Category Archives: Gallery

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas -Introduction


A week from today, it begins. Even those who cut the cord years ago have email boxes full of notices about Black Friday specials. UPS trucks outnumber everything else on the road by three to one. If people aren’t driving like maniacs to get to the mall, they’re driving like maniacs to get home before the football game starts. For those who love and adore the holiday season, it’s absolute heaven. For the poor retail employees stuck in front of a display playing “Santa Baby” in blatant violation of the Geneva Convention, they’re considering a career change or at least a pencil up the nose to kill those chunks of brain that hurt so much. And then there’s the Texas Triffid Ranch’s Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas.

The Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas run on a particular premise. For those of us who don’t know every line in the film The Nightmare Before Christmas by heart, the film ended with Jack Skellington conceding that his version of Christmas wasn’t working, and Santa works overtime to replace the horrific toys left by Jack around the world. When that film premiered in 1993, nobody at Disney understood the draw of those horrific toys, nor ever even considered a scene with a little goth kid crying and desperately begging Santa to leave Jack’s toys and decorations right where they were. Considering some of my friends’ responses, it wouldn’t be hard to picture Santa dragging himself back to Christmastown, a still-burning sleigh to go with his two black eyes and broken nose, asking one of the shop elves to grab a pair of pliers to pull the innumerable sharp teeth broken off in his butt. And when those kids had kids themselves, the cookies and milk were contingent upon the understanding that not only were the vampire bat tree toppers and Dawn of the Dead action playsets welcome, but they’d best not be replaced.

The Nightmare Weekends concept continues this. It’s not anti-Christmas or even anti-holiday. Instead, it runs on the reasonable premise that it’s possible to overdose on holiday cheer, and that some people may need to catch their breath before once more into the breach, once more. It’s for the people who love peppermint but who can’t handle the taste of it by December 20. It’s for those stuck in a workplace where the boss insists upon turning on the intercom and pumping in the local Christmas radio station all day, or the ones that charge employees for the mandatory-attendance holiday party. It’s for those who appreciate the history of those live Norfolk Island pines in the grocery store predates that of the dinosaurs, the parasitic nature of mistletoe, or the use of cinnamon as a fungicide. It’s for those who didn’t complain when Christmas lights and decorations started crowding out the Halloween stuff mid-September, but who want a little bit of Halloween to hang around during the longest nights of the year.

So here’s the plan. The Triffid Ranch has extended hours every Saturday between now and Christmas, with extra time on November 24 as well. No overplayed Christmas carols played far too loudly to hear anybody talk. No overcrowded mall parking lots. For those who missed the previous gallery openings, it’s an opportunity to visit. For those attending in the past at the old Valley View Center location, it’s a chance to see the new space. And for those already familiar with the gallery, it’s a nice nondenominational respite from the outside. With carnivorous plants.

As for questions:

What are the dates and hours for the Nightmare Weekends?

All times for Nightmare Weekend openings are from noon to 6:00 p.m., but these may be adjusted on request. The dates include:

  • Friday, November 24, 2017 (Friday)
  • Saturday, November 25, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 2, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 9, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 16, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 23, 2017 (Saturday)

Are you open at other times?

The Triffid Ranch is always open by appointment, but the Nightmare Weekends are for when everyone is free. During the week, the Day Job prevents being able to keep the gallery open all day, but consultation appointments are always available in the evenings and on Sundays. Also, the hours on the Nightmare Weekends aren’t absolute: if work schedule or other logistics prevent you from getting to the gallery by the normal hours, give us a call and we’ll accommodate you.

Do you have accommodations for children?

Parents attended by their children are always welcome, but any unattended parents will be given six shots of espresso and an American Express Card application. (Unfortunately, because of the sudden nature of the gallery’s move to its new location earlier this year, the Triffid Ranch entrance is not ADA-compliant. However, we’re looking at rectifying that in the future, as new locales in our neighborhood open up closer to the end of our lease.)

Are you working with other galleries and stores in the area?

That’s a very good question, because one of the disadvantages of having a separate gallery is not having the community that those who attended the late, lamented ARTwalk events at Valley View Center may remember. At the bare minimum, Tawanda! Jewelry will be set up in the front of the gallery, but that’s the advantage to being married to the proprietor. Other venues wanting to participate in the Nightmare Weekends are encouraged to get in touch, and additions will be shared before the actual date.

Will you have Venus flytraps?

Sadly, no. Like the vast majority of carnivorous plants from temperate climes, Venus flytraps have to undergo a dormancy over the winter, and all of the flytraps here are in a cold frame awaiting spring. They’ll bring themselves out of dormancy around the middle of March, but until then they HAVE to stay dormant, because forcing them out of dormancy early could kill them. This also applies to North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) as well: not only do they require the same sort of cooling off period as flytraps, but that dormancy is necessary for the huge display of blooms around St. Patrick’s Day. The gallery has a lot of tropical plants on display, though, and those don’t require a dormancy, so those are the stars this time of the year.

Suppose I’m looking for something other than the enclosures already available. What are my options?

That depends upon what you’re seeking. Are you looking for a whole new unique enclosure? Are you wanting to convert an existing reptile enclosure or aquarium into a carnivorous plant display? Do you want specific elements, such as a rock sample with sentimental attachments or a specific lighting arrangement? Come in during a Nightmare Weekend for a consultation. Depending upon its elements and construction, as well as the date in which it’s commissioned, the final enclosure may not be ready by the end of the holidays, but there’s always the surprise of getting a gift during the post-holiday doldrums.

Can I come by to watch the plants eat something?

Well, that’s problematic. With the plants that aren’t dormant for the winter, most either capture prey too small to see without a microscope, or they have passive traps that don’t move. However, that said, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, getting a bug’s-eye view of the inside of an Asian pitcher plant is now both possible and easy, so expect a viewing schedule soon.

Will Shirt Prices still apply?

That’s just silly. Of COURSE they do. The gallery has a limited number of Triffid Ranch shirts for sale, but if you want to order one online, come out to the gallery while wearing it and take advantage of the lower prices.

And that’s about it. Keep an eye out for specific attractions on specific days, as well as notices about new enclosures constructed in between weekends. To quote one of Dallas’s greatest culture writers, you’ll boogie ‘til you puke.

