hungry pioneers didn’t seem to care. It was a spot to get some home-cooking, stock up on a few provisions, grab forty-winks, and then hit the trail before sun-up. The grub wasn’t bad, the bedding adequate, and they’d even take care of the horses for you, but what drew them in was Kate.

That auburn-haired beauty.

She made you feel right at home.

Put you in the seat of honor at their table, she did.


You see, the Benders were so famous for their warm welcome that many of their guests stayed on…


The seat of honor at the Bender’s table had its back against a curtained wall. If you looked prosperous, had a gold watch or a silk handkerchief, shiny boots or a new hat, a strapping stallion or a strong team, a full cart and cash in your pocket, beware the hammer.

The Bender Hammer.

Pa was real good at wielding it.

A shadow, a shuffle behind that curtain and…

…I think you get the picture.

And Norman Rockwell it ain’t.

The leftovers were disposed of through a trap door to the cellar, soon to be stripped and sown somewhere out in the apple orchard, or by the vegetable garden—real good fertilizer a fresh corpse is, you know.

Plan went off without a hitch for well over a year, until, as danged luck would have it, they done bumped off the wrong person.

Most of the casualties were those on the move, seeking a better life, following Horace Greeley’s sage advice, “Go west, young man…” and if they disappeared? Hell, the Indians got them, or the wolves, or whatever rough country ailments were out there—Rocky Mountain spotted fever anyone? But one of the Bender’s callers had been the brother of quite a renowned Civil War Colonel—and that Colonel came looking.

Brought the law with him, too—the sheriff and several deputies.

But by the time they reached the Wayside, the Benders had vanished.

The place was empty of everything—except the terrible smell.

Ten bodies were discovered buried on the Bender’s land, including those of one woman and a little girl. By coincidence, the first found was that of the Colonel’s brother; his skull had been bludgeoned, his throat cut from ear to ear, and he’d been planted in the ground headfirst, his feet all but exposed.

That same day, the Wayside Inn became known as “Hell’s Half-Acre.”

It was estimated that the Benders—America’s first recorded serial killers—had offered their inimitable style of hospitality to close to two dozen unsuspecting travelers and pocketed about $4,600, two teams of horses and wagons, and a pony and a saddle.

Rewards were offered for the murderers capture; police, sheriffs, bounty hunters, and just good ol’ plain folk searched and searched, but neither hide nor hair was ever found of the Bloody Benders.


No how.

Not ever.

So, when you sit yourself down at the dinner table with your kith and kin this Thanksgiving, and after you’ve said grace and thanked the Lord for your bounty, give up an amen for family. In the end, the love of a family is life’s greatest blessing…

…blood’s thicker, ain’t it?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Enter at Your Own Risk...

The premiere exhibition of Arcanifacts is on view through November 1st at the River Edge Library, 685 Elm Avenue in River Edge, NJ.

Twenty-one pieces of the bizarre, the unusual, the arcane, and phantasmagorical await...

Don't miss it, for once the sun sets on All Soul's Day, they disappear...

See pictures from and read an article on the exhibition below:


River Edge Library Exhibit Inspired by Fictional Characters
Town News

At first glance, the meticulously collected objects arranged in antique glass bottles look like specimens in a mad scientist's laboratory rather than an art show. But upon further inspection, visitors to the River Edge Library, where the exhibit, "Arcanifacts," will be on display until the end of the month, will discover that each piece draws the viewer into a mythical world through its creative assemblage of pictures and found objects.

"Arcanifacts" is a collection of 21 works taken from a larger project River Edge resident Scot Ryersson began in 2007. Ryersson said he invented the term from the Latin words arcanus (secret) and factum (thing made) to describe an artifact containing both mystery and truth.

Most of the pieces are inspired by fictional characters from short stories, novels and folklore that captured Ryersson's imagination.

"It started off as the idea of found objects of fictional characters, like shards from the Mad Hatter's tea cup." he said. "It was almost the idea of proving that fictional characters were real."

The pieces range from a collection of rotting antique lace, a broken porcelain cherub head, and a wedding ring on a string, evoking the heartbreak of Charles Dickens' Miss Havisham, who was famously jilted on her wedding day in "Great Expectations," to Sweeney Todd's shaving brush and an antique diagram of the arteries of the neck. Visitors will be given a program identifying each object on display and a bibliography of the works that inspired the pieces.

