Category Archives: Projects

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. 

 

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Driving with the top down

Okay, so the best adjective to describe the last few months is “hectic”. The news this month about the mall coming down led to the start of a search for a new location. The bad news is that thanks to the current hipster explosion in the Oak Cliff area, gallery space is available, if $18 per square foot and up is “affordable”. The good news is that thanks to the expansion of available technology, the huge office parks built throughout the Dallas area at the beginning of the century, in anticipation of a huge sustained dotcom boom dead for fifteen years, are increasingly affordable and open to new uses. We don’t know what the rest of the year is going to bring us, but the plan right now is to stay at Midtown for as long as we can: it’s a central locale, we have great neighbors, and people now come by solely to see what’s in the window this week. (And before you ask, photos will follow soon enough.)

The only problem with the mall involves people being able to find the space. As with most malls, corridor junctions have those huge “You are here” directories: unfortunately, since the mall’s coming down soon enough, the owners can’t justify spending money to update those directory maps as galleries and businesses move in and out. Since those directories list the previous gallery in our location, customers and visitors come in, check out the gallery, don’t see our name, and get confused. The obvious solution was to add signage that gave directions and intrigued passersby. But considering how easily we as a society blank out on incessant advertising, is it possible to make signage that might draw people in merely by its presence, even if it’s for a few rounds of “What the hell is that?


The medium made itself accessible soon enough: an Internet radio station getting situated further down the mall pulled these huge Styrofoam blanks from alcoves in their walls and set them aside. This being an art gallery community, most disappeared as soon as they were offered, propped up on one end, and used as temporary print and photo displays. Thankfully, one remained, and after a few weeks of shaping with heat guns, painting, and augmentation, the new Triffid Ranch sign went up on the main mall floor, within view of the escalator leading to the movie theater. It’s not to the level of a Jay Sherman book promotion cutout, but what is?

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So there you have it. Combined with dispensers for promotional postcards, it not only brings in interested bystanders, but it fits in with the general theme and intention. Now let’s see if I can find another foam core in order to put another sign directly in front of the space.

T-shirt Extravaganza From Larry Carey Art

New Triffid Ranch banner by Larry Carey

Last week, I mentioned that big news was coming from Larry Carey Art, so here’s the situation. For the last several years, quite a few people expressed interest in T-shirts and other items featuring Larry’s very distinctive Triffid Ranch poster (seen above), but the logistics got in the way. Table space at Triffid Ranch shows reserved for T-shirts took away table space for plants, and a previous T-shirt printing didn’t work out anywhere near as well as hoped. Sadly, while the concept of the shirts received a lot of notice and attention, the follow-through was a little lacking. Understandable, really: with so many online distractions, it’s hard to remember “Hey, I really want to get that T-shirt” if it can’t be a quick, boom-boom-boom instant transaction.

Well, guess who now has shirts available via quick, boom-boom-boom instant transaction?

Wait: it gets better. The Texas Triffid Ranch officially partners with Larry Carey Art to produce new shirts and other items via RedBubble, and T-shirts are just part of the bounty. Need a drawstring bag? How about a spiral notebook? (Currently, shower curtains are available through a different source, but as soon as they’re available, I’m getting one myself.)

Now, you may think “Okay, so my purchase of a T-shirt is one more step toward respect for a truly unique artist, but what does this do for ME?” That’s a really good question. See, that T=shirt isn’t just a T-shirt. Wear that shirt to an ARTwalk event starting in July, or any Triffid Ranch show, and wearing that shirt offers perks not available to mere mortals. Among other things, larger enclosures will come with both the standard price and the shirt price, with the shirt price being between 10 and 25 percent off. This also includes getting free items, ranging from plants to books, just by showing up wearing a shirt. The deal, though, is that you have to be wearing it to get the benefits: just like a machete or a wad of $100 bills, that shirt does you no good if it’s stuck in the back of a dresser drawer. When you do, though, the benefits keep coming for the life of the shirt or the life of the Triffid Ranch. If the arms fall off and the panel becomes a patch on a jacket, it’s still valid, so long as it’s wearable.

