House of Horrors: Part Three… The Final Chapter
So if you’ve been keeping up with the House of Horrors story, you know that, thanks to the amazing Internet, Erin and I were able to track down the creator of all of the artwork in the home. I personally have been absolutely stoked by this. Now, some may argue that it might have been more exciting and interesting to make up a history about the items and their creator’s background and leave it at that. But I’m really glad we decided to push on and see if we could gather answers to some of our questions. Doing so has led us to discover more than we could have hoped for, and we’ve also had the privilege of (virtually) meeting two of the sweetest people ever.
We first tracked down Becky Alice, who is the wife of “James,” or Organ, as he’ll now be called. Nowadays, you might even see him comment on our blog—we are that tight. For the record, he’s just a harmless, old-school alias-using guy when it comes to the Internet. It’s actually not that difficult to figure out his real name, and he told us we could use it, but isn’t it more fun to keep him just a little mysterious? Anyway, Becky was immediately & incredibly nice to us, and let us know that she’d talk to Organ and see if he’d be willing to answer some of our questions. The next day, we heard from him, and he let us know he’d be happy to answer some questions. In the meantime, Becky shared with me the amazing picture of Ethel in her bumblebee costume.
In the wee hours of Friday morning, we received Organ’s interview answers. I happened to be awake because I’ve had Erin’s illness from last week, and was up coughing my brains out. I read the answers in bed, and then couldn’t fall back asleep because I was so excited and touched! You’ll notice that some of what we were curious about had to do with the art, but we also wanted to know about Organ himself, Ethel, and the process and emotion involved in being in charge of liquidating an estate, since we really only know the process well as buyers.
To set the stage, Organ has agreed to let us use these picture of him, during his early years as an artist, adding, “…the Han Solo style outfit was intentional. Though I wasn’t aware at the time that the hair style was called a ‘mullet.’”
Aren’t they amazing?
Throughout the interview, there are various links to pictures and videos. Some have been provided by Organ and Becky. Others are just things that provide some context.
One note of seriousness—We have a ton of gratitude and respect for Organ for taking us seriously and responding so thoughtfully.
On to the interview…
Did you go to public school? Did you go to art school? We heard a rumor that you went to a “fancy” one:
Yes and Yes. I have a BFA from the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. It was fancy (i.e. competitive tuition pricing… “expensive”) but we were lower income middle class. I was lucky enough to be awarded a couple grants.
What is the story behind the Iron Man looking mask (head prosthesis)?
My influences were masks, armor and inventions. When I was attending the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, I was asked by a fellow classmate to share my first memories of fear. Something that always scared the pants off me was a film I saw on Sir Graves Ghastly called The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959). Decapitation and head hunters. The “head prosthesis” was the cure for the loss of a head. Most of that work was a marketing campaign to get a head prosthesis in every home. Ironically, when I was courting my wife Becky, I found that she had a similar fascination with the guillotine. When it was time to decide on her married name I think I sold her on mine when I said, “You realize you can sign your name B. Head right?”
When I told my mom about the bondage drawing, she said, “Do you think he had a model?!” Did you?
Yes. The school provided models for figure drawing class. I was having a hard time with the face on that drawing. It was getting overworked so I rescued it from the trash by putting the iron hood on him. An example of early prosthesis-ing.
When did you create the sculptures, and who are the characters? I gather the one we have named “Pterodactyl” is Howard. The other large one is named “Cheese Head” by us. What’s his real name? What are the little pink babies with no heads? Are they waiting for their head prostheses?
The one that’s short and smiling is the Headless Boy…
…He was to be my Weekly World News “BatBoy”. Never managed to get the children’s story for him nailed down.
The tall wedge headed fella is Howard as in Howard Hughes. At that time my interest in Howard Hughes came from the story about the bra he had made for Jane Russell to wear in the film The Outlaw. My Howard was “Vegas Mysophobia Howard” holding a walker that had a curtain attached to it so he could be reclusive and mobile at the same time. I had to add the tissue boxes on his feet because It was also something I did as a child, shuffling around the house in two empty tissue boxes. I have a lot of sketches and ideas for figures that have geometric bird-like features similar to Howard, he became a prototype for a series of creatures called the Insomniacs. Howard was one of a two part sculpture. “Jane” was a sculpture made of carpet padding that I hand cut, stuffed and stitched together with yarn. I had lots of blisters after that project. She ended up very ample and pa-POW. A big soft Venus of Willendorf. Howard would have peering through the curtains at Jane from across the room. Don’t know if she sold or not but she was in the room with the comics.
