Category Archives: Gallery

Upcoming Events, June 2018 Edition

A month after Texas Frightmare Weekend, and things in the gallery are finally under control. New and reworked enclosures are going strong, the propagation area is full of new and exciting species, and the deep freeze in the back is full of frozen blueberries. (Take this from a longtime resident: about the only thing that makes summer in Texas livable is the explosion of East Texas blueberries in farmers’ markets and grocery stores, and the only thing that makes July and August tolerable is knowing that June was spent filling every refrigerated space in the vicinity with June’s and April’s and Melissa’s blueberries. By the time the blueberries run out, the local craft stores are full of Halloween stuff, which is usually enough to get through the last few weeks of baking heat before things start cooling off. This routine works until the day it’s possible to live like an African lungfish and aestivate in mucus and mud cocoons until the rains return.) This is the time of the year where everyone knows firsthand what a grasshopper on a griddle feels like (there’s a very good reason why sheepskin car seat covers were popular in Dallas in the days of vinyl car seats, especially for those fond of shorts), so the idea is to offer events and activities either indoors or after dark, and preferably both.

One of the advantages of emulating a Gila monster in the summer heat (living underground, emerging only to suck eggs and swallow baby bunnies whole, and dealing with interlopers with a venomous bite) is having plenty of time to organize for the days when the sun’s default setting drops below “supernova”. 2018 has been interesting in that regard: this year’s Deep Ellum Arts Fest was an anomalous combination of torrential rains and near-freezing temperatures, so registering for the 2019 Fest wasn’t even a question. This is also the year to see about admission to the famed Cottonwood Art Festival down the road from the gallery in October, as well as a lot of smaller shows and events through the area. The first showing at the Deep Ellum Art Company was a hit, and that may be a regular showing venue as well.

As far as the traditional Triffid Ranch shows are concerned, things are lively. Texas Frightmare Weekend’s open call for vendors starts soon, with notice on acceptance usually arriving in August. That’s also about the time for applications for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin in November, and two weeks after Horror for the Holidays is the two-day revived Dallas Fantasy Fair at the Irving Convention Center. That last one is going to be the most interesting, especially since I was a regular guest during my writing days through the first half of the 1990s until the original convention imploded in 1996. On one side, even the kids who were at the last few Fantasy Fairs are in their thirties and forties now, and nostalgia from the older fans might not be enough. On the other, Dallas still has precious little to do on Thanksgiving weekend that doesn’t involve movies or malls, and the Thanksgiving Fantasy Fair weekends in the Eighties and Nineties made that weekend a lot more tolerable for those of us without family plans (or those with families they had to escape for a while). Either way, let’s see what happens.

(As an aside, while it’s great to get invitations to attend other shows as a vendor, please understand that being able to attend is a combination of logistics and scheduling, and those can collide with interstate regulations, weather patterns, or the laughable concept of “personal life.” Please also understand two things, the first being that my having to reject a vendor request almost always isn’t personal, but that every show requires about a week before the show to prepare and a week after to recuperate and reorganize. Therefore, every two-day or three-day show effectively cuts out three weeks per month that could be used to create new enclosures or perform essential maintenance at the gallery, which is why we schedule the regular gallery shows for the months where we aren’t running an outside event. The second thing is that whining, guilt trips, or pushiness, especially of the “don’t you owe it to yourself to come to our show?” type, WILL guarantee a blacklist on even the remotest possibility of coming out to future events. This is a roundabout way to recommend not following the lead of Fear Con in Salt Lake City and taking a lot of care with vendor contact information. Unsolicited entry into a mailing list is bad enough, but texting when the mailing list wasn’t getting an immediate response? Oh, that’s a blocking.)

And for the regular gallery showings? Scheduling conflicts kicked in for the end of June, so the next Triffid Ranch gallery opening has been moved to Saturday, July 7. It’s a touch late for Canada Day, but as a chance to see Michel Sarrazin‘s namesakes in the pulp, it’ll still be worth the trip. Expect details in the very near future, as well as a few surprises, and some might even include blueberries.

Enclosures: Antarctica in Decline (2018)

Description: Very little is known about prehistoric Antarctica: with 98 percent of the continent covered with kilometers-thick ice, the few fossil beds accessible at the surface illuminate life there approximately 150 million years ago (including the discovery of the early theropod dinosaur Cryolophosaurus), approximately 65 million years ago, and the period surrounding the continent’s freeze 5 million years ago. Coal deposits and pollen samples from coring rigs are the main views of Antarctic plant life, as well as the inference from DNA analysis of the relationship between sundews from West Australia and Tierra del Fuego. It’s very possible that Antarctica had a wide and diverse population of carnivorous plants through its pre-freeze history, including relations to the Australian pitcher plant Cephalotus, but between the inaccessibility of most of its fossil-bearing strata and the poor fossilization record of carnivorous plants elsewhere, any discussion of Antarctic palaeofauna, especially of the period immediately after the extinction of the dinosaurs, is understandably speculative.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 18″ x 18″ (62.23 cm x 62.23 cm x 62.23 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis (2)

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, resin, tumbled glass, fiber-optic glass cabochons, polystyrene parts, found items,  aquarium spot lights.