Anyway, the next big opportunity to use your powers comes with the July ARTwalk on July 15, with the big InfiniCon show three weeks later, so get in that order now. You’re not only helping out an artist whom I’ve admired for the last decade, but you’re also helping yourself. Now back to the music.

Interludes and Background

It’s been a while since the last update, what with just-finished shows and other events. Let’s rectify that, shall we? After all, Midtown Artwalk is a little over a week away, and Black Friday is two weeks from now…image
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“And so it begins.”

Oztopus mural

To steal blatantly from Harlan Ellison, we’ll start at the middle, and then go back to the beginning. The end will take care of itself.

Nearly six weeks after signing the lease and starting to move in, the new Triffid Ranch space is nearly ready. The official launch date is September 19, 2015, to coincide with the September ArtWalk. It’s not a standard retail space: it’s a gallery, open by appointment only, but also a workspace in order to get new arrangements and new plants ready for new shows. That said, the real fun should be starting in October, once the heat breaks, the days get shorter, and the air in Dallas no longer smells like burning flint. Enter the mall and head for the octopus mural, take the escalator downstairs, and we’re right at the bottom.

Storefront
The beginning.
A lot has changed with the Triffid Ranch since that first show in the fall of 2008, and much of it involves economics of scale. As the shows increased in popularity and people started coming out specifically to see what plants were available, the need to expand became obvious. For all of the assumptions that the Ranch was specifically that, particularly with the number of people calling at ungodly hours because “I’m coming through Dallas at 3 in the morning, so I wanted to come by then to see your plants,” it’s always been a home-run business since the beginning. Sarracenia in the back yard, Drosera and Stylidium in the greenhouse, and Nepenthes and Cephalotus on shelves inside the house so our horrendous summer heat and dryness didn’t wilt them within minutes.

Storefront Side

This worked for a while, and we kept expanding, but rapidly the Triffid Ranch ran into the same snag as any other home-founded business. Namely, houses aren’t conducive toward running horticulture-based businesses. We needed room, a lot of room, to expand past one or two shows per year. We needed room to construct larger enclosures than the little jars that were the stalwarts of small shows. We needed room to exhibit those larger enclosures, because while attendees would thrill to seeing Nepenthes arrangements where the plants were at a decent size, nobody had the interest in taking them home. Honestly, that’s understandable: considering the number of international guests at Texas Frightmare Weekend, it’s hard enough bringing home a one-gallon plastic arrangement on the plane, but a converted 30-gallon hexagon tank with a plant big enough to eat small children and puppies? Naah.

Another factor that kicked in was that the show schedule was having issues. Covering expenses meant continuing to work a day job, and recent changes in that day job precluded my taking a week off to prepare, attend, and break down from big shows out of the Dallas area. In and out of Dallas, the old show regimen was changing, too. Every twenty years, we see a regular crash on local conventions: they start out feisty and hungry at the beginning of a recession, and the attendees really get into the festivities as a way to forget their aggravations and fears for at least one weekend. This lasts until the economy starts to improve, the curiosity-seekers move on, and the regulars realize that their own day jobs, families, and financial obligations are getting in the way. This usually gets aggravated by the number of shysters and incompetents who hear Some Guy stories about how science fiction and media conventions are a perfect way to print their own money, fail in a spectacular fashion, and thus poison the well for everyone else. Shortly after leaving the 2014 hiatus with Texas Frightmare Weekend, two shows for which I was scheduled blew up in a rather spectacular fashion, with fellow vendors bringing up the words “class action lawsuit” when they weren’t bringing up “put the organizer into a parking lot, put a gasoline-filled tire around his neck, and set him on fire.” Considering the number of touring vendors for whom cancellations don’t just mean a missing paycheck but a whole missing week of expenses between shows, I figured that it was about time to look for other venues. The Triffid Ranch isn’t quitting conventions and trade shows: there’s no way that I’d miss out on Frightmare or next year’s All-Con, as well as this November’s Funky Finds Holiday Experience in Fort Worth. It’s just that fewer and fewer vendors can risk the first-year shows that might be great, or might be the next Fed-Con USA.