While most are based on fictional characters, at least two have been inspired by real people. Lizzie Borden's hatchet is the focal point of one piece, and another work draws its inspiration from the mid-20th century story of the Collyer brothers, two of the original "hoarders," found dead in their Fifth Avenue apartment surrounded by more than 130 tons of old newspapers and decades of collected trash.

Ryersson estimates that he has made about 70 of these pieces and said he was surprised by how much people seemed to like what had been originally something purely for his own amusement.

"They are really strange … People don't quite know what to make of them right away, but then they really get into them," he said. "They've never crawled out of the house before, except for commissions. This is the first time they've been released upon the general public."

When he initially approached the library, Ryersson was wary that the exhibit might be too weird for display. He said a few of the librarians looked "stunned" at what was coming out of the boxes he had packed. But with Halloween just around the corner and the pieces' literary connections, the exhibit has found a fitting home.

Ryersson's interest in the macabre has long bled into his work. Before creating Arcanifacts, he designed movie posters for about 15 years, including ones for "The Silence of the Lambs," "Ghost," and "Witness." His work on "Evil Under the Sun" and "Another Country" each garnered him an Art Directors of London Award. He stopped working in the film industry after studios began using digital images instead of art to sell their product.

In 1999, Ryersson co-authored a biography of the 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. Most recently, an illustrated version of the biography was released by the art book publisher Abrams.

To learn more about Ryersson and his work, visit He accepts private commissions and can be contacted via e-mail at

Friday, October 1, 2010

Harlem Nocturne

2078 Fifth Avenue (inspired by the legend of the Collyer brothers) – Cardboard photo box; antiqued and stained newspaper clippings; wooden dollhouse windows with acrylic panes; LED light; desiccated orange peels; miniature chair; silver wire; genuine desiccated beetle; rusted nails; genuine Model T Ford sparkplug; altered art photographs of the inside of the Collyer Mansion, 1947

It was something that could have, should have, come only from the pen of O. Henry—the master American storyteller, celebrated for his mordant wit, his sardonic wordplay, his dexterity at always producing a surprise ending, one with a twist, a real kicker; like the yarn about the two crooks who abduct a boy of ten and hold him for ransom, until their victim turns out to be so obnoxious that the kidnappers actually pay the boy’s family to take him back.

Yeah, that sort of thing…

And here it was, in real life.

New York City, March, 1947.

Something sure stunk at 2078 Fifth Avenue. The cops knew the address well, that huge, rotting four-story brownstone at the corner of 128th Street. It had been an eyesore for years—filthy, rundown, its façade a patchwork of broken, boarded-up windows. God only knew what it looked like on the inside!

And the owners were just as peculiar.

A pair of brothers—Homer and Langley Collyer, scions of a once prominent Manhattan physician and his wife. Both of them wealthy, snooty, and well…just plain odd. Homer had a degree in admiralty law from Columbia, one that was never put to much use, especially since he was slowly going blind, and Langley…Langley let his hair grow long, played concert-level piano and tinkered and collected—anything and everything.

After both their parents died in the 1920s, that massive strongbox of a home became theirs and theirs alone, and Langley’s collecting went from benign quirk to all-out obsession. With Homer ensconced quietly, and evidently contently, in his room, Langley took to the streets, roaming the deserted city thoroughfares after dark, dressed in strange Victorian garb, amassing trash along the way, like a bee attracting pollen. He ferreted his findings back and into his hive.

Though moneyed, the Collyers lived off the scraps Langley scrounged from garbage bins in the back of local restaurants. The electricity and gas were disconnected owing to overdue bills, the telephone was cut off, and the banks threatened to foreclose as mortgage payment after mortgage payment was ignored. Income taxes were scoffed at—why pay income tax if we have no income, Langley reasoned. It was said they paid for nothing. Nothing except the daily newspapers—they had a subscription to every one published in every borough—and the oranges. Yup, oranges. It seems Langley was convinced that if his older brother ate enough of them, a hundred a week was the regimen, his eyesight would return and he’d want to read all those newspapers, to catch up on what he missed. But, sadly, Homer’s vision didn’t come back…and the combination of a poor diet and a lack of adequate activity hardened his joints. So blind and wracked by rheumatism, the elder of the Collyers took to his reading chair and gradually desiccated.