State of the Gallery: November


Another month, another expansion. The official opening of the gallery on October 13 went without any serious hitches, and subsequent group appointments went even better, including one group that came out from Memphis just to view the new enclosures. The school lecture schedule started last month, and my experiences just confirm that no matter what teachers are paid, it’s never enough. (The art teacher at one lecture in Fort Worth was responsible for the Nepenthes hemsleyana portrait at the top of this post: this is going up in a place of honor on the gallery’s art wall.) Other than that, it’s the usual October rush: getting the gallery ready for the holiday season, doing everything that needs to be done outside before it’s too cold to do so, and prepping the Sarracenia and other temperate carnivores for their winter dormancy. Even Halloween was a surprise, with considerably more trick-or-treaters out, with regular threats of rain, than at any other time in the last decade. I won’t even start with the plans for next spring, because the last two years imparted that lesson over and over.

And what does that mean for November? Well, it means that the first two weekends of the month are going to be ridiculously busy, because it’s time to focus on the now-annual road trip to Austin. This year, the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show runs on November 19, so it’s a matter of loading the van on Saturday, driving down, recuperating for a few hours, setting up on Sunday morning, breaking down on Sunday evening, and driving back on Monday. The advantage of the new date isn’t just a lack of conflict with events at the University of Texas, but an opportunity to say hello to people starting an early holiday vacation that weekend. This is important because…

…the rest of November and December are going to be just as busy. As with last year, the Triffid Ranch will be open both for the Friday after Thanksgiving and for Small Business Saturday from noon until 6 p.m. CST: the difference between this year and last is, of course, having a much more central location. After that, the gallery will be open every Saturday from noon until 6 CST until Christmas (which works out to December 2, 9, 16, and 23), with earlier or later hours by appointment. As always, the Triffid Ranch is open by appointment during the week, but the holiday hours facilitate drop-by visits, especially from people desperately wanting to get away from the malls. For those seeking custom enclosures by Christmas, get your specifications in early, and we can even facilitate special deliveries and premieres at the gallery if you’re planning a special surprise.

After that? As a particularly influential television show noted nearly two decades ago, it’s a matter of going back to the end of the beginning. December 2002 was an especially rough time, and a 15th wedding anniversary party should celebrate how far you’ve come from those early days, right? Details will follow, because it’s been a very long strange trip over the intervening decade-and-a-half. Until then, see you in the future.

The Hour That Stretches

Whew. October 13. Nearly four months since the soft opening of the gallery, and now it’s showtime. I could go on about experiments with new materials not working out the way they were expected, or whole enclosures being held up based on how one component finished, or the simple fact that paint takes at least six times much time to dry as expected, but you know what? The work speaks for itself, and it all goes live this weekend. Relics: A Carnivorous Plant Enclosure Exhibition starts at 6:00 CST on Friday, October 13 until midnight, and reopens on Saturday, October 14 from 5:00 CST until midnight. After that, a day or two to recuperate, and then back to the sphagnum moss and silicone molds until the end of November. 

As an additional note, many regular Triffid Ranch customers are familiar with the concept of Shirt Price on the larger enclosures: attend an event wearing a Triffid Ranch shirt, and so long as you’re wearing the shirt, the listed discount “Shirt Price” applies. Since October 13 is a Friday, and it’s a little over six months until the 2018 Texas Frightmare Weekend starts, Shirt Price discounts at the Relics show apply to anybody in a Frightmare T-shirt as well. The individual Frightmare year doesn’t matter: if it’s a Frightmare shirt, it qualifies. This isn’t authorized by or endorsed by anyone involved with Texas Frightmare Weekend: this is just a return for all of the kindnesses and considerations I’ve received from Frightmare staff, guests, and attendees over the last decade. You lot have earned it. (He said, frantically collecting caches of glassware in anticipation of next year’s Frightmare. The 2009 Frightmare was small enough that just about everything I had fit into a PT Cruiser: next year, I might have to move to a 15-foot truck to haul enough plants to the show to keep everyone happy.)

For those who can’t make it this weekend, this definitely isn’t the last gallery event of the year. It’s a little too late to get involved directly in the Ricochet 17 art event through the Arts Incubator of Richardson on October 21, but next year’s Ricochet is on the agenda. Instead, after the Blood Over Texas Horror For The Holidays show in Austin on November 19, we’ll be open all day for casual wander-arounds (and wooing dates) for Small Business Saturday on November 25. As always, the Triffid Ranch is open by appointment, and now’s the time to discuss custom enclosures in time for the holidays.

And after that? Let’s just say that everything for the first half of next year pivots on getting a special confirmation in November, but I’m not going to say anything until said confirmation comes through. When it does, though, the Triffid Ranch moves to a whole new life stage and a whole new location. Until then, you’ll just have to wait.

State of the Gallery: September

Six months after the emergency move, and everything is coming together. New plants are adapting quite nicely to the new gallery conditions (including the honestly impressive bladderwort Utricularia calycifida “Asenath Waite”, which threatens to take over the place), and every enclosure that leaves gives an opportunity to try a new species or genus. Combine this with a flood of new shows and events, and it’s hard to believe how far everything has come from that little Deep Ellum booth ten years ago. 


On that note, the first serious gallery exhibition of the year, “Relics,” is still running on October 13 and 14, with the gallery opening on subsequent weekends by appointment. This includes a series of never-seen enclosures created specifically for this exhibition, ranging the gamut of carnivorous plant genera. For those who haven’t been to the gallery yet, this will probably be the perfect opportunity, so make plans now.

Before going into upcoming shows, a little note about Houston. It’s absolutely impossible to avoid discussion of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and it’s particularly heartbreaking because of the number of longtime customers and good friends (and the Venn diagram of the two is pretty much one circle) from Houston who are having to pick up the pieces. Instead of publicly pledging a certain amount of Triffid Ranch sales going to Houston relief, which usually falls apart with a bad show or two, I’m instead going to do what the rest of us do: making contributions from sales and from Day Job wages as often as possible, to the folks who can do the most good. I’m also not stating how much, because that isn’t the point, and instead I’ll just let you know that the good folks at Operation BBQ Relief are probably some of the best morale boosters this side of the Cajun Navy, and for the same reasons. The people of Houston have shown me incredible support and love over the last ten years (one of my first sales was to a Houston native who was in Dallas for the weekend, and I honestly want to run numbers on how many Texas Frightmare Weekend regulars are Houstonians), and I for one won’t stop until the whole city is back on its feet. I owe all of them that much.