And then the Texas summer intruded. In the last five years, we lost two beautiful old silverleaf maples that worked very well at shading the main growing areas all summer. Then our neighbor had no choice but to take out two equally majestic elms that shaded the whole of the house from the afternoon sun, and afternoon sun in Texas can be a killer. Both trees had such a wood-borer beetle infestation that they would have come down atop the house had they remained, so I didn’t blame him in the slightest, but their removal meant that a prime grow room became a prime bread oven by about three in the afternoon. Fans, extra air conditioners, improved circulation: nothing changed the fact that the plants kept indoors were overheating, and I lost several much-beloved Nepenthes cultivars in the early summer from heat exhaustion. It was time to move.

Storefront lit from within
That’s where things get entertaining. Taking over and converting one of Dallas’s many light industrial spaces was always an option, except to clients who might have issue with coming out to an otherwise empty industrial park a few hours after dark. Standard retail space usually comes with the requirement of having to be open for business during standard business hours, which gets in the way of the Day Job necessary to finance the expansion for its first year or so. The best option would be a gallery of some sort, except most of Dallas’s gallery space is now renting for absolutely insane prices, and moving enough plants to pay the rent just simply wouldn’t be possible.

Please note that I said “most of Dallas’s gallery space.” This is important.

Store interior
When it first opened 42 years ago, North Dallas’s Valley View Mall was one of the first indoor shopping malls in the area, and it definitely wasn’t its last. It survived multiple threats of shutdown and demolition that took out the neighboring Prestonwood and Richardson Square Malls, and it seemed to be making a comeback around 2005 with the addition of whole new third floor, with a brand new AMC movie theater taking up that floor. Then the original owners, leveraged up to their eyeballs, disappeared and defaulted on their various loans, and the city of Dallas found itself owning a very large shopping mall, in what would be a prime area once expansion of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Freeway was complete. Until that work on LBJ was done, though, the mall still had to be maintained for the theater. Anchor stores JCPenney and Foley’s moved out or went under, leaving only the Sears at one end. In between, business slowly trickled away, and the stores followed. By 2010, the mall was pretty much dead.

Back Room

The good news was that a new owner came in, with a new idea. The plan was to demolish the Valley View Mall and replace it with a huge facility called Midtown, which included a new theater, apartments, shops, and even a park that ran through the middle of it. That work would have started shortly after the mall’s purchase, but the Great Recession intruded. The mall couldn’t just be taken down: several long-running tenants weren’t leaving just yet, AMC wanted a new theater before it allowed its very successful existing one to come crashing down, and the Sears was fully owned by its parent company. Since the big theater expansion, the demand for shopping mall space crashed as companies such as Gadzooks and Waldenbooks died off and others cut back on mall presence. With the decreased traffic due to the LBJ expansion and new malls going up in the far northern suburbs, Valley View was seen as an anachronism, but its demolition couldn’t happen until the stars were right. So what to do?

That’s where the owners came up with brilliance. The mall itself had to remain open: that was the only way to access the movie theater. That meant rooftop maintenance to prevent leaks, keeping air conditioning going, a facilities crew to sweep floors and keep the electricity connected, and all of the other factors necessary to keep this 1970s-era artifact going. The solution: what about converting the empty shops into art galleries?

When I first heard the idea behind the Gallery at Midtown, this coincided with its regular ArtWalk exhibition on the third Saturday of each month. Every third Saturday, the galleries open their doors from 6 to 10 in the evening to the general public, and the festivities include live music, food, and all sorts of other amenities. What really surprised me about this was the general vibe. Dallas gets a reputation for being unfriendly to the arts, and some of that reputation is justified: we locals learned back in the Eighties to be very quiet about new venues, because as soon as word got out, the area would be overrun with speculators famed for letting tenants do all of the work on a space and then kicking them out because some yuppie made vague noises about paying three times the rent. Here, that’s not a concern, and it shows.

