There is nothing more exciting than wondering who or what is behind the mask in front of you. Are they human or from another world? Are they someone you might be romantically inclined toward or are they someone Dante would have delegated to one of his fiery levels of hell? Are they who or what they seem or have they left their vine, tree or garden patch to frolic on the most exciting evening of the year?
May I introduce you to some of my favorite veggie people? You might have already met them on the street trick or treating or they may have rung the door bell of your home hoping for a tasty chocolate bar or some jelly beans. Have you been in your garden lately? They lurk there in the warm weather among the corn stalks and Kale. They might peek at you from between the flowers or be sitting in a mushroom ring where the fairies and elves dance. They are old and they are contemporary and they are well worth cultivating and inviting into your home.
Vintage candy containers were most often made in Germany for the American market because Halloween was really only celebrated here in American. They were ordered by companies like Woolworths and Grant’s and the many five and dime type of that were regional stores in different areas of the country. They have very distinctive faces and were made and or decorated by artisans thus were fairly limited as what came out one year was not what would show up in the stores the next. Individuality counted for some much more before WWII as afterwards it was a steady stream of mass produced lesser quality items often lacking in artistic merit. Today with all our technology the artistic quality and design has sadly waned. When one looks at the beautifully designed crape paper and napkins etc. produced by companies like Dennison and then walk into many a modern store one is startled by the dead computer generated graphics. It is because we in America are so fortunate to have many wonderful artisans and artists creating original works of art that we are treated to an explosion of morphing Halloween art. Every original piece must stand on its own and represent the mind flavor of the artist. Just as in cooking each artists works with the flavors they prefer and the media they feel will show their joie de vie and pallet. An artist is similar to a chef that prepares only fried chicken every day and is not a chef but a fast food cook of dubious distinction. Artists, chefs and musicians are very similar and if they do not put the marrow of their soul into what they do they can never be great. There is a reason that there is a great demand for the works of artists like Alan Cunningham, Jack Roads, Linda Wolf, Bonnie White, Tubby Brown, Will Moses, and John Moreno, are artists whose highly creative works are so valued. These artists are not exclusive to any holiday but embrace the fantasy of a full menu. Jack Roads for example is a retired school teacher who has had major exhibits of his creations done gathered from museums and collections across North America.
Will Moses, the grandson of Grandma Moses is an artist whose work is found in galleries and museums and follows in the folk art tradition of his family. Linda Wolf’s sculpted figures with their cloth fingers and toes are a masterpiece of cloth transformation. Alan Cunningham’s fussy attention to detail make his creations whimsical and magical. It is often the faces and the expressions on those faces which reflect the individuality of the artists which makes their art so compelling. With artists such as Tubby Brown it is their message and attempts to change the world around them or at least comment upon it and let others know how he felt that makes his work comfortable in eclectic collections and museum. With these artists who include their essence in every creation you find and emotional bind with their creations which emulates the pre WWI era when artists created and companies bought their art work for a pittance and made all types of ephemera from them. They were seldom ever allowed to put their John Hancock on their work. Looking at some of the original art for Norcross cards showing Inky the cat, amongst other images, one never sees a signature. The original art work used by Dennison to produce some of their crape paper does not give an inkling of who the artist was. Is it wonderful? Indeed as this is no crummy old shirt which a thousand designers could have designed. This is the work of someone who deserved more respect and recognition. How few works by postcard artist Samuel Schmucker are signed? Precious few yet any postcard collector, especially of Halloween will confirm his work is sublime and as colorful as a Tiffany window and as exciting as a Mucha actress. Fern Bissel Peat best known for her Playmate magazine did many items which she did not sign including a rare set of Whitney postcards and invitations, as well as a candy poster. Research is very difficult and only because of archives and catalogues like those housed at Castle Halloween Museum is it possible to identify a few of these artists. Times have changed and today most artists make certain their names are on pieces but copies or copies of copies and those who copy other artists styles or usurp the artists work alter it and commercially produce it hurt the originators reputation and saleability. An original is an original and a copy or reprint is a copy or reprint regardless of whether it is marked as such or not. Unfortunately, the market on certain items has been flooded with reproductions and fakes and it has hurt the resale value of older pieces such as the paper mache jack o lanterns. One never minds the glitzy, glittery pieces that Dept. 56 made as they are so different and funky that no one could confuse them for anything other than what they are..