With that in mind, the show schedule over the next few months became considerably more complex, due to events throughout southeast Texas. September 9, of course, is Small-Con, a one-day event in Addison dedicated to furthering interest in STEM careers, and there’s always more room in the next couple of generations for botanists. The very next week, gears switch slightly and the Triffid Ranch sets up in the two-day Dallas Comic Show in Richardson, literally two exits on Central Expressway north of the gallery. After that, things go quiet on the show front until after the gallery exhibition, and we’re still awaiting word on a show in Oak Cliff on the last weekend of October. And then…

November will be a very busy month at the gallery, and not just from getting ready for holiday sales and events. November is when several big shows in 2018 approve or decline a vendor space, and it’s also the month in which the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show runs in Austin. Even with it running right after Halloween, last year’s show was an absolute joy, and the BOT crew was happy to take my booth fee, er, I mean, welcome back a returning vendor. The love is reciprocated: a great central location in a very funky venue, and while I can’t drink, the Bloody Mary bar was very appreciated by everyone else attending. With its improved date on November 19, the weekend before Thanksgiving, it serves that part of the population that would otherwise spend that Sunday alternating between Halloween withdrawal and dread of the subsequent shopping weekend. Either way, this year, I’m getting set up extra-early so I can visit the other vendors, because I saw a lot of interesting items that I couldn’t view because of the crowds. (And yes, there are crowds. Great crowds.)

After that, it’s back to Dallas, with the gallery open on Thanksgiving weekend and subsequent weekends until the end of the year. (New Year’s Eve Weekend is especially important, because it marks 15 years of marriage to a very special someone, and you can never have too many people at a crystal anniversary. Now I just need to find good copies of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins Crystal Palace dinosaurs for the anniversary cake.) With scheduled shows in the first half of 2018, I just have to quote the comics artist Matt Howarth: it may stop, but it never ends.

State of the Gallery

No combat-ready unit ever passed inspectionWelp. Two years ago this week, after years of planning and plotting, the Triffid Ranch finally made the transition from a show-only operation to one with a permanent base of operations. An awful lot has happened since then, with a lot more to happen between now and the end of the year. Close the roll cage and keep the fire extinguisher at hand, because things continue to get interesting.

Firstly, while the first official exhibition in the new gallery space isn’t until the weekend of October 13, things aren’t going quiet. The exhibition itself, titled “Relics,” takes up nearly all of the available gallery space, and the enclosures for that are filling out. This leads to funny discussions with friends, and there’s nothing quite like telling Jeff VanderMeer (author of the Southern Reach series, with the movie adaptation of the first book Annihilation due very soon) that an enclosure based on his latest novel Borne is the reason why my work area is covered with Anne Hathaway heads. Trust me: it was even funnier to explain how to get an Anne Hathaway head out of a space helmet without damaging the helmet. And if the thought of WHY a space helmet is so important in a carnivorous plant enclosure, then I’m definitely talking to the wrong audience. (If you’ve read Borne, you’ll know why I needed three.)

Incidentally, as opposed to the one-night ARTwalk events at the old Valley View location, future Triffid Ranch shows will run with extended hours. The opening of “Relics” stretches over Friday, October 13 and Saturday, October 14, with the gallery opening to the public over subsequent weekends until Halloween. The Triffid Ranch is supposed to be an art gallery, so it’s time it acted like one. 

And with the mention of shows, September is going to be quite the busy interlude. In addition to SmallCon in Addison on September 9, it’s time to announce the Triffid Ranch’s first appearance at the Dallas Comic Show in Richardson, Texas on September 16 and 17. The DCS was always problematic at the Valley View location because it tended to coincide with ARTwalk weekends, but with the gallery’s move, the Richardson Convention Center is literally up Central Expressway. This means not only a quick and reasonably painless load-in and load-out for the show, but interested bystanders wanting to view larger enclosures have the option of coming by the gallery after the Saturday night festivities. If this one works out well, a trip to the Irving Convention Convention Center event in February 2018 may be in order.

And on a separate note, the much-beloved Alamo Drafthouse chain announced this week that it was hosting specialty 35mm screenings of the original George Romero film Dawn of the Dead, with the Dallas and Richardson venues running Dawn on August 21 and 23. This is noteworthy partly because the film hasn’t been screened in Dallas since the original AMC Northwood Hills 4 midnight shows ended in 1986, partly because I always wanted to host a screening over at the Valley View space, and partly because this is a charity screening for lung cancer awareness. Oh, and the Alamo Drafthouse Richardson is also literally up Central Expressway from the gallery. If you feel so inclined to catch the greatest documentary about life in 1980s Dallas ever made, I look forward to seeing you all at the Richardson screening on August 23. (For those of us who remember the Northwood Hills midnight shows, it’ll be slightly bittersweet: the Northwood Hills hosted an audience participation crowd that made Rocky Horror look sick, and we can’t relive those days because of Alamo Drafthouse’s strict no-talking policy. Sadly, screaming “You mean I spent the whole day shooting zombies, and all you’ve got is LIGHT BEER?” falls under that policy.)

And on final notes, a mea maxima culpa is due. For decades, my relationship with the Dallas Observer was, shall we say, adversarial. During my writing career (1989-2002), I worked for the Observer‘s competitor The Met specifically because the word that best described Observer writing was “smarm”. There was the story about the editor who introduced himself with “You, of course, know who I am, don’t you?”, and would slam in print anyone who didn’t get down on knees and thank him for the privilege of kissing his butt. There was the other editor who spent all of his available time negging the Dallas Morning News in the hopes that the paper would hire him, or anybody else, really. I was nearly stomped at a music festival in Carl’s Corner, south of Dallas on I-35, because I was introduced as a writer and half of the bands there assumed that I worked for the Observer. I won’t even start with the writer best known as “The James Lipton of Fandom”: to this day, members of Dallas’s music community refer to being nagged and bullied for freebies and access and then slammed in print for acquiescing as “getting wilonskyed”. And then there was the lovely habit of the annual Best of Dallas Awards, where five to ten contenders in every category would be told by the ad department that they would be listed as the winner if they bought at least a half-page ad, and you can imagine the surprise when the Best of Dallas issue finally hit the stands.