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Now here’s the kicker. The new space means a significantly enlarged workspace in a very central location, accessible from almost anywhere in north Texas. The rent is reasonable, the neighbors are wonderful, and those looking for new gallery space should check on it now. We’re also working against the clock. Sooner or later, depending upon when the next stage on Midtown starts, the mall is coming down, and everyone in it will have to relocate. That could happen by the end of the year, and it could happen two years from now. We don’t know, and neither does anybody else. In the meantime, this was a perfect opportunity to expand, we get at least one equivalent of a show every month without having to get trucks, carts, and extension cords, and the people who want to come by “to see the plants” can come up to the front window and look to their hearts’ content. Things may change. Things may change very rapidly. The plan, though, is to give this as much of a chance as we can, and see what next year brings. Here’s to seeing all of you next September 19.

Introducing “Sid”

Apologies for the quiet around here, but it’s been very busy behind the scenes as of late. Between the cold fronts finally ceasing, which threw the Sarracenia blooming and trap-producing schedule all to pot, lots of propagating and repotting, and the Day Job, sleep is something that exists as a vague concept. It’s all worth it, though, especially after the triggerplants started coming out of winter dormancy, and vending at Texas Frightmare Weekend promises to be the biggest Triffid Ranch show ever.

Anyway, this isn’t the only reason for the radio silence. Please allow me to introduce you to “Sid,” a Nepenthes bicalcarata from lowland Borneo. Sid has lots of hobbies, including photosynthesizing, encouraging ant colonies to live in special chambers in his leaves, and producing traps the size of softballs. Yes, he gets his name from the obvious inspiration, and like his namesake, he’s really quite harmless.
Sid
N. bicalcarata gets its common name “fanged pitcher plant” from the structures inside of each open pitcher. While officially these are called “nectaries”, and they secrete copious amounts of sweet nectar, many Nepenthes species grow structures off the lid or lip of the pitcher for unknown reasons. In N. bicalcarata, while it’s been suggested that its distinctive fangs discourage birds or monkeys from stealing prey out of the traps, the reality is that nobody knows for sure what function the fangs have. Either way, they’re impressive, and as much as I loathe the overused descriptives “needle-sharp” or “razor-sharp” (hearing “razor-sharp” to describe Tyrannosaurus teeth is hysterical, because tyrannosaur teeth have more in common with bananas than razors), getting snagged by a spare nectary isn’t a pleasant experience.

Sid

Anyway, Sid currently resides in a new home, but not in the way anyone expected. Tiffany Franzoni of the exemplary gaming store Roll2Play in Coppell has been a faithful and considerate Triffid Ranch customer for the last seven years, and a move to a larger space gave her room for other attractions and events. She could have gone with an aquarium or vivarium, but she wanted carnivores. Oh, did she want carnivores, but with a very full show schedule, she didn’t have the time to care for them on her own. Perfectly fair, and she also had a taste for carnivores that weren’t exactly for beginners. N. bicalcarata is a fascinating plant, but it’s not one for those with no prior experience with Nepenthes care.

Sara and Tiffany

And this is where that much-hinted back project finally sees the light. Starting in 2015, the Triffid Ranch offers custom plant arrangements and conversions of existing enclosures, with the option for the customer to buy or to rent. Rental includes regular checkups and prunings, feedings (or the opportunity for the customer to get in a feeding under supervised conditions), and general maintenance, as well as lectures and special events. Sid here is the first of many to be set up this year, with details on their locations, availability to the public, and feeding times to be announced as they’re set up.

Tiffany and Paul

What this means in the short term is that Roll2Play already has plenty of reasons for you to stop by, but this coming Saturday, April 4, is special. April 4 marks the first of many regular monthly raffles for customers to become one of a lucky few to feed Sid. Admittedly, this consists of dropping crickets into pitchers, but it’s all hands-on. Check the Roll2Play site for details, but expect to see the big ugly guy on the right of the picture above at around 1 on Saturday afternoon. Feel free to bring kids, girlfriends, spouses, and about anyone else who would normally look at you askance at the idea of going to a gaming store: not only is Roll2Play not a typical gaming store, but you get the additional expressions on their faces when you tell them “No, really. I’m not checking out Warhammer 40,000 figures. I’m here to feed the plant!” (Not that there’s anything wrong with doing so. I always felt that a good Nepenthes enclosure really needs a few Tyranids to make them interesting.)