Gossip was rife, tongues wagged. Since no one saw them—or at least one of them—until after nightfall, the Collyers were soon christened the “ghosty men” by their astonished, incredulous, and oftentimes irritated, neighbors. Rumor claimed the house was full of treasure, priceless jewels and masterpieces of art. Burglars began sniffing around, and the manse’s windows were prime targets for any young hooligan with a rock in his fist. Such attacks exacerbated the brothers’ anxiety, fueled their paranoia, so the front door was barred, the windows shuttered behind plywood and iron grillwork; the world was shut out…

…and 2078 Fifth Avenue became a tomb.


That brings us back to the stink. Back to the morning of March 21, 1947, when the telephone rang at the 122nd Police Precinct, and an anonymous tipster claimed there was a dead body in the crumbling brownstone at Fifth and 128th. Officers went to investigate and found the address all but hermetically sealed. The only way in was through the roof. Whether the cops drew straws or flipped a coin for the dirty job isn’t known, but patrolman William Barker lost, and made his descent.

What should have been nothing more than a ten to fifteen minute search, lasted nearly an hour. The police were getting worried. Then Barker’s head popped out of the rabbit hole, his face pale, his eyes wide.

And the story he had to tell about his journey to Wonderland…well, that’s still talked about to this day.

To start off small, within there were cardboard boxes, some lashed together with rope; folding beds and chairs; the frame of a baby carriage, half of a sewing machine; farming tools; collections of disintegrating umbrellas bunched in twine; parts of a wine press. Book towers teetered. And everywhere, newspapers—decades worth, morning edition and evening edition—stacked along the walls, from floor to ceiling, creating a labyrinth, where, in some areas, it was necessary to crawl on hands and knees through tunnels of them just to reach the next room, many of them booby-trapped against intruders. Touch a trip wire and an avalanche of heavy suitcases crammed full of junk would squash and flatten.

A partial inventory of accumulation: rusted bicycles; old food; potato peelers; gas chandeliers; bowling balls; camera equipment; the folding top of a horse-drawn carriage; a sawhorse; three dressmaking dummies; painted portraits of long-forgotten ancestors; pinup girl photos; Mrs. Collyer's hope chests; rusty bed springs; a kerosene stove; a child's chair (the brothers were lifelong bachelors and childless, what a shock!); more than twenty-five thousand books; human organs pickled in jars (from their doctor/father, one hopes); eight live cats; threadbare European tapestries; hundreds of yards of unused silks and fabric; fourteen pianos (both grand and upright); a clavichord; two pipe organs; banjos; violins; bugles; accordions; a nine-foot-tall mahogany clock with a music box inside; thirteen ornate mantel clocks, one contained a metal bust of a girl whose ears and bodice dripped gold coins; a cache of weapons and ammunition; a horse’s jawbone; two anatomy school skeletons; a broken x-ray machine; a gramophone with records dating from 1898, including “Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon for her Lover Who is Fur, Fur Away” and “Nobody In Town Can Bake a Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine;” and, of course, those multitudinous bundles of newspapers.

And the chassis of an old Model T Ford, taking pride of place in the dining room. The ol’ tinkerer Langley believed he could generate enough electricity off the motor to light the house.

Didn’t work.

Oh, yeah…and no inventory would be complete without…

Homer’s corpse.

The withered shell that had once been Homer Lusk Collyer was discovered curled up in his favorite reading chair, dead as a doornail, the carpet surrounding littered with moldering orange peels. He’d starved to death.

But where was Langley?

Had he killed Homer and fled?

Had he finally gone totally bonkers and was now a homicidal lunatic wandering New York City’s streets?

An all-points bulletin was issued for his capture. A nationwide manhunt followed and although some Langley look-alikes were detained, the genuine still eluded.

But the haunted mansion at 2078 Fifth Avenue had one final secret to reveal.


His rat-gnawed body was found crushed beneath a pile of debris. He was wearing a bathrobe, three jackets and four pairs of trousers. Around his neck as a scarf was a white onion sack fastened with a safety pin.

He had been done in by one of his own booby-traps while bringing food to his brother.

That’s the O. Henry ending I was talking about.

Ultimately, over one-hundred and thirty tons of hoarded items were removed from 2078 Fifth Avenue. The brownstone, neglected and deteriorating, was deemed a hazard to life and limb and demolished. A small park is located there now—the Collyer Brothers Park.

And what of the brothers themselves?