Price: $500

Shirt Price: $400

Upcoming Projects: May 2018

It’s late in the month, and the classic Texas heat settled in a few weeks early, so the lack of updates is more to do with taking the habits of one Heloderma suspectum and working predominately under cover and in the wee hours. (Taking all habits might be a bad idea: the neighbors might take issue with sucking eggs and swallowing baby bunnies whole.) That means, though, that between shows and events, new enclosures are getting ready for premiere at summer Triffid Ranch gallery events. Here’s a taste, as part of a dry-fitting before making final adjustments and planting the final enclosure:

More to follow…

State of the Gallery: May 2018

Well. With Texas Frightmare Weekend recently ended (and photos and discussions on same will be online shortly), it’s time to shift gears, relax, and take a couple of weeks off to recover. And if you believe that, I have some great converted shopping mall live/work spaces at the bottom of the Trinity River that I’ll regretfully let go to someone who will appreciate them, too. Right now, the clock starts for preparation for the next Frightmare, and the real trick is to get everything else done over the next year as well.

Because of preparation and arrangement time, May and the first part of June will be relatively quiet as far as gallery events, but that’s because the Triffid Ranch goes mobile over the next two months. The fun starts with a showing at the Deep Ellum Art Company on Sunday, May 20, focusing on larger enclosures, from 2:00 to 6:00 that afternoon. Three weeks later, the Triffid Ranch gets much more hands-on with a workshop on carnivorous plants at Curious Garden and Natural History in Lakewood, including leaving with your own hand-planted sundew or butterwort enclosure. For the latter, contact Curious Garden to reserve your space in the workshop: the fee for registration and supplies is $30 per person.

This doesn’t mean that the gallery is abandoned: the next big gallery event is scheduled for Saturday, June 30 as a very slightly early Canada Day celebration. This includes a celebration of the famed French doctor and naturalist Michel Sarrazin, for whom the genus Sarracenia is named. Yes, that means lots of North American pitcher plants, as well as some other surprises. As always, admission is free, with lots of plants available to take home.

On the convention circuit, things will be quiet for the rest of the year, with one possible exception. After founder Larry Lankford’s death in 2013, an absolute on Dallas conventions with the older crowd was reminiscing about the long-defunct Dallas Fantasy Fairs, which ran three times a year from the mid-Eighties until their demise in 1996. A few members of that old crowd would make noises about reviving the shows every once in a while, but those noises remained such until about two weeks ago. That’s when the first formal announcements of headliner guests announced the 2018 Dallas Fantasy Fair, scheduled for the weekend of November 23-25 at the Irving Convention Center. It’s still early days yet, so the convention has little more than a Facebook page for further information, but the con organizer is already taking vendor requests for more information. If nothing else, a convention the weekend after Thanksgiving is a good way to get started with regular weekend openings at the gallery all through December. Details will follow as they arrive.

And on longterm trips, it’s official: the 2018 International Carnivorous Plant Society Conference is running the weekend of August 3-5, and the Triffid Ranch is heading to California to hear what the real experts have to say. This is purely a factfinding expedition: no plants, no displays, nothing but notebooks and lots of business cards, just in case. That works out the best: I haven’t been in the Bay Area since the beginning of the dotcom boom in 1996, so it’ll be nice to see it without prior job interview commitments or any other commitments.

Finally, the just-concluded Frightmare show marked a solid decade since the first Triffid Ranch show, and the size of the crowds and their needs confirmed that it’s time for a revamp of the show table look. Among other things, it’s time to enter the Twenty-First Century as far as information and organization is concerned. As before, details will follow as they arrive, but let’s just say that attendees at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 will have the opportunity to get questions about plants answered so long as they have a smartphone. Considering that the crowds were four and five rows thick through most of the last show, a change is essential before the next one. This doesn’t even start with a project inspired by Demetria at The Curiositeer, which should go live soon. Oh, this one will be entirely too much fun.

State of the Gallery: April 2018

Nearly a third of the way through the year, and April 2018 is already shaping up to be a lot less exciting than April 2017. Of course, this time last year involved frantic shelf-installing and box-unpacking after the move from the old gallery space at Valley View Center, so it’s all a matter of perspective. (And if anybody had any doubts about not getting involved with the Rock Candy Mountain promises of artist spaces opening up at the Midtown project allegedly replacing Valley View, they’re gone now.) Yes, the weather keeps fluctuating between “typical” and “too cold to get out of bed right now,” but we haven’t actually gone below freezing…yet.