And on one last note, Sid isn’t alone. I currently have another N. bicalcarata cloned from the same parent plant, in a nearly identical enclosure, available for sale or rental. The difference is in the name: ask on the status of “Soo Catwoman“.

Projects: “Bog Garden” (2014) – 3

Due to its subject matter, this series of posts may be too silly and/or offensive for some readers, and some links will definitely be unsafe for many workplaces. Keep reading, and you’re on your own: we take no responsibility for your need for brain bleach.

Want to know what’s going on? Start from the beginning.

We’ve got the growing container situated and the plants selected, and now it’s time to wrap up everything. This means that we need to add the little touches that distinguishes this arrangement from just any toilet garden. When selecting accessories, think “What would Janit Calvo and John Waters do if they were landscaping partners?” and run with it.

When first planning this project, I was considering any number of figures for the bowl. Submarines,  plastic gerbils, crabs…oh, the possibilities. Then I came across an officially licensed Creature From the Black Lagoon kid’s bank at Keith’s Comics in Dallas, and it was all over. Since Empire Pictures never got around to licensing official Ghoulies merchandise, this will have to do.

Bog GardenImportant Tip: While carnivorous plants love lots of sun, that sun may be decidedly unfriendly to many varieties of plastic, or to the paint atop the plastic. Before putting a beloved model in a garden, spray it down with at least one good coat of a UV-resistant urethane spray, either gloss or matte. This won’t stop the inevitable wear and dissolution, but it’ll definitely slow the inevitable fading and changing of paint colors and preserve some of the plastic’s flexibility.

Important Tip: When working with hollow plastic items, weighting them down can be an issue. Metal as a weight isn’t an option, because most metals best suited for the job will either corrode or leach into the potting mix. I recommend using standard glass marbles: not only are they chemically neutral and resistant to weathering from immersion in a bog, but you can adjust the placement and angle of the figure by letting the marbles find their own level.

Bog GardenSince that original clump of Venus flytraps was ridiculously large, I gently broke it apart and spread both those and one invading Drosera binata (coming from seeds produced this summer) across the bowl. By this time next year, the flytraps would be spread across the top of the bowl., obscuring the base of the original. Maybe one of these days, when I have a tub to work with, I might expand on the figures, but right now, this is just the right size without overwhelming the bowl or making everyone ignore what’s growing there.

And because when it comes down to bad taste, I horrify spouses, friends, family, and casual passersby, this arrangement needs one last touch. Namely, considering its name, it needs something Scottish, as well as a reminder of this actor’s breakout role (video clip probably not safe for work, and definitely not safe for lunch). Now, with a different arrangement, I might have gone with a Darryl Dixon figure, because who else can forget Norman Reedus’s encounter with a flying toilet in the film Boondock Saints?

Bog GardenImportant Tip: For those wanting to add action figures to a miniature garden, take into account that many figures today have battery-powered features such as sound chips or LED lights, and you do NOT want the batteries corroding in your planter or arrangement. Some offer easily replaceable button batteries, which is a start, but removing anything metal from the figure would be a better idea unless you knew for a fact that it was completely sealed and watertight.  Discussing the hows and wherefores on removing electronic augmentations from toys is well beyond the scope of this article, but I recommend getting a watch case knife and a bottle of your favorite superglue before starting.

With all of this done, all that’s left is to enjoy it. This is the scene that greeted my lovely wife when she came home that Sunday evening:

Bog GardenIf this doesn’t scream “true love,” I don’t know what will. I’m not talking about the Bog Garden itself. I’m talking about being left alive to write about it. I really shouldn’t tell her about the Aldrovanda tank I’m making from a bidet.