Well, as they say, that was then and this is now. The change was first noticeable in Editorial, when an editor apologized in print to a writer for adding incorrect information instead of hiding behind a “We regret the error” note in 4-point font next to the masthead. Then starting with former editor Joe Tone, the paper shed the smarm and the entitlement (not to mention dining reporters prone to making the paper settle on libel lawsuits), to where it’s barely recognizable today from where it was circa 1999. While I can complement many of the regular writers, particularly news writer Steven Young, the changes to the Arts & Culture section under editor Caroline North are stunning. The highest compliment I can ever pay to any publication is noting that the writers all appear to WANT to be there, rather than just collecting a check while paying back on high school slights, and Dallas news and entertainment coverage is all the better for it. By the time Observer reporter Nicholas Bostick stopped by the Triffid Ranch space last February, I wasn’t dreading getting covered by the Observer. I was welcoming it, to the point where I have a standing invitation for the Observer staff to come by the gallery and let me pay for the beer. No expectations, no obligations, just thanks from someone horribly burned out on writing for a crew that makes me want to read a weekly newspaper again out of enjoyment.

In a roundabout way, this is my cue to let everyone know that the ballot for the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards is now online, and I ask everyone to chip in. No obligations, no expectations, and certainly no slates (although I’ll say that I’m very fond of many of the nominees, and a couple of the categories were a tough call in picking the best out of four or five). Dallas is becoming a very different city from the one I grew up in, and we need to encourage and celebrate that. Hell, maybe this is the year I start buying Observer advertising, just to do my part to keep the paper hale and hearty, and keep those great writers and editors in coffee and spare pencils. If you’d told me in 2004 that I’d say this, much less in 1996, I would have punched you in the throat.

Otherwise, it’s the usual song: developments are upcoming, mostly because I can’t talk about them yet. That said, though, sleep between now and the end of the year is going to be something I only hear about. And so it goes.

New Developments


Now that the gallery is open and available for commissions, it’s time to make plans for the rest of the year and the whole of 2018. Dallas has had a relatively mild summer so far as compared to the first half of the decade, but August is still the month where we all take inspiration from my animal role model, the Gila monster, and find someplace cool and dark to plot strategy. While Triffid Ranch strategy might not match Gila monster strategy, which consists of crawling to the surface to suck eggs and swallow baby bunnies whole, we’re not completely unsympathetic. Gila monster strategy pretty much summed up my entire writing career through the Eighties and Nineties.

The first part of Triffid Ranch strategy involves planning local events, both at the new gallery and throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. This starts with a lecture and presentation at Half Price Books Mesquite on July 22 from noon to 3 pm, and several new events between now and the beginning of November that aren’t nailed down yet. As always, check the Shows, Lectures, and Other Events page for schedule changes and additions, and expect some surprising venues if things work out well.

 The biggest change in strategy, though, involves making the biggest jump in show audiences the Triffid Ranch has ever done, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit scary. Last April, an impulse trip to the Deep Ellum Arts Festival was nothing short of a mental explosion: the Festival has grown a LOT since its early days in the Twentieth Century, with a selection of artists and other vendors for whom the word “incredible” was an impotent shadow. Friday night alone was one of the most vibrant outdoor shows I’ve ever attended. no doubt accented by the best festival weather one could imagine. (Yes, summers in Dallas are harsh, but the springs and autumns out here make four months of slow simmering worthwhile.) Since then, checking on the availability of visual artist applications was a weekly event, and the applications for artists, musicians, and food vendors just opened. (And did I mention that the food at the Festival was so good that you could gain ten pounds just by standing at one of the intersections and inhaling for ten minutes?) This doesn’t just mean preparing for the huge crowds at Texas Frightmare Weekend during the first weekend of May, but having to prepare even more plants and enclosures for the Festival a month earlier. Applying is no guarantee of being accepted, and nobody will know anything until November, but considering that May 2018 marks a solid decade since the first-ever Triffid Ranch show, it’s time to make the jump. Here’s hoping I don’t faceplant any harder than usual.

And just in time for early preparation for local teachers in search of something different for their classrooms, watch this space for a big announcement next week on affordable enclosure acquisition and maintenance. This won’t be exclusively for teachers: doctors, lawyers, and dentists might have a big interest in this as well. However, teachers will appreciate the maintenance advantages. Details will follow.

State of the Gallery

Well. We made it. We had to get through the first half of the year to get there, but the Texas Triffid Ranch is set and situated in its new home. The gallery’s soft opening (the art world’s equivalent of a dress rehearsal) occurred on June 30, with the only problem being everyone coming early. Not that this was a problem: the early attendees included Nicholas Bostick of the Dallas Observer, and his assessment of the soft opening gives a lot of ideas for future plans. Combine that with commentary and suggestions from other attendees, and it’s off to the races for the next big exhibition, Relics, starting on October 13.

In the interim, in addition to the Small-Con and Blood Over Texas shows in September and November, the Triffid Ranch goes on the road. Of course, it’s just down the road to the Half Price Books Mesquite store, with a lecture and presentation starting at 12:00. Admission is free, and this may be the start of many at Half Price stores through the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Emphasis on “may”: everything depends upon the attendance at this one, so feel free to come out and gaze upon South American and Australian pitcher plants and other surprises. (Later this month, I hope to share news about upcoming shows for the next year, but a lot of that involves confirmation of acceptance. For instance, next year would mark ten years of the Triffid Ranch at Texas Frightmare Weekend, this is dependent upon making it past the juried acceptance process, and neither I nor any other vendor at TFW will make that kind of assumption. We have too much respect for the TFW crew to even think about it.) 