As far as last weekend’s Manchester United Flower Show was concerned, April follows in the tradition of last February: announce a gallery event, get everything ready to go, and then watch the weather feeds for impending catastrophe as a sudden atmospheric fewmet comes to visit for a while. Last February, it was a last-minute ice storm that hit north and west of Dallas, making a lot of potential attendees understandably reconsider a trip into Dallas if the roads were going to be frozen over by the time they attempted to return home. This time, Friday festivities were greeted with tornado sirens going off over most of North Texas: we got a bit of heavy rain for about an hour, but a friend coming in from Chicago found shelter with a multitude of others in a furniture store north of here, and folks to the south and the west had their own issues with hail and lightning. What issues Friday brought were mitigated on Saturday, where chilly but otherwise excellent weather brought out lots of first-time visitors and Valley View regulars. If nothing else, the weather caused reevaluations of having an outdoor event in spring, because any tents set up in the parking lot would have been blown to Oz and back. Maybe next year.

And on that note, further events in April will be restricted due to the need to get ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 4 through 6, and then things get interesting. It’s too early to discuss particulars, but everything leads to a gallery show on June 30, just in time for everyone uninterested in traveling out of town for the July 4 weekend. The subject of that show is a secret, too, but let’s just say that anyone attending can say with authority that they’ve never been to an art show like this one.

Lateral shift to go back to talking about Texas Frightmare Weekend: the vendor map and listings arrived yesterday, and we’re back on our favorite row. As for most of the decade, the epicenter of Frightmare is at the Hyatt Regency DFW in DFW Airport, thus making the entire wing of DFW Airport by the hotel available parking for the convention. As in previous years, the Triffid Ranch and Tawanda! Jewelry tables will be in the back of the Made In Texas Hall in the hotel basement, right next to the signing lines. Since this coincides with the first-ever Triffid Ranch show a decade ago, those already taking advantage of the Shirt Price discounts have an extra incentive to wear their Triffid Ranch T-shirts to the show: while supplies last, everyone showing up in a Triffid Ranch shirt or purchasing a shirt at the show gets a special present, no additional purchase necessary or needed. It’s just an extra bit of thanks to those who have not only made Texas Frightmare Weekend one of my favorite shows, but who have made the previous nine shows so much fun.

One ancillary note about Frightmare, not for this year but for next year: I’m regularly asked about getting vendor space at Fan Expo, the local convention that inspired the “Malcolm Rule” mentioned a few weeks back. I’ve balked for many reasons, and now my refusal became personal. Ever since the old Dallas Comicon was purchased by out-of-town convention accumulators and turned into Fan Expo, it and its associated Fan Days events always conveniently scheduled themselves against other similar events so that local attendees could do one or the other but not both. (Longtime fans may remember when the Dallas Fantasy Fairs did the same thing in the early Nineties, stunting or killing up-and-coming conventions that simply couldn’t compete against the Flimsy Fair hype machine and guest lists. Those fans who aren’t longtime fans might not be familiar with the name “Dallas Fantasy Fair,” as the Flimsy Fairs blew up very spectacularly in 1996 after choking out all other competition, just in time for the big comics speculation bust that caused Marvel Comics to file for bankruptcy at the end of the year.) Five years back, Fan Expo’s parent company offered to buy Texas Frightmare Weekend for a pittance, and when told no, attempted to run a horror convention within the main show that was an unrelenting disaster. Since then, Fan Expo management concentrated on scheduling opposite the A-Kon anime convention, ultimately causing it to move out of Dallas entirely, and then settled for running two weeks after All-Con.

Well, that was 2018. You can imagine the surprise vendors at Fan Expo 2018 had when they received advance registration forms for 2019, and discovered that Fan Expo had moved its date to the first weekend of May. Not only does this directly conflict with Texas Frightmare Weekend, forcing attendees and vendors to choose one and only one, but May 4 is also Free Comic Book Day across the US and Canada. Frightmare never competed against the many comic shops in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex participating in Free Comic Book Day, but Fan Expo’s list of comic artist and comic adaptation film and TV star guests does, and not just with comics dealers and stores having to man a booth at Fan Expo during their stores’ busiest day of the year. Fan Expo management hasn’t released a statement as to why the schedule suddenly needed switching, but I’ll bet $10 that when it’s finally released, the statement will bray something along the lines of “this is a pure coincidence.”