They were interred, side by side, in the family plot at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Their graves remain unmarked.

The Collyer brothers have finally succeeded in shutting out the world.

“Scot D. Ryersson’s ‘2078 Fifth Avenue’ is both a meditation on the Collyer brothers, in its careful arrangement of their symbols and sigils into a new whole, and also, in its making, a recreation of the impulses that led to their deaths, for saving the newspaper clippings and orange peels becomes its own kind of hoarding, and his confining of these artifacts in this box his own way of demarcating what is his from that which is not.

And now what, and what next? I cannot help but wonder: What does it mean for the artist, if the only way to keep his art is to never again set these gathered objects free? What does it cost to take from the world and make for oneself a new one, as each worthy work of art must be?

After all, Homer and Langley Collyer did nothing more than this, and their act was still heavy enough to bury them beneath its weight.”

--Matt Bell, author of
How They Were Found, which includes the novella “The Collectors,” based on the lives of Homer and Langley Collyer

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Boats Against the Current

An Ounce of Water from Jay Gatsby’s Swimming Pool (inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby) – Vintage 1920’s art deco glass lithographed picture frame; vintage 1920’s art deco crystal perfume bottle with sterling top; dried leaf; dried daisies; old feather; broken sea shell; strand of genuine vintage pearls; altered art pieces—postcard of Gatsby House, newspaper article on car accident, colour prints of marble tile, white marble and wave mosaic

The end of the season.

The days grew shorter, summer was fleeting.

There was a slight chill in the air now after sunset.

The tips of the leaves were just turning gold.

The sun sparkled on the pool’s gently undulating waves.

The gardener wanted to drain it, get it ready for its long winter’s nap, pointing out that it was better to get a head-start before the leaves began to fall, clogging up the drains. But he had said no, stating that he hadn’t had a swim all summer—it could wait until tomorrow. And so, he headed inside, emerging a short while later in his au courant one-piece bathing-suit with its black trunks and striped top, pausing only to stop in the garage to blow up a rubber air mattress before diving in.

Time seemed to stand still.

He floated, all but oblivious to the sounds surrounding—the serenade of birds, the hum of a speedboat on the bay, the clear, cool water lapping against the pool’s tiled perimeter.

The speedboat moved on, the rumble of its motor fading, then the birds took flight as the languid silence was shattered by one gun shot—then another—and then, once again, all that was left to be heard was the lapping of the clear, cool water against the pool’s tiled perimeter.

Cool, clear water slowly being tainted with a spreading scarlet stain.

The rubber air mattress drifted aimlessly, buffeted to and fro by the afternoon breeze, its rider motionless.

The great Jay Gatsby was dead.

Jay Gatsby—West Egg’s young rajah, a small town kid with big dreams, the former James Gatz, a hick from North Dakota. He a self-made, self-disciplined, self-invention sculpted from a suspect youth as an Oxford graduate, a disillusioned soldier, a rake, a bon vivant left off the leash in all the capitals of Europe, a possible rum-running yachtsman and even a little boy who once liked to read Hopalong Cassidy.

Yes, quite a mystery was the great Jay Gatsby.

The respectable old wealth of Long Island’s East Egg watched on in dismay as the nouveaux riche of West Egg partied. The music was too loud, the girls too loose, the men too louche, manners be damned, and despite the laws, the liquor flowed freely. The stone steps, the marble patios, the great lawns of Gatsby House, a massive faux French chateau on the Sound, were venues for orgiastic carousing, revels that made the 20s roar to the syncopated rhythms of snare drums and bakelite bracelets. And while his guests—both invited and uninvited—gorged their stomachs with fine fodder, seared their throats with bootleg gin and danced the foxtrot and the Charleston into the wee hours, their host, that same aforementioned handsome, prosperous, and enigmatic Jay Gatsby, was to be found alone, standing on the dock, his eyes searching the night for a glimpse of a strange green light in the distance.

A strange green light that symbolized his buried past and his hope for the future, a strange green light that hung on the end of the dock of his lost love…


Daisy Buchanan—a brittle, angelic creature, pampered, superficial, and spoilt, with a sirenic allure, an indifferent enchantress who conjured up days of divine romance long gone even though she was now wife to another.

But still Gatsby clung to his American Dream, enmeshed in the seemingly fragile cobwebs of what went before, his life as dusty, dried-up, and desiccated as the Valley of Ashes, a desolate stretch of land laid out between West Egg and Manhattan; a veritable desert, dark and barren, of black cinders left behind by a devastating fire.