And future plans for the gallery? As mentioned previously, a new exhibition, Relics, opens on October 13, full of new enclosures and displays, and expect hints and in-progress shots on a regular basis. Until then, keep checking back, because reality stretches, and things currently invisible may emerge if reality stretches enough.

State of the Gallery


Four months. Four months since the old Triffid Ranch location had to shut down, and we had to track down a new space. Four months of potting, painting, sweeping, drilling, screwing (keep your mind out of the gutter), stacking, pitching, dumping (again with the bathroom humor), repositioning, and vacuuming. Four months of discovering the joys of the difference between renting residential and commercial properties, the vagaries of plumbing replacement, and the tribulations of a moth invasion that came literally from nowhere. Four months of learning more about security systems, air conditioning units, bathroom plumbing, and glass polishing than anyone would think was necessary, and then the real fun with potting and prepping plants began. Combine this with two of the biggest Triffid Ranch shows of the year in the middle, and the necessary downtime on gallery preparation to focus on those shows, and guess what?

We’re nearly there.

Things still aren’t perfect: one of the advantages to the new gallery is a significant increase in usable wall area and volume, along with a nearly exponential increase in power outlets compared to the old Valley View space. This means doubling the old space’s shelf space, which also goes with an increase of usable floor area and tables to take advantage of it. This means that the next big Triffid Ranch exhibition is tentatively scheduled for mid-October, just to build enough enclosures to fill all that new display space. (Sadly, the regular ARTwalk exhibitions are as dead as Valley View’s artist community, because the time lost in preparing for and cleaning up after each ARTwalk cut into enclosure preparation and construction time.) Details will follow, but the upshot is that the Triffid Ranch opens for commissions and consultation as of July 1. 

(Please note: as with the Valley View space, the new gallery is open by appointment only, preferably with at least 24 hours’ advance notice. Apologies for the inconvenience, but a day job intrudes.) 

And on the subject of shows, the rest of summer and all of autumn are going to be busy, with things staying lively all the way through the end of November. Many of the events are awaiting final confirmation, but Small-Con in Addison on September 9 and the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin on November 19 are absolutes. As this changes, the calendar will be updated accordingly. This goes double for events in spring 2018: vendor applications for Texas Frightmare Weekend officially open on June 23, and we hope to have a special surprise lined up for next April. We’ll see how it goes.

In other developments, visitors at the Dallas Arboretum may have noticed the new carnivorous plant bog in the Children’s Adventure Garden, and expect more carnivores very quickly. Because of a bumper crop of second-year plants from last year’s seedlings, getting the new plants potted up requires having to make room, and the big established Sarracenia are perfect for the Arboretum’s purposes. Expect photos soon, especially if our expected rains on Saturday don’t wash us all back to Oz, because everyone involved really made an exceptional display, and it just needs more plants to fill out the area. It has a way to go before it can compete with the Atlanta Botanic Garden’s carnivore beds, but the challenge is half of the fun. 

Free plugs: both of these deserve proper reviews, but keep an eye open for both the BBC/PBS two-part miniseries Plants Behaving Badly, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, and the new Janit Calvo book The Gardening In Miniature Prop Shop, published by Timber Press. The former dedicates one episode each to carnivorous plants and orchids, and the only issue with either is that one hour is nowhere near enough time for a decent presentation. The latter, though, is going to be an essential resource in the Triffid Ranch workshop, so buy both for the best effect. And so it goes. 

 

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2017 – 5

Now, not that this year’s Frightmare was perfect. The horror lay in leaving the show. Everything packed up perfectly, we were all done and loaded into the truck at least an hour ahead of schedule, and it looked as if the few remaining plants would go back into the gallery before dark. Everything was going great, until the truck encountered the tollbooths at the north exit of DFW Airport. Judging by the scars on the concrete barriers separating each toll booth, a lot of drivers discover that they don’t have very much clearance at all. In my case, I came to the booth, inserted my original toll ticket and the parking validation from the hotel, started forward, and caught a lovely “BLAM!” Starting forward a little further, the right wheel was making a lovely whup-whup-whup sound, so it’s time to pull over. One of the wheel struts had broken, so it was a matter of waiting for a tow truck to haul the beast back to the gallery and from there to a repair center. (A little bit of advice for first-time vendors at conventions and shows: if you get to the point where you need a truck to haul merchandise to shows, go for a rental to each show until you reach the point where the rentals are costing more than payments on a new truck. If you rent, always, ALWAYS buy the offered insurance, because that $20 to $40 expenditure every show is much better than the $2000 or more that will come out of your hide if something should happen. Thirdly, if you find a dependable and friendly rental service, stick with these people, and let them know how much you love them at every opportunity. Not only can I depend upon U-Haul Moving & Storage of Garland, but I let them know much they’re helping, every time I pick up a van.) U-Haul driver support was exceptional, the tow truck driver was a hoot, and I was able to get everything unloaded and in the gallery within minutes, with only one broken flask. Not exactly how I wanted to spend a Sunday evening, but it beat waiting on the side of the road, wondering what I’d do next.

Last Views: The Old Space – 3

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A little tip to beginning gallery owners: unless you own the building, don’t get too comfortable. Even if everyone involved swears up and down that tenants get 60 days’ notice before they have to vacate the premises, that promise is generally worth the paper it’s written on when the owner decides otherwise. I say this not out of bitterness but as a friendly warning: For those not already prepared, 30 days to find a new space, take care of occupancy permits and fire inspections, get the keys, and move everything is problematic even if everything works perfectly. Here in Dallas, where often the only way to get a retail leasing agent to return phone calls is to call the CEO of his company and ask if he’s unavailable because he’s hurt himself from masturbating all day, 30 days just simply enough. It’s possible, barely, but it requires starting packing and searching pretty much the moment the notice came through. We were lucky: as we were leaving the day before everyone had to be gone, we had neighbors who were just starting to look because they’d assumed that this notice would be the same false alarm as it had been for the previous five years. As we pulled the last items out of our space, others were openly wondering what they were going to do, and you do NOT want to be in that position when the doors are being boarded up and the demolition crews start rolling in.moveout_02272017_2

After eighteen months, it was strange to realize that we were the last-ever tenants in a particular venue, especially since that venue had been around for almost as long as we had been alive. We moved out on the last weekend of February thanks to the Herculean efforts of friends and cohorts who didn’t need to waste a weekend helping to pack and lug multiple truckloads of detritus, and when it was done, the place was strangely smaller for being empty. The only echoes of past tenants were little touches of urban archaeology: the number for Mall Security on a piece of masking tape (with no area code because most of the area was under only one area code until 1997) on the front counter, the tags for long-removed paintings from the previous gallery, and the strange assemblage of clothes displays from the next-door Foot Locker, apparently scavenged after a rebranding, in a Home Depot box over the fire escape door. The move wasn’t something we’d planned, but it was done, and now it was time to leave with a bit of dignity and grace. Trying to stay only would have made the memories sour.