I’m sure it is. Of COURSE it is. Likewise, it’ll be a pure coincidence that everyone involved with Frightmare, from staff to vendors to guests to attendees, will spend the next year doing nothing but amping their games so Frightmare isn’t just the biggest show in Dallas on that weekend, but the must-attend show of its kind in all of North America. It’ll also be pure coincidence that so many of us involved in Frightmare will do our utmost to have the backs of our comic shop brethren when May 4, 2019 comes around. Refusing to advertise with venues that continue to do business with Fan Expo, for instance, or otherwise demonstrating with dollars or shoe leather that scheduling opposite established events with the attempt to create a monopoly may not turn out the way everyone expected. After all, the Dallas Fantasy Fairs attempted to create a similar monopoly, and a little voice should have told their organizers what Fan Expo management really needs to hear:

And now on a purely friendly note. It’s been about three years since the last Cat Monday event on this site, mostly due to the time taken by the gallery, but its main subject, Leiber, is still going strong. As of Friday the 13, Leiber turns 16: he’s still the so-dopy-he’s-cute FreakBeast he was when we adopted him in August of 2002, but he’s a little stiffer today. Aren’t we all. Those who have met him are welcome to wish him a happy birthday, although he’ll probably only care if the person offering the wishes brings cat treats as well. And so it goes.

Upcoming Events: The Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show and Other Vagaries

One classic comment about life in Texas states “If you don’t like the weather, hang on five minutes. This ties directly to a less commonly stated but equally apt phrase, “Don’t count on Texas weather.” Getting the reminder that some 12 tornadoes passed over my house six years ago this week, while Day Job co-workers and I huddled in a building seemingly made of nothing BUT windows, and the admonition “keep watching the skies” isn’t just for bicycle commuters. As of right now, the National Weather Service is predicting near-freezing temperatures for Friday and Saturday nights, along with a wind advisory and thunderstorm watches for all evening Friday. Considering that this is the time where traditionally all of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex outdoor festivals and events start, I truly feel for everyone who has to be outside to run those outdoor festivals. A shoutout to the folks running the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, in particular: last year’s event was so absolutely perfect that it’s heartbreaking to realize that the weather will only be decent on Sunday afternoon. (incidentally, don’t let that stop any of you from going out there: just make sure to bring a coat and a plastic sheet for any art you bring home.)

This, of course, doesn’t affect the gallery: the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show still runs tonight and Saturday, even if our wild fluctuations in temperature over the last month mean that some of the carnivores are being tetchy about blooming. The Venus flytraps, which normally have full and lively flower scapes by this time of the year, are only now starting to bloom, and don’t even get me started about the hopes for Australian pitcher plant blooms. On the brighter side, this is a good year for Heliamphora pitcher plant blooms, for the first time since the Triffid Ranch started, and the Sarracenia pitcher plants are currently going berserk. Okay, so the flytraps and sundews are delayed, but seeing why Queen Victoria so loved the flower emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador makes up for it. There’s no point in hyping up the bladderwort and Mexican butterwort blooms, because this is definitely their year.

After the flower show, expect a bit of radio silence, mostly because it’s time to get caught up on seriously delinquent support work, especially as far as plant care guides are concerned. That’s because as of today, we’re only a month away from Texas Frightmare Weekend, one of the largest horror conventions on the planet, and it’s time to amp up the Frightmare booth to a whole new level. Expect to see plants that have never appeared at a previous Frightmare, along with ones that most Americans have never seen, as well as other surprises. (Now’s the time to mention that not only do Shirt Price discounts apply at Texas Frightmare Weekend, but I have plans for special surprises for attendees wearing Triffid Ranch shirts that are just a perk.)

And after that? It’s time for a road trip. The original plan was to visit Chicago during the Independent Garden Center show in August, but the 300-pound Samoan attorney is still in the shop and rentals are prohibitively expensive. That’s when a much more lively event opened up. This year’s International Carnivorous Plant Society conference is being hosted by the Bay Area Carnivorous Plant Society on August 3 through 5, which means (a) being in the vicinity of California Carnivores with an expense fund, (b) a demonstration of imposter syndrome-inspired meltdown in the presence of some of the greatest experts on carnivorous plants in this arm of the galaxy, and (c) an extra day in San Francisco for my beloved’s birthday. Working vacations are the best, and the plan is to come back to Dallas with an even larger collection of plants in time for the Triffid Ranch third anniversary party on August 25. August may be a slow month for art galleries, but not here.

And after THAT? well, that depends upon the weather, as always. Details will follow, but expect some surprises for September and October in addition to the annual November drive to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show. We have such sights to show you…

The State of the Gallery: March 2018

As regular readers might note, you didn’t get a state of the gallery update for February, mostly due to gallery-related distractions. Of course, February also didn’t get a full moon falling anywhere within it, either, which just meant one more good thing about March. Considering how fast March is moving, sliding through February was probably for the best.