(Sidenote: We did see Jane, but had no idea what she was! The day I went back to the sale with Adam, Erin kept reminding me to get a picture of “that monstrosity” in the comic room that was blocking people from moving around. She found it hilarious that the people running the sale didn’t think to move it somewhere else, out of the way because the room was so small. Here it is as it was at the sale… We had no idea that it was actually a curvy babe!)
“Cheese Head” was actually called “Popped and Buttered”. He had a box I crafted, painted and filled with packing peanuts that was held resting on his crotch. He was a head prosthesis recipient who was inviting you to enjoy his freshly popped corn. This may or may not have anything to do with that sculpture but… In the film Diner, Mickey Rourke plays a character who wins a bet by tricking his date into touching his junk via a box of popcorn.
The babies. They were to be the future. They were born with head prostheses. “Headless Babies” was the title for that.
(For a more complete gallery of Organ’s school art, check out this album.)
You seem to have really liked Elvira. Why is that?
Boobs!I recently I scored the Tonner Halloween exclusive Elvira doll from a collector on Ebay who had an extra one to sell. I also brought home my Elvira cardboard cutouts. That wall mural in the bedroom was designed by a fellow classmate at CCS that was a big fan of Patrick Nagel.
I bought all of Elvira’s calendars for 5 or 6 years. One time on my quest for Elvira/Coors promotional items a young man from the local liquor store was nice enough to give me a life-size poster of her. He rolled up the poster, looked me in the eye and said “Now you have her… Take care of her.” And I have to this day. And to this day it’s still the boobs.
(Sidenote…that last link is totally NSFW but I had to add it. Also worth noting, Adam said, “I can’t believe you asked him about Elvira. It’s because she has huge boobs!” Shows you how much I know about Elvira.)
What was your favorite comic to collect? Did comics influence your early art?
The Fantastic Four and the X-Men. Later it was Grendel. The older I get the more I see the head prosthesis face. It’s an archetypal image. I’m sure that original Iron Man costume is in there as well as Kachina dolls. On the way home from Michigan I bought a book that identifies the different Hopi Kachina dolls. Vampira comics may have influenced my love of Elvira. There go those boobs again.
Your interests, judging from the content of the house when we were in it, seemed to involve art, comics, and music. Are those still your interests? Any others?
Pretty much the same interests but with more naked women, sausage, kaiju and Kappa pose dolls. Been trying to do more digital art. I don’t purchase new comics any longer. I need the room for the vintage men’s magazines. But I did take nearly half of my comics and record albums. So double what you saw. But I get most of my musical exposure from college radio and Internet radio. I’m probably less interested in martial arts and serial killer novels than I used to be. And my yearning to be a warrior of the apocalypse has evolved into a domestic happiness that can only be sated by “staying in.”
I have an accordion I purchased several years ago I would like to learn how to play.
What type of person do you imagine buying your art at this sale, or hoped bought your art?
I’d heard there was a father who was considering buying the sculptures as Halloween decorations for their yard. That was pretty cool. I’m a fan of Jenny’s Yard Sale Bloodbath and I could only hope that someone like her could appreciate what I was leaving behind. And as fate would have it, you won!
(Another side note: Organ figured out that he heard that from reading it here, but I forgot to add something that Adam overheard when we were upstairs looking at the sculptures with that family. I told them the little bit of info I knew at the time—that they were created by the woman’s son, who went to art school—and one of the little girls said, “A BOY made these?!?!?!”)
Can you tell us about the sale process and some of your emotions towards it? Your mother had a beautiful home and fascinating collections. What were some of her favorite items, and yours?
My mother passed unexpectedly. This was not supposed to happen for years. I was faced with the job of having to jettison my childhood home and dismantle my mothers belongings. I had to achieve this in only a few weeks and get back home on the other side of the country to manage it remotely. It’s heartbreak on top of heartbreak and you’re the custodian with a mop bucket full of tears. My mother and aunt took on the task of liquidating my grandparents’ house and estate and it went on for a couple years. We weren’t in a position to do that. The lady Becky found to handle the estate sale and clean up has been efficient and fantastic. All I had to do was decide what I wanted to take with me.