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And in the end, that was it. The last truck was loaded, and we waited for the sole security guard to inspect the space, ensure that we weren’t trying to prise fixtures out of the ceiling, and sign the all-clear on what was called the “sweep-out form.” We handed over our keys and turned off the circuit breakers in the back for the last time, and the guard rolled down the gate. 20 months since we first viewed the space and contemplated moving the Triffid Ranch to a semipermanent location, it was all over. We no longer had any connection to the mall, and with the impending demolition, we knew we’d never see it again. And so it goes.moveout_02272017_5

Last Views: The Old Space – 2

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One of the aspects of a gallery setup and expansion that nobody considers, until they have to do it, is working with the space as is available. The old Triffid Ranch space was apparently used since its construction as a men’s clothing store, so it had all sorts of vagaries that you’d never find in other locales. A lack of electrical outlets, for instance: in the main space, we had a couple in the main register island permanently affixed to the west side of the room, two along the back wall, and two on each side of the front gate. Of course, those ones by the front gate were on the ceiling in order the power the ridiculous halogen lighting so popular in the 1980s for store displays. This meant that extension cords were our friends, and we were incredibly happy to live in a future where compact fluorescent and LED lighting took a significant load off the electrical system while still supplying enough light for the plants. Getting the cords to the lights, though…that was fun.oldspace_01232017_8

One of the problems with working in a mall after hours is the ridiculous quiet. With the exception of the occasional security guard doing his rounds, most nights were accompanied acoustically only by tintinitis unless you brought sonic or visual stimulation. Hence, because the big register island couldn’t be moved, and Square point-of-sale apps made having a distinct register area as quaint as daily milk delivery, it became the de facto worktable. Also, since the mall was built at a time when wifi and cell phone reception were science fiction but tornadoes weren’t, phone reception cut out about three meters from the front gate and radio reception of most sorts after about five. Combine that with a mall wifi installed around 2005 that wasn’t going to be expanded or updated, said entertainment consisted of lots and lots of DVDs and a rather old flatscreen that got the job done. This even expanded into formal events such as the ARTwalks: considering the outside crowds coming to the mall during its final months, it might have made more sense to turn our openings into Babylon 5 viewing parties, because everyone was glued to episodes playing in the background.oldspace_01232017_9

Because the space was intended to be work area and showroom, we at least tried to separate the two with curtains, but naturally that meant that everyone wanted to see what was in the back. Those same people strangely had issues with workspaces that had everything I needed, combined with a “Hunter S. Thompson crashing in your living room for a month” vibe that should have said “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” Silly me: that was just encouragement, because this was where the magic happened.oldspace_01232017_10And then there was the actual back growing area, intended for plants that weren’t ready for general dissemination. The spacescape painted over the entire area was there when we moved in, a legacy of the art gallery that had been there until early 2015. Combine that with the reflective film on the growing racks to reflect light back onto the plants, and it was as if the1980s never ended.

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Finally, one of the biggest challenges was letting new visitors know where the space was located. By the time we moved in, the mall’s owner had no intention of updating the various “You Are Here” maps throughout the mall, but he had no problem with our putting up signs to steer customers. This was when we learned the extent to which most Americans have learned to block out advertising as a matter of mental survival. Multiple signs on the upper and lower levels, the big Styrofoam pillar covered with posters and fitted with postcard holders, and an extensive online presence that included maps, and wise still got calls asking “So where are you? I’ve been looking for you in the mall for an hour!” And so it goes.

Last Views: The Old Space – 1

Now that the new gallery is getting to the point where it isn’t a horrible post–apocalyptic accumulation of dead tech and cultural detritus, it may be time for a few last looks at the old. When we got word that most of the remaining tenants at Valley View Center had to move, we’d finally managed to beat our space into something approximating a real gallery. One whole wall covered in shelving, separate aisles set up and clear, and ready visibility of both finished plant enclosures and in-progress projects to anybody who came in. Naturally, getting everything under control meant that it was time to move, but at least we’d worked out most of the logistics issues by the time it happened. Oh, and what a space it was.

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In addition to the plants, the old gallery was the home of Tawanda Jewelry, and it became a vital meeting locale for new and longtime clients. Just as with shows and events, it made sense: why couldn’t you mix plants and carnivorous plants in the same space?oldspace_01232017_5oldspace_01232017_6

And there it ended, right after our January ARTwalk. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely getting there, and it gave us plenty of experience with setting up a more permanent gallery. And so it goes.

…and the Beginning of the New

Meanwhile, after four days of shoving, sorting, and cursing, everything is now moved to the new gallery. Don’t expect any photos of the current mess: while everyone compares it to a Tetris game, I’m reasonably that real Tetris pieces don’t have the potential nor the opportunity to kill you. Rather, I put out a general notice that anybody currently negotiating a grim and gritty reboot of The Red Green Show should contact me now, because I have the perfect shooting set.

In the gap between now and when everything is finished, here’s a preview. The new gallery is slightly smaller in square footage than the old space, but with more useable room because of the lack of the monstrous counter island. The biggest compromise was in the restroom, and we’ll all miss the old restroom with enough floorspace for dancing. (The sink is the first thing to be replaced, because that 1990s glass bowl relic could double as a bidet for hobbits.) The ceilings are much taller, the walls more continuous, and a former break room with counters and cabinets makes preparing everything for openings will be MUCH easier. And should I mention plenty of parking, a much more central location, easy access to DART rail, and lots of outside space for smokers?