As far as past and future events are concerned, February’s Date Night event was a mixed bag. The event itself was very successful, but as is the normal state of affairs with local weather, Date Night coincided with a nasty ice storm spreading through the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex that kept a lot of potential participants off the roads, and encouraged a lot of those who attended to leave early before the roads were impassable. This just means having to hold more events and showings during more clement conditions. This leads to:

Numero uno, things on the site are going to be extremely quiet through the end of next week, all due to the first external Triffid Ranch show of the year: All-Con in Addison. As in previous years, All-Con is a four-day show, running from Thursday to Sunday, with Thursday offering “try before you buy a weekend pass” free admission all day Thursday. Combine this with the already huge spring break contingent, and everyone is VERY glad the convention is running at a new, larger, and much more conveniently located hotel. Easy access to the hotel via DART buses, a wide range of restaurants within walking distance, a tremendous lineup of lectures and workshops…my only regret is that All-Con has that many activities scheduled through the weekend, but getting out from behind the table is pretty much an impossibility. This, of course, is a good thing.

Numero two-o, the next big show is seven weeks later, and if Texas Frightmare Weekend didn’t already exceed everyone’s expectations every year, people might be surprised to hear about plans for the next Triffid Ranch booth in May. Let’s just say that when running a booth in a convention already so packed that the convention announced that it has no more room for further guests, and that the host hotel has been booked solid since last year and attendees spill into FOUR more overflow hotels, getting away with a merely average display is unacceptable. In addition, not only is this the tenth Frightmare Weekend with a Triffid Ranch booth, but the end of the show falls on the tenth anniversary of the first-ever Triffid Ranch show, at the late and much-missed CAPE comic event off Lemmon Avenue in 2008. This, of course, demands a suitable anniversary celebration, so let’s see if everyone can pull it off.

Numero three-o: in between these two, don’t assume that the intervening six weeks will just be full of the usual panic about potting, casting, gluing, and painting, along with the usual snot-bubble crying of “I suck! I suck! I wanna go back to the mall!” in the corner. Since last year’s move preempted plans for a 2017 event, the Triffid Ranch proudly announces a return of a wildly popular event from the old ArtWalk and presents the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show on April 6 and 7 from 6:00 to 10:00. Yes, it coincides with all sorts of other events in the Dallas area, including the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, but that happens all through the city in the weeks before the weather really heats up. Besides, where else are you going to go in the Dallas area to view carnivorous plant blooms and bracts and the plants that produce them?

Oh, to close up, and for the barest hint of what else to expect at the Manchester United Flower Show, here’s a sample of the centerpiece to a new enclosure:

Yes, this is a Cryolophosaurus skull, so anyone familiar with previous discussions on my fascination with the flora of pre-Pliocene Antarctica has an idea of what to expect. It and other enclosures premiere in April, so make plans to see the final enclosure after it’s planted and ready. See you then.

Enclosures: “A Canticle For Troodon” (2018)

A Canticle For Troodon

Description: The customer: a longtime customer and friend who had purchased a Nepenthes bicalcarata pitcher plant that outgrew its original container, and the new container needed to fit into the previous container’s alcove. The assignment: making a custom enclosure that needed to be “different”. The experiment: working with tumbled champagne bottle glass for its additional thickness and strength, on the structure of a resin Ceratosaurus skull. The finished skull is anchored via a shaft running into the base, and can be removed at any time for moving or maintenance. In addition, the skull is illuminated from within via two LED aquarium spot lights, and both lights may be turned on or off from outside the enclosure.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 18″ x 18″ (62.23 cm x 62.23 cm x 62.23 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes bicalcarata

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, resin, glass, glass taxidermy eye, polystyrene parts, found items, grapevine, aquarium spot lights.

Price: SOLD: custom commission

Shirt Price: SOLD

A Canticle For TroodonA Canticle For TroodonA Canticle For TroodonA Canticle For Troodon

State of the Gallery: January 2018

Doom and Gloom (mostly gloom) in Dallas in JanuaryAnd the holiday season is over. Well, that’s not completely true: we can’t forget the importance of February 2, when Sid Vicious rises from his grave, looks down for his shadow, and learns if he has to wait six more weeks until spring. The decorations are down, the last of the leftovers are dispatched (unless your grandmother is like mine and wants to see if she can make turkey-flavored Jell-O out of the carcass residue left in the refrigerator), the more gothically inclined are building dinosaur skeletons with the chunks Grandma couldn’t use, and everyone in retail can get rid of that twitch from overplay of the mandatory Christmas radio station. True, you don’t want to go anywhere near a gym for the rest of the month, especially in the parking lot as everyone fights for the closest space to the door, and we’re all keeping an eye on the skies for that one falling snowflake that convinces the worst drivers on the road that they need to switch things up by driving with their buttocks. All things considered, though, things are good.