A wasteland soon to be the setting of a horrendous event.

Too fast; they were going too fast.

A shadow darted.

A scream.

A dull thud.

The screeching skid of tires.

A momentary silence.

The snarl of an engine as it was revved up, before speeding away.

And the American Dream lay in the ashes.

It was something both simultaneously fated and accidental, something that had far-reaching consequences, something that punished the innocent while the guilty went free, something that caused the clear, cool water of a swimming pool to run red.

And across the bay that strange green light had gone out.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Did She or...?

August 4, 1892 (inspired by the legend of Lizzie Borden) – Antique Borden’s wooden crate; antique hatchet; genuine 1893 Police News cover on Borden acquittal; rusted wire; rusted nails; rusted tacks; straw; thorn branch; genuine pigeon feathers; vintage bolt lock; antique fishing leads; antique house key; antique watch face; genuine dried weevil; desiccated pear core; antique poison bottle; antique scrap of black lace; vintage Virgo brooch; black lace mourning fan; dried pansies and violets; altered art pieces—newspaper articles concerning history of Borden case, Johnny cakes recipe, Lizzie Borden rhyme, newspaper advertisement for Andrew J. Borden’s Undertaking business, Sargent’s store advertisement, prussic acid and poison label

Spring, 1927.

The fine Victorian manse sat atop the hill, its parlor windows opened to the balmy afternoon, gauzy white curtains billowing in the gentle breeze. Beyond lay the greensward of a manicured front lawn, the carpet of grass bisected by three stone steps leading to the sidewalk. The topmost step was artfully incised with the house’s name—Maplecroft. And within, beneath the whitewashed gingerbread trim and the towering gables; below the tall brick chimneys and the verdigris weathervane; behind the mullioned glass and the sedately-painted clapboard and the tall oak door, lived one of America’s most notorious.

She—an aged New England spinster, a plump, gray-haired former Sunday school teacher suffering from arthritis and kidney problems. Her failing, bespectacled eyes gazed out past the draperies to study a lone child—a girl, five or six at the most, in a simple white dress and shoes, skipping rope, her bouncing gilded curls catching the sun, a bright smile on her rosy-cheeked face as she sang:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
Gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one

The aged New England spinster withdrew.

The song was about her.

Thirty-five years earlier she had stood accused of a shocking crime—the grisly murders of her father and stepmother.

The date: a stiflingly hot Thursday morning, August 4, 1892.

The place: 92 Second Street, Fall River, Massachusetts, an unfashionable address, a rabbit warren of a house with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no hallways—where rooms just opened upon rooms. A house of locked doors, divided by hate; the front occupied by two sisters, the back by the victims. The public rooms—the kitchen, the parlor, the dining room—no-man’s lands where only forced smiles and cold cordiality were allowed.

The casualties: Andrew Jackson Borden, 70, a prosperous but miserly man, a former mortician, worth over half-a-million hard-earned dollars, and his corpulent, unpleasant second wife Abby Durfee Gray, 64. No tears would be shed for either of them.

The suspects: Andrew’s daughters, Lizzie Andrew Borden, 32, and her devoted sister, Emma Lenora, 41; an Irish immigrant maid, Bridget Sullivan, 26; and a visiting uncle, John Vinnicum Morse.

The weapon: claimed to be a hatchet.

The motive: some said it was greed—money surely the root of all evil—and that Andrew was preparing a new will in favor of his wife and not his offspring; some said it was a dispute over fair distribution of property; some said it was the culmination of years of abuse, the ink blots of detestation spreading; some said it was the foul, days-old mutton broth, stale Johnny Cakes and bad coffee served for breakfast.

All that was certain, though, was that they were dead.

Abby, the first to go, met her end while changing the sheets in the second-floor guestroom. Eighteen strikes brought her down, leaving her a bloody, sweaty, soggy mess on the carpet between bed and bureau.

Andrew was found in the sitting room, laid out on the couch, his skull gaping upon a pillow, his clothes, the floral wallpaper behind, the rug in front, the framed picture above, the leather upholstery below, ensanguined.

Both were crimes of hatred—someone wanted them not only dead, but obliterated from the face of the earth.

Someone—but who?

Older sister Emma was with friends in Fairhaven. Bridget was chatting with a neighbor’s maid over the fence and Uncle John was in town.