Anyway, back to the linen mines:  the next big Triffid Ranch show is in two weeks, and we’re making tentative plans for a soft opening after that. The first priority, though, is getting the plants back up and under lights…

The End of the Old…

As of last Monday, the old Triffid Ranch space is back to where it was when we moved in. Well, maybe a lot cleaner, with fewer burst sweet and sour sauce packets in the counter drawers and about $1.35 less in pennies all over the floor of the back room. (Seriously, the way bad pennies kept turning up, I started having dreams that they bred like cockroaches.) The space will never see another tenant, as the fixture recycling and dismantling started March 1 in preparation for Valley View Center’s eventual demolition. However, we were there to see it off, and we were the last to see it as a retail space.What happens  next is up to the property owners, but at least we had the time we had. Selah. 

Have A Great Weekend

Well, we’re at the end of the time at the Galleries at Midtown space. 18 months ago, we opened with wide eyes and no idea of what the future would bring. By February 28, most of the art galleries will be moved out, the last of the stores on the lower level vacated, and the inevitable demolition started. Valley View Center will be replaced with a new collection of apartments, office buildings, and retail space, but without ARTwalks, without random passersby, and without a lot of strange memories. Valley View deserves a final sendoff, but the move this weekend takes precedence. The new gallery awaits, and with it come new schemes and new stories, all of which wouldn’t have been possible if not for the last year and a half out here. And so it goes.

Have a Great Weekend

Current gallery status: we received the official moveout form this week for the existing space, and so has everyone else. We’re two weeks away from the last-ever ARTwalk on February 18, and while a couple of the galleries will remain at least until May, the majority of us are already getting packed and moved. After that, one last weekend before the official cutoff date of February 28 to move, and that’s it for the Triffid Ranch at the Galleries at Midtown. After that, the mall comes down bit by bit, and then it’s a matter of watching the new Midtown rise. As to all of that, we know exactly as much as everyone else, which is precious little, and the energy needed to ascertain the mall’s final death date is better spent on finding a new locale.

Future gallery status: everything is still tentative, but we think we have a new gallery space, with more than suitable parking, a more accessible location off Central Expressway, and more usable gallery area than the current one. (It isn’t until you’ve done so for a year or more that you realize how much an immovable counter island gets in the way of, well, everything.) We’ve already had a discussion on how the new location, wherever it may be, won’t have regular monthly ARTwalk-type events, but that’s mitigated by trying to get more shows in other galleries in the Dallas area. As much as we’ve loved the ARTwalks, they still meant that an entire weekend per month was pretty much shot as far as work on new enclosures was concerned, so quarterly openings makes much more sense for everybody. This way, we have more surprises when we do have an opening.

Show status: outside shows are problematic, if only because many of the previous science fiction convention venues are themselves in serious trouble. That said, expect a few announcements as to other venues over the rest of the year. It’s not surprising that the con circuit is imploding: this happens about every twenty years, and they start to come back after the ground has been fallow for a decade or so. This makes setting up a more permanent gallery more important, though, as well as attending more unorthodox shows outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Again, expect a few announcements.

Music: a particularly appropriate theme for tonight.

The Aftermath: ARTwalk – January Green

As promised, the first ARTwalk in January was one hell of a way to start off 2017. As promised, local horticulture student Christian Cooper showed and sold his range of houseplants, to the point where he won’t show up in photos. That’s because he was so busy, from beginning to end, that I completely forgot to get pictures of him in action. As promised, his sales were matched with an equal contribution to the North Texas Food Bank, and the NTFB received a contribution of $150 the very next morning. As promised, this was going to be just the beginning for the year. As we discovered two days later, that’s absolutely true, as we received notice that all of the galleries at Valley View Center have to be vacated as of February 28, with the doors to the mall blocked off and demolition starting the very next day. It’s been a good run, and on one serious high note.

So what else happened? The first and foremost was the debut of the new commission enclosure Arellarti (2017) (shown above and in the Enclosure Gallery), an experiment in adapting standard diorama-building techniques for a decidedly hostile environment for most model materials. Not only was the client (below) absolutely ecstatic, but her assignment gave me the chance to push the edge on new materials and new techniques, which will be used in the future for upcoming enclosures. Now we just need to snag a new gallery in order to be able to do so…

As for that new gallery? The search started months ago, with getting an idea of which areas and what sort of location would be most amenable to what was needed and what would have been nice to have. For no other reason, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity given by the Galleries at Midtown and the owners of Valley View Center for the last eighteen months, because when a leasing agent asks “So…what are you looking for in a space?”, I can give succinct, useful, and well-researched answers. Now it’s just a matter of getting returned phone calls.

And for future plans. No matter where we go, the gallery will probably remain appointment-only unless something drastically changes with the financial situation, and regular public openings will probably cut back to quarterly instead of monthly. ARTwalk was a great way to be prepared for the public and keep the place from resembling a shooting set from The Red Green Show a little too much, but it effectively removed three months of weekends from the work schedule. Besides, anticipation, on all sides, is good for the soul.

Other than that? We have one last ARTwalk on February 18 (for those on Facebook, details are here, and feel free to invite as many people as you can stand), and after that, it’s time for the clearout. All completed enclosures will be marked down to Shirt Price for all, so if you’ve been wanting to buy a particular one but haven’t had the opportunity to do so, get the space at home prepped and bring a vehicle to carry it home. (We have a cart to move it, but once out in the parking lot, you’re on your own.) All of the other galleries will be having both final art sales and liquidation sales of excess displays, supplies, and whatnot, so bring money for them, too. It’s been inevitable, but the closing of Valley View is a great excuse for a party, and you’re all invited. Selah.

The Last ARTwalk

We’ve been waiting for word, and dreading the word, and now receiving the word: today, we received notice from the owners of Valley View Center that the Triffid Ranch lease expires on February 28. From the beginning, we knew that the wonderful chance we had would be limited: I told people from the start that if we had 18 months here, I’d be absolutely thrilled. Well, word came 18 months after we signed the lease, and we’ll be moving out (leaving it “broom-ready,” as the parlance has it) a week over 18 months after our opening.  And so it goes. 