Out here at the Triffid Ranch, it’s time for introspection, renovation, negotiation, and potential amputation. We may have 295 days until that happiest holiday of the year, but the work starts now. This includes cleaning and prepping new glassware, potting new plants, scoping out new shows and new venues, and trying to limit nervous breakdowns to every other Tuesday. In other words, just like every year since the gallery first opened. The highlights:

First and foremost, the emphasis in 2018 is finishing new enclosures, and that starts with getting commissioned enclosures out now. (A friendly reminder for those who purchased Nepenthes pitcher plants at Triffid Ranch shows in the past: now’s the time to ask about upgrades to give your plants more room.) This includes getting more photos with those enclosures, in order to enter enclosures in regional and national art shows and inform local media outlets of those shows. Right now, everything is being kept on a winter lighting schedule to encourage growth later, but when the timers switch to spring hours in March, the fun really begins. It’s not just a matter of viewing Nepenthes blooms, but trying some luck with pollinating flowers in order to develop a few new hybrids.

On the subject of shows, it’s no surprise that the first big Triffid Ranch show of the year is All-Con on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The surprise was discovering the new venue for the 2018 event. For years, All-Con ran at the increasingly cramped Crowne Plaza hotel, but size limitations required a move to a larger venue. Two years ago, it moved to a much larger space with a bit of a parking problem: hotel management promised to augment its tiny parking area with access to the parking garages of the office buildings around it, which was a surprise to the owners of said office buildings. A majority of attendees discovering that parking options consisted of a muddy field across from the hotel wasn’t enough to kill the convention, and last year’s All-Con returned to the Crowne Plaza, which was now charging for parking when it wasn’t hosting meth labs. This year, though, All-Con moves to a MUCH larger venue, the Hotel InterContinental in Addison, right along Dallas North Tollway.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, for starters, the InterContinental, formerly the Grand Kempinski, is a legacy of Dallas’s great oil and development boom of the 1980s, back from the days when it was the tallest building in the area. Because the old Grand Kempinski was intended to compete for convention and conference business with the Anatole and Fairmont hotels near downtown, this meant having an absolutely gigantic ballroom on the second floor and an equally expansive ground floor atrium. This means that instead of fighting crowds in the artist’s alley section to get to the main dealer’s room, we have room to stretch out. Even better, this is one hotel where the promise of “multiple restaurants within walking distance” is quite actually true, and more than just a McDonald’s or Jack In The Box. (The hotel is just off Addison’s impressive Restaurant Row, which includes pubs, novelty venues such as the world-famous Magic Time Machine, and even a Whole Foods within a ten-minute walk.) A convention with food options other than the hotel restaurant and a convenience store? The mind boggles.

For vendors, the situation gets even better. The Hotel Intercontinental features two large entrances, big enough to allow two-way traffic while loading and unloading, and a large elevator sits right by the escalator leading to the second floor. (Those familiar with the absolute mess at the Crowne Royal can understand why this is a big deal.) With most of the club and Artist Alley tables on the ground floor, all groups involved won’t be fighting for room, especially close to opening hours. Parking is voluminous, and the loading lanes are big enough for small aircraft. Miss this one at your peril, because with the convention running during Spring Break for most of the high schools and colleges in the greater Dallas area, we’re going to see crowds at sizes we could have only dream about seeing at previous shows…and they’ll all have elbow room.

Not that All-Con and Texas Frightmare Weekend are the only shows outside of the gallery for 2018: these are just the only ones that can be discussed at the moment. Right now, the greater Dallas area has an excess of riches as far as art shows are concerned, and while the Deep Ellum Arts Fest isn’t an option this year, a lot of other events are going on at the same time. Right now, it’s all about confirmation, as well as making sure that schedules don’t conflict. Keep checking back for more details.

With the carnivores, the biggest change in the Triffid Ranch involves an expansion into Mexican butterworts and terrestrial bladderworts, two traditionally neglected groups of carnivorous plant. As mentioned before, this is just a continuation of plans set for last year before the gallery move, but with the advantage of many of the new species of butterwort exploding with new plantlets over the winter. Even better, both butterworts and bladderworts are now big and sassy enough to bloom in spring, adding an extra angle to the planned Manchester United Flower Show showing in April. Again, details as the date gets closer.

In hot pepper news, it’s time to start the new year’s first batch of pepper seedlings, and it’s time to make an admission. Namely, Carolina Reaper peppers are the Venus flytraps of the Capsicum world. Want to thrill me? start a discussion on comparing the colors and flavors of Black Pearl and Numex Halloween peppers both ripe and green. Compare the dishes best using Uba Tubas versus Trinidad Scorpions. Share a flavor combination for salsa with Bhut Jolokias that works even better than mango. (This may not be possible, but I’m always open to argument.) Carolina Reapers, though, are a one-trick pony. They grow to an impressive size in cultivation, but nothing about their foliage nor their shape distinguishes them from other peppers. The fruit, ripe or green, is only marginally more interesting than a standard green bell pepper, and once you get past the “you’ll pee fire!” heat, they taste like tomb dust. Aside from the subjective and often dubious Scoville Scale ranking, the Carolina Reaper has precious little distinction in growth, flavor, or idiosyncrasy. But what’s the one pepper EVERYONE asks if I’m growing? Ah well.