And Lizzie…?

Lizzie Borden was arrested, tried and acquitted (after all, whoever would believe that any well-bred, Christian girl, a member of the Temperance Union, so beloved for her kindness to animals could ever, would ever hack someone to death in broad daylight?), but no other explanation was ever offered officially, no one else was ever brought to the dock.

And Lizzie…?

Lizzie Borden found herself ostracized. With her share of her father’s estate, she moved not out of Fall River, but above it—to an affluent area known as the “Hill,” staring down upon all those who snubbed her. Emma went with her, sisters together, until 1913 when Emma abruptly up and left and never saw nor spoke to her infamous sibling again. Lizzie lived on alone in her mansion, dying from pneumonia on June 1, 1927. Emma followed her to the grave just nine days later. They were buried in the family plot, the Bordens once more forced by fate to spend eternity in close quarters.

And Lizzie…?

Lizzie Borden was damned by folklore—condemned forever by a nursery rhyme.

"Scot D. Ryersson's Arcanifact celebrating the mystery of Lizzie Borden captures for me those lingering feelings and heightened senses I have always connected with Lizzie and that fateful August day: the smell of aged wood and burnt paper; the delicacy of dried flowers and dark lace; the claustrophobic presence of locks, hooks and wires; the rust and rot of lives half-lived...

Mr. Ryersson's attention to detail and macabre flair for the absurd make this work of art both inspired and inspiring. I am a fan."

- Brendan Byrnes, Author, Lizzie Borden's Tempest

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Borne Aloft

A Feather From Pegasus’ Wing (inspired by ancient Greek mythology) – Vintage gold-leafed shadow box frame; natural white feather; theatrical blood; black paint; star field showing the constellation of Pegasus in the night sky done in white pencil; altered art pieces—cut-outs of clouds, stone label

Sunlight strikes the keen edge of a sword blade.

In the mirrored brightness of a polished shield the hero sees his quarry.

The sword is raised and cuts the air.

A neck is severed, a head rolls, blood spurts.

With the help of the gods, the young Perseus has just slain the gorgon, Medusa.

Medusa, a legendary beauty who so offended the goddess Athena by a base coupling with the lord of the oceans, Poseidon, within the sanctity of her temple. Thus the goddess of wisdom and war cursed the lovely maid with an ugliness beyond compare. Her fair skin grew dark and covered in reptilian scales, her lithe fingers became a lizard’s claws, her lush tangle of hair coming to life, a writhing nest of serpents—and from that moment on, any living thing from ant to human that gazed upon this frightful creature would be turned to stone.

Now that abomination lay dead, Medusa’s head snatched up and placed in a leather bag, and off Perseus flew to smite his family’s enemies, leaving the gorgon’s body twitching in the sun, a grotesque island in a sea of blood.

But from that blood something arose—a magnificent winged horse, shaking its pristine white hide and mane free of sanguine spots. The equine tested its wings, once, twice, and then took to the clouds.

From Medusa’s vile hideousness, the dazzling splendor of Pegasus was born.

Ancient Greek legend tells that one day Pegasus came to rest on Mt. Olympus, the home of the gods. When his hoofs touched the ground there, four sacred springs of water burst forth and from these fonts the Muses were born, nine goddesses who reigned over the arts and sciences, especially music, poetry, and all of the visual arts.

Since that time, Pegasus has become the symbol of divine inspiration, ready at any moment to take flight, carrying an artist’s imagination into the creative heavens, where he can still be seen as a constellation in starry northern sky.

—in the collection of the internationally acclaimed artist, designer, and illustrator, David Palladini, Corona del Mar, CA

“My doorbell rang today. I never answer the door. Through the peephole, I saw the postman in his shorts and pith helmet, and his white handlebar moustache. He was holding a box.

The box was a gift from a friend I have never met. An artist and illustrator like me. Inside, I found a wondrous black frame with a glass front. It contained a beautiful white feather tipped with blood. It was “A Feather From Pegasus’ Wing.” Pegasus, my hero, my inspiration. The creator of the artistic muses who guided my life.

I have gazed upon Pegasus in the night sky through my telescope. He flies free through the astral progression with his wings spread in the blackness of space.

My artist friend had encapsulated the essence of the great winged horse in a simple and beautiful way, and had offered it to me. With much thought, labor, and love, Scot had given me the product of his artistic soul. I will treasure it always.”