My mother loved going to garage sales and flea markets. She had quite a large collection of Canadian maple leaf pins. She was buying them when they were still a bargain back in the ’70s and early ’80s. That was my favorite. Her favorite items were handbags. Though it may be that she never found the perfect one. She had about 80 of them.
Can you tell us more about what your mom was like and what her interests were?
My mother hardly ever missed a church service and always did her best to raise me in a healthy happy home. Mom loved to laugh and she loved her baby. That would be me. No matter how big or old I got, I was still her baby. My mom also kept every toy, object or piece of ephemera that had to do with me or my progress through life. She also loved my wife Becky like a daughter. At the funeral home, Becky was floored by the amount of people she’d never met who knew all the names of our pets. Mom took a lot of pictures and showed them to everyone she knew. Mother would get so excited when she was coming to California to see us and she tried to do it at least twice a year. No matter where we took her she was happy and having fun.
After my parents got divorced in the ’80s mom started ice skating for many years. She made long lasting friendships and was quite a fetching lady in a bee costume. She was a big Red Wings fan. She had a grand niece that called her “Aunt Hockey.” She LIVED to garden. She worked in her garden as well as the city cultural center garden (she’s second from left).
She enjoyed nature, when nature wasn’t digging up her flower bulbs. She also collected Micky Mouse stuff. Mom adored her two kittens. She would line the deck with bird cages so they could sit in the window and watch. Cocoa and Cheddar. She named them that because her beloved Becky has pets named after food items. They’re both about a year old. We’ve taken them in and given them a home with our two cats and two dogs.
Is there anything else you want to tell us?
Today Becky is my inspiration and art patron. If she isn’t keeping me busy making things for her dolls she’s got me working on the living sculpture that is our home. She’s got vision and a eye for design. She is a very talented artist as well. though I often steal her advice and pretend it was my idea all along. But I love her very much and Becky loved my mom like she was her own. It’s only through her strength and support that I was able to get through this.
My mother would would have been very happy about the estate sale turnout and how many people were there buying stuff. She would have been delighted that folks were buying my artwork and if she’d been around to see your blog she’d have printed it out and taken it to all her friends to show. Thank you for your humor, enthusiasm, kindness and sincerity.
Love your momz and fill your house full of stuff …but keep it tidy.
I’ve gotta say, this has been such a rewarding experience, and if you have some time, I strongly suggest taking a look at how interesting and gorgeous Becky and Organ’s home and its contents really are. They have some of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. One of my favorite pictures is this one of their fireplace mantle this past Christmas:
It is so strange that, as it turns out, the people behind the mystery are also enthused about very similar things as Erin and I—flea markets, estate sales, thrift stores… Erin and I have very different tastes sometimes (as I’m sure you’ve noticed), but we (and our husbands) both appreciate a balance of old and new, and the way we decorate our homes reflects this. In my opinion, Becky and Organ do this same thing quite masterfully, and with some really drool-worthy stuff.
We are both so grateful for how open, honest, and warm both Becky and Organ have been. I guess this is no surprise since we’ve uncovered some really personal stuff, but I truly feel like I’ve made two new friends.
When we first started attempting to track Organ down, some people suggested it might be “too soon,” or that we might be playing with fire since he and his wife were total strangers, and he made some seemingly creepy art. But I’m glad I trusted my gut and went for it, because it seems to have been a positive, fun experience on both ends. After I responded to express my extreme glee when I received Organ’s interview answers, he wrote Erin and I back and said, “You and Erin are super! Happy pixies, spreading a soapy froth of celebration and laughter onto a cupcake of gloomy human trial…Thank you for the opportunity to bare my soul. Your joy and enthusiasm has really softened the blow of this saddest and grand loss. It’s been therapeutic and happy making.”
Whee! Happiness all around! We couldn’t ask for anything more than that.
Update from Erin: Big applause to Sarah who spearheaded this convo with our beloved “James.” I was mega sick all week and only helped out by initially tracking down contact info for the two of them. Boy, what the Internet and a little Vicodin cough syrup gets you. That said, I feel a kindredness towards Organ and Becky, particularly because I too love true crime serial killer books… although I still read them exclusively.
P.S. I called Jane a “foam carcass” not a “monstrosity” as Sarah wrote.