And if this is a roundabout way of hyping up the ZestFest 2018 spicy foods convention (https://zestfest.net/) at the Irving Convention Center at the end of January, so be it. ZestFest has a grand supply of salsa and barbecue sauce vendors pushing “no pepper is too hot for ME to eat!” neural overloads, but its main emphasis is on flavor, and the danger isn’t in not finding anything that tempts enough to buy a case or two. The danger is in not bringing a basket with wheels, because it WILL fill up by the time you reach the end, and all of those glass bottles and jars are heavy.

In any case, it’s time to get back to the linen mines. The plants won’t water themselves, and one of the new enclosure elements requires lots and lots of tumbled glass shards for the proper effect. Pictures will follow: I promise.

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas: The Fifth

For everyone else, it’s nearing the end of the holiday season. It’s now just cold enough in Dallas that coats in the morning are a necessity instead of an affectation, and we just might see sub-freezing temperatures by Christmas Day. Schools and universities are out for the year, and everyone not finishing up Christmas plans has a week to make plans for New Year’s Eve. Everyone at a job with use-it-or-lose-it vacation time is out and away, leaving the roads relatively clear of the worst drivers for those who still have to clock in. Next week will be more of the same: for all intents and purposes, the world returns to the eternal slog on January 8.

Well, that’s how it works everywhere else. The last four Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas are memories, albeit good ones, Now it’s time for one last Nightmare Weekend on December 23 from noon until 6:00. For those still seeking solstice gifts, Saturday gives plausible deniability to the idea that you just wanted to come by to look around, and it helps pay the rent, too. For those seeking solace from the madness of mall or big-box store crowds, it’s a safe harbor. For everyone else, if the newly updated Enclosure Gallery section doesn’t give you an idea as to what to expect, then come in and be surprised.

Not that things slow down after the holidays: far from it. It’s just that a lot of plans put off since the move from the old gallery space get to start up again. First and foremost is getting hot pepper seedlings established: the las Nightmare Weekend attracted several people asking about Bhut Jolokia and Carolina Reaper plants for bonsai, and last year’s batch were lost in a freeze the weekend of the final gallery move. This is in addition to getting ready for next year’s shows, starting with All-Con in mid-March, and finishing up commissioned enclosures. Want to have a hint as to what 2018 has in store? Check out the centerpiece for a new enclosure for an old friend and longtime customer, and consider that this is just the work in progress.

And for some additional fun, it’s time to remind everyone of Bat World Sanctuary in Mineral Wells and introduce them to adoptee Benger the Avenger, who came out of the womb more goth than any of us will ever be. If he isn’t a natural Nightmare Before Christmas stocking stuffer, I don’t know what is:

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas: The Fourth

Coming into the fourth Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas at the gallery (and, as before, the gallery is open to one and all on December 16, from noon until 6:00), a little explanation about the lack of traditional holiday viewing on the monitor in the gallery. Listening to friends fight over whether or not Die Hard qualifies as a Christmas movie (which is like arguing that Near Dark is a Fourth of July film because it features summer sun and explosions), I just remind people of a forgotten holiday classic. Oh, it may not be listed as such, but anyone who has ever had to work retail in a shopping mall during the holidays knows the film, even if they’ve never seen it. As a last tribute to the old gallery space at Valley View Center, which STILL hasn’t been demolished, I’d like to encourage everyone to take some time this holiday season to watch the best documentary about Dallas in the 1980s ever made:

Enclosure Gallery: Weather Station 228 (2017)

Weather Station 228 (2017)

Description: Travelers in the Columbia Gorge separating the states of Oregon and Washington may note various facilities seemingly extruded from the mountain rock: half-seen gates, windows, and doorways, in many cases belonging to automated weather forecasting stations watching for sudden storms or blizzards that could close off the Gorge. While they may be automated, they aren’t abandoned, even if years or decades go by between maintenance visits, and interfering with their operation is met with severe penalties. Keep that in mind.

Dimensions (width/height/depth):  18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes bicalcarata

Construction: Glass enclosure, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $ 250US

Shirt Price: $ 200US

Enclosure Gallery: Emergency Support Bay 27B-6 (2017)

Emergency Support Bay 27B-6 (2017)

Description: When looking at fallout and other disaster shelters from the 1950s and 1960s, a comparison can be made to ancient tombs: collections of food, supplies, and furnishings intended for whatever lay beyond the valley of Death. How many caches of tools, weapons, and survival gear from the present and near future might be found hundreds, thousands, or millions of years later, either startlingly preserved or rotted away to uselessness?