—David Palladini

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Drawing Lots

The Black Box (inspired by Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story, The Lottery) – Antique wooden slide-top box, painted black; various dried flowers and plants; various stones; altered art pieces—lottery label, slips of hand-stained paper bearing town-folks’ names, slip of hand-stained paper bearing black dot

Fertility rites.

Pagan rituals.

Dances round the priapic May Pole.

The wheel of the year. The change of seasons—from excess to want.

Light to dark. Vernal to autumnal.

The golden Oak King reigns beneath the sun, abdicating his crown at the solstice to midwinter’s frost-bound Holly King.

Beltane to Samhain. Greenman to Wicker Man.

The eternal cycle of birth and death and rebirth.

Human sacrifices made to the gods. Rich, ripe, red blood seeping into the earth to ensure summer’s hale and hearty crops, an abundant harvest at the waning of the year, to see a community through the lean, dormant blight of snow and ice.

The stuff of legends; told and retold in history books, in supernatural fiction, in horror films…surely such practices have been relegated to the past; modern man—the so-called civilized man—has no need for those archaic, rural traditions.

But old habits die hard; old sins cast long shadows.

Hearsay tells of the celebration of these ceremonies lasting into the mid-twentieth century, at least in one small village in Vermont, a close-knit hamlet of only three-hundred; good, honest, staunch New England people bearing good, honest, staunch New England names—Summers, Warner, Hutchinson, Anderson, Jones, and Martin; from Adams, meaning progenitor, to Graves, man’s ultimate destination. There every June 27th, those ordinarily stalwart and steadfast townsfolk seem nervous, anxious…fearful. For upon the dawning of that day, daily chores are forsaken, mundane tasks put aside. Children are sent out to collect stones while a plain wood black box is taken down from a shelf, twelve months of dust blown from off its lid. The adults gather, slips of paper being placed inside that black box—all blank, save one.

Upon that one is a single black spot.

The head of each family steps forward, puts his or her hand into the wooden container, each making their choice of the chits within…

The lottery has begun.

The prize?

Whoever chooses the black spot is that year’s mactatus; a solitary life given up, offered up, so that the many may live.

And those stones—the most ancient and simplest of weapons—gathered that morn by the young, will soon be put to their ritualistic use.

Is there truth behind this tale; a skull beneath the skin, so to speak?

Once again, we must turn to the earth.

Northern Vermont.

Leaves browned and brittle as parchment; clods of dirt and clouds of dust, spikes of hay and kernels of corn, spider webs and beetle wings—almost an incantation in itself—the skeleton of an old barn, its timber bones soon to be reclaimed, resanded, recycled into flooring for a modern luxury condominium kitchen, the aged now a foundation for the new; antique knotty pineboard supporting new-fangled stainless steel appliances—reveals its secrets…

…a plain wood black box—almost a coffin in miniature.


Well…you can see for yourself.

"I do like it. The work is very strong and interesting." - Laurence J. Hyman, Shirley Jackson's son and literary executor

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Claws and Effect

The Obliviscence of James Howlett (inspired by the character of Wolverine from Marvel’s X-Men comics and films) – Antique Canadian explosives crate; faux bone claws; pair of vintage forceps; glass test tube; black rubber stopper; chrome paint; bone specimen microscope slide in plastic case; vintage 1940’s O’Keefe’s Canadian beer bottle cap; genuine Canadian army World War I uniform button; Canadian military dog tag and chain; Cuban robusto cigar butt; rusted tacks; tree branches; pine branches; pine cones; black walnut shell; theatrical snow; theatrical blood; ice-blue LED light; altered art pieces—Canadian army World War I discharge paper, Canadian World War I dental exam paper, Wolverine car advertisement, Second Boer War newspaper article, Canadian World War I recruitment poster, Canadian World War II recruitment poster, maple farm photograph, Xavier Institute for Higher Learning logo sheet, Alkali Lake postcard, slashed manila folder, adamantium beta label, pair of X-rays, cage fight poster, “Lone Wolf” cigar label, Canadian Bohemian Beer label, 1910 Canadian Logging postage stamp, 1926 National Geographic cover, J.B. Laliberte Fur Establishment label, “Lucky Dog” hockey stick label, Valtine Meat Globules advertisement, Adams-Powell Timber Company advertisement

James Howlett.