Halloween items are very much like the fall foliage. No matter how many trees with sunshine filtering down on the mega colored variations of shades there is something exciting, wonderful and exciting a peak away. If you are bored with the dross fudged in between the Christmas items for a month or so each year and is humdrum or worse or if you wonder why all witches are ugly and green caricature refuges from a movie Margaret Hamilton stared in then you are in for a treat as sweet as a caramel covered apple! Age has little to do with collectability or price. Quality and artistic merit are much more important. There are many artists whose works are still affordable and will transmogrify your collecting and how you relate to the creative.
Art, antiques, collectibles are our social history. They represent us and the decades we live in. They are the foundation of our personalized environments and how we and those about us react. There is a story behind every one weather we know it or not. Provenance is grand but each person who interacts with an item adds to its persona. How many children loved this toy or played with it and who were they? With holiday art it is often passed down from generation to generation or attic to attic. “I remember…” can be so sweet when we meet an object from our past and reincorporate it into our lives and those who are part of our lives.
Halloween items are often a sweet memory of the characters they were at seven or five years or age. I am often amazed at the mistyness of people who look at Sherri Lewis, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, or Casper, etc and totally recapture a moment they had forgotten or lost. How does that effect the value of an item? Rather subjective and emotional that magical recapturing of a fleeted moment. If boxed costumes are nostalgia to many what of the earlier costumes and decorations that were made using the Dennison Bogie book instructions? Who were these people who sat and made their costumes in anticipation of a night of frolic, fantasy or romance?
Is anything what it seems when no two people look at an something in the same way? When I see a Jack Roads piece every magical gene in my body yearns for these veggie people to awake and frolic about my garden and speak to me and tell me what is really being whispered by the corn stalks or telling me what secrets the autumn breeze and the bright red, orange and gold leaves are rustling about.
Have the scary monsters and masks as well as jack o lanterns kept away the harmful evil spirits? The beauty of this holiday is we can be like nature for a short time. Jack Frost paints the leaves and we don masks or cosmeticize our features turning us into anyone we fancy. Unfortunately, the best parts of Halloween seem to be pushed out of the way and the holiday is usurped by the blood and gore of television and the movies. Reality is not what Halloween is about but fantasy and that is why the long tradition of Holiday art especially Halloween is based on fantasy and a gleeful flight from the grimness of reality. Why would anyone want to be a mass murderer when they can be an elf from Lothlorien? The images that come scrambling out of the images of most Halloween artists minds is bright and cheerful even when the bats, spiders, crows, and creatures are very unparrot like. Here is nothing evil about spiders or bats who devour the bugs that torment us so. Crows and ravens? So clever and such chatterboxes and one of the easiest birds to make friends with and talk to.
Yes, Halloween is improbability as it is when not only we can transmogrify but it is when artists for well over a century have shown us what many can not see by themselves through their own mortal eyes.
Much of vintage Halloween items have been priced three light years beyond the moon but prices have dropped and continue to drop on many pieces. The price on original Halloween art including the wonderful southern face jugs which often have a devil face, have continued to rise. As collectors and museums learn to be more inclusive rather than exclusive and recognize the artistic merit and historical importance the more Halloween and indeed holiday art will show up on display. Certainly this type of art is a wonderful introduction to children and a way for them to be embrace by art and absorb it. Children might not care if they ever see the Mona Lisa, or enjoy being dragged to a museum but they will relate to toys and charming benign fantasy figures. Introduce them to spinach by mixing it in with the cheesy mash potatoes or tossing it into the salad. Life can not be all Chocolate…or can it? Just remember there is fake chocolate or flavored chocolate and then there is the other type…the real dark, bitter sweet, with so much flavor and velvetiness that you know it is worth all the extra money as it is what one dreams heaven will be like. A great piece of art or folk art is like the best chocolate that ever passed your lips. Halloween is like a great chocolate…you can smell it and feel it and hear it and yes, even taste it. Delicious isn’t?