Dimensions (width/height/depth):  18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes ampullaria

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, polycarbonate, found items.

Price: $ 300US

Shirt Price: $ 250US

Enclosure Gallery: Who Goes There? (2017)

Who Goes There? (2017)

Description: While 98 percent of Antarctica is currently covered with ice, much can be surmised of its natural history and paleontology from studying the life of both far antipodean South America and of southern Australia, both of which were attached to Antarctica before plate tectonics tore them apart. One of the most heartbreaking survivors is the Australian pitcher plant, Cephalotus follicularis, now found in the wild only in one small area south of Perth. Now isolated from all other flowering plants due to circumstance and mass extinction, Cephalotus may have had relations all over Antarctica…and there they remain until the ice melts.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant:Cephalotus follicularis

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items, thermoplastic cube,

Price: $ 150US

Shirt Price: $ 120US

Enclosure Gallery: Accelerator (2017)

Accelerator (2017)

Description: Famously described as one of the more difficult groups of carnivorous plant to keep in captivity, the Heliamphora pitcher plants of South America take well to enclosure life so long as they get a difficult combination in Texas: cooler temperatures with a lot of light. The backdrop’s framing of the central plant was accidental: in its previous life, it was a plastic insert at the bottom of a case of Valentine’s Day candy, intended to keep sampler boxes upright.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 19″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 48.26 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Heliamphora chimantensis

Construction: Glass enclosure, vacuum-formed plastic, nylon bolts, found items, stone.

Price: $ 200US

Shirt Price: $ 150US

Enclosure Gallery: Fortress of the Emerald Skull (2015)

Fortress of the Emerald Skull (2015)

Description: In the middle of painting the backdrop, the combination of elements gave the impression of a castle gate tall enough for an ogre, so the remaining elements were easy to add. An ogre-sized skull to warn off interlopers needed ferns to keep focus on the Nepenthes spectrabilis x veitchii growing from inside it, and the southern maidenhair ferns (Adiantum capillus-veneris) invoked ginkgoes so much that the samurai figure was necessary, both for mood and for scale. An additional bonus was that the ferns shed and regrow based on photoperiod, giving a drastically different appearance to the enclosure through the year if lighting light and dark cycles keep track with the seasons outside.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes spectrabilis x veitchii

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, resin, polyvinyl chloride figure.

Price: $ 200US

Shirt Price: $ 150US

Enclosure Gallery: Pumping Station (2016)

Pumping Station (2016)

Description: An experiment in a multiple-component backdrop, this enclosure contains two carnivorous plants. The upper terrace hosts a Nepenthes spathulata x veitchii hybrid, known both for large pitchers and a very tight leaf rosette. The lower terrace is the home of a surprise Cape sundew (Drosera capensis), most likely from seed that stowed away from the greenhouse.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes spathulata x veitchii

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed and extruded plastic, ceramic.

Price: $ 200US

Shirt Price: $ 150US

Enclosure Gallery: Weintraub Gate (2015)

Weintraub Gate (2015)

Description: The pitcher plant Nepenthes spectrabilis is best known for its narrow pitchers covered in burgundy and yellow-green markings. This specimen is old enough that it has started vining, displaying both upper and lower pitchers.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes spectrabilis

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, ceramic, wood.

Price: $ 200US

Shirt Price: $ 150US

Enclosure Gallery: Dimension Mask (2016)

Dimension Mask (2016)

Description: Based on experiences with the multiple coats on the mask, one can argue that all human art forms are ultimately derived from painting, if only to find something to do while the paint dries. This was necessary, though, with strontium europium luminous paint under multiple coats of clear sealer, copied on the ovoids surrounding a glass disk. The hybrid “Bloody Mary” combines exceptional pitcher color with a habit of multiple growing points at its base, causing it to spread outward instead of vining up.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes “Bloody Mary”

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, polycarbonate mask, polished fiber optic cable, tumbled glass, grapevine, found items.

Price: $250US

Shirt Price: $ 200US

Enclosure Gallery: Launch Bay (2015)

Launch Bay (2015)

Description: The Nepenthes hybrid “King of Spades” is best known for its large pitchers with huge flaring peristomes, but such large pitchers also lead to very slow growth of the rest of the plant. Because of this, in a suitable enclosure, at least four pitchers are visible and accessible, with older pitchers dying off shortly after new ones open. Because of its slow growth, this “King of Spades” is only now starting to obscure the enclosure’s backdrop, adding to the impression of a facility abandoned for unknown reasons.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 24 1/2″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 62.23 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes “King of Spades”

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, polyvinyl, glass.

Price: $ 250US

Shirt Price: $ 200US