Weapon X.



No matter the name, he is the most mysterious and singular of the already mysterious and singular faction of avengers known as the X-Men, a cadre of mutants who live among us, fighting with us, for us and against us for their right to share our planet. Such mutants were believed to be only the stuff of comic books, of blockbuster science-fiction movies, of supermarket tabloids—those “people” who could read thoughts, move objects with their minds, control the weather, walk through walls, incinerate or freeze matter with a mere touch—but truth always teaches us that fact is indeed often stranger than fiction.

The perpetual evolution of nature created mutants; all species have their fair share, so why shouldn’t humans, and nature created James Howlett, a man with enhanced senses, a man of extreme strength and stealth, a man who could heal from almost any injury in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, resisting illness, defying time, perhaps even immortal; but it was humans who made him a living killing machine, the ultimate military weapon. Recruiting him, changing him, bonding to his fragile skeleton a metal so dense as to be virtually indestructible—adamantium. A living creature capable of standing in the front lines, ready to be shot, bayoneted, gassed, burnt, or poisoned, only to rise again, phoenix-like from his own ashes.

But Mother Nature had a further trick up her sleeve for James Howlett.

She gave him claws; a half-dozen, three imbedded in each hand, hidden beneath a scabbard of flesh, ready to emerge, catlike from between his knuckles. Those claws were first like those of any animal, keratin, nerves and blood vessels, but humans did Mother Nature one better; they removed his biological claws and replaced them with blades, cast from the same metal sheathing his bones, gleaming, unbreakable, razor-sharp—lethal.

But a man has a conscience; a man has memories, feels pity, remorse, kindness, and love. Such things as emotions had no place in the supreme soldier, so they took his mind, they took everything that made him who he was, creating in the man’s place, a rabid animal hell-bent on destruction—thus his code name, Wolverine. But the rabid animal escaped into the wild, a desperate part of it fighting its way back from the brink of madness, reclaiming its humanity—a daily battle against the beast within.

The old adage says that some people have a mind like a steel trap; James Howlett’s skull was literally that, but what it held was nothing more than fragments, shattered pieces of a life probably never to be remembered. An eternal enigma as much to himself as to others—the others who took him in—the X-Men, who know him only by his self-christened name, Logan, and with whom he found friends, a family, a reason to continue living; the supreme soldier now on the front lines for good, overcoming the evil of which he had been shaped to be a part.

Finding evidence of such a unique individual would be daunting—the place to start, the ruins of an abandoned military base at Alkali Lake in Canada, the site of his physical and mental transformation.

Shifting through the wreckage of a spot not officially listed on any map, presented here is what was found—a smoked and well-chewed cigar stub, “Lone Wolf” brand judging from the label nearby, and an old beer bottle cap, show his long-ago presence. Further digging finds medical equipment—rusted forceps; a microscope slide with a specimen of bone; a test tube almost filled with a viscous silver liquid, marked as “Adamantium beta”; bloodied file folders stamped “Classified,” containing x-rays of a test subject identified simply as Weapon X; a World War I discharge certificate of one “James Howlett,” along with a dental chart from 1914—his life goes back further than one imagined. Here is a Canadian army uniform button from the same battle, there is a torn newspaper clipping on the African Boer War and a World War II recruitment poster—how much fighting has he seen? A dog tag on a chain, bearing his bestial moniker and his ID number; but only one—Canadian dog tags come in pairs, when a fallen comrade is found, one tag stays with the corpse, the other brought back for identification—so, was Howlett thought—or hoped—to be dead once?

Deeper searches find, oddly enough, flotsam and jetsam of his later life—the cover of an old National Geographic, the main story the conquest of Canada’s tallest peak, Mount Logan—surely the name’s not a coincidence; an old postage stamp honoring Canadian loggers (employment in-between wars?); a label from a store in the fur trade; a tattered flyer announcing a cage fight between two animalistic opponents—Wolverine vs. Sabretooth; a sheet of stationery paper bearing the logo of the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, located in Salem Center, NY, home it is rumored to those very same X-Men. And, almost comically, a forgotten ginger ale soda bottle from the Wolverine Bottling Works.

Then, the paramount of finds—a trio of claws, those real claws, amputated so long ago, preserved by the cold, by the ice and snow…

All displayed within an antique Canadian munitions/explosives crate.


Such conclusions are made by the viewer’s observation alone.