Not that this ends the saga of the Triffid Ranch: we’re still committed to shows in March and May, and we’ve been searching for a similar space for about a year to restart the gallery. However, the crew at both the Galleries at Midtown (particularly Carmen Kelley, who has had an incredible amount of patience with such an unorthodox space as ours) and the Valley View staff have become family, and we’re truly going to miss them when we leave. I’m going to miss people peeking in after-hours, when I’m frantically working on enclosures and they’re wandering back to the parking lot after catching a late-night movie. Oh, and I’m going to miss the great people who came out and supported us at ARTwalks, or came inside and asked interesting questions, or even just exclaimed outside “Carnivorous plants? COOL!” All of you made it worthwhile. 

And just because we’re moving doesn’t mean that we’re not open. We’re still having our ARTwalk event for February 18, now ominously titled “The Last ARTwalk,” and we’re inviting past, present, and future visitors to come out to gaze upon the space one last time. As an added incentive, Shirt Price will apply to everyone on that Saturday, so if you’ve been itching to get a particular enclosure but wasn’t sure about having a space to put it, get that space set up NOW

In the interim, the real work starts up. Packing and sorting begins this week, interspersed with checking with realtors who were just waiting for the word to move forward. I have no idea what’s going to happen between now and the end of 2017, but the universe definitely chucked us into the deep end of the pool. Now watch us swim.

Have a Great ARTwalk Weekend

Another month, another Midtown ARTwalk, and we’re starting off 2017 full throttle. This weekend’s ARTwalk not only features the debut of a new commission for noted voice actor (and very dear friend) Clarine Harp, but the theme is “January Green.” This means giving a space for new voices, and the new voice this month is Christian Cooper, a senior at North Dallas High School. This ARTwalk features a charity houseplant sale and show of Christian’s work, and considering that Christian is going to be someone to watch in a few years, now’s the chance to snag some of his plants before anybody else does. The festivities start at 6:00 on January 21, and we’ll keep going until everyone else goes home. See you then.

State of the Gallery

The big buy-stuff-and-get-drunk holidays are done. At the day jobs, everyone’s starting their first full week of work, and already planning vacations to get away from co-workers without the promise of violence. The kids are back in school, which in Texas means dodging the dolts who are terrified of thunder birds swooping down and stealing their children away, so they have to park in the middle of the street at rush hour and walk their kids directly to the front door. This being Texas, the weather keeps fluctuating between “black ice on the bridges” and “you’d think it was spring if you didn’t know better.” Yes, January is here, and preferably with as little pain as necessary.

With the new year comes the regular evaluation of where the Triffid Ranch is going, because we’re not sure ourselves. To answer the incessant questions: yes, we’re still at the old Valley View Center in North Dallas. Yes, we know the mall is going to be demolished. No, we don’t know when it’s coming down, or when we’ll have to vacate the space.With the incessant TV news segments involving someone who hasn’t been to the mall in 30 years, with closeups of the shock on their faces to discover that Wicks ‘n Sticks and Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby are shut down, you’d never know we had a thriving gallery community out here. Tell some people where we’re located, and they react as if they’ll be hit with demolition charges and buried in loose bricks the moment they step inside.  (I had to explain that to a niece who had to comment that “the mall is coming down” as if we’ll be caught in the destruction the next day, explaining that just because the mall will eventually be brought down, but it won’t be brought down today.)  This isn’t being helped by coverage in the Dallas Morning News by the self-styled “James Lipton of Fandom,” where you have to wonder exactly how many times he had his head flushed in mall toilets during his high school days that he’d dedicate so much time and effort gloating about the mall’s demise. (As someone who also once had a career at a weekly newspaper involving writing about nothing but science fiction movies and comic books, yes, it sucks that nobody can afford to pay for that coverage any more. Get over it.)

So here’s the situation as we know it so far. Yes, Valley View Center is facing demolition. Everyone knew that going in, and we specifically knew that when we opened the gallery nearly two years ago. No, we don’t know when demolition will start: that information hasn’t been shared with us or any other gallery owner. Yes, some galleries have cleared out, but most of that was because of the hype about the demolition last summer, where patrons worried about flying bricks stopped visiting. Right now, what we know is that the AMC Valley View 16 cinema, which I’ll add is the best first-run movie theater in the Dallas area for the price, signed a new lease for at least the next six months, and demolition can’t be completed so long as the theater remains. The old Foley’s building at the southwest corner of the mall is beginning demolition, but as that space had been empty for years, this doesn’t affect anything with the main mall and won’t for a while. For the duration, until we specifically hear word otherwise, the Triffid Ranch will remain at its current location, and we’ll be continuing with events at that location until we get that final word.

On that subject, the next Midtown ARTwalk is scheduled for Saturday, January 21 from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., with this month’s theme being “January Green“. This one will be a bit different: besides premiering a new commission for famed voice actress and dear friend Clarine Harp, this show features guest horticulturalist Christian. A local high schooler, Christian first came out to the gallery last year to see Nepenthes pitcher plants in situ with his large and very enthusiastic family, and then invited me to see his collection of rescued plants. Folks, seeing Christian’s work with cuttings and plants previously rejected as being “too rough for sale” made me remember what I was like when I was 17…and makes me want to invent cheap and effective time travel to go back and kick my previous self’s lazy butt up around his shoulder blades. January Green is an exhibition and sale of Christian’s best houseplants, and all sales will be matched by the Triffid Ranch with a donation to the charity of Christian’s choice. Yes, he’s THAT good.

As for the rest of the year, the show season is going to be a bit sporadic, and only partly because of the mall situation. For those unfamiliar with the glorious fiasco that was the Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve event last month, we didn’t dodge a bullet by not attending. We dodged Slim Pickens riding the bomb. We missed this, but after last summer’s InfiniCon, combined with more and more local conventions and shows having issues with attracting attendees, it’s a matter of cutting back on outside shows and concentrating on the gallery. That said, All-Con on March 16 through 19 and Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 5 through 7 are still essential. As for the next Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at the end of the year…if they want to put up with me, I’ll be honored to show off plants. Until then, ARTwalk is always open, and expect a special surprise involving the Dallas Arboretum in March. Details WILL follow.