Anti–fascist cat posters, mugs labeled “FUCKING COFFEE,” pronoun buttons, pastel quilted potholders, and splatter–painted plates. This past weekend, West Philadelphia’s Black Hound Clay Studio held its second annual yard sale, and it was a hodgepodge to say the least.
On Sunday, Oct. 27, artists from the area gathered to sell their “seconds, discontinued items, experiments, ephemera, one–offs, random weird things, [and] art supplies and equipment.” Even with the gloomy morning rain, customers moved cheerfully from booth to booth, chatting with the vendors and asking just what all their weird offerings were. Here are my top five odd finds.
- Mithras Beeswax Candles
Artist: Ben Warfield, CEO, owner, and candlemaker at Mithras Candles
Warfield makes candles out of locally sourced beeswax. A beautiful mustard yellow color, they come in various shapes and sizes, including pillars and pyramids. “I got into candles through the study of the biological effects of light on humans,” said Warfield. “I became interested in archaic lighting technologies, before light became broad–spectrum…A cool thing about firelight is that it gives light for you to see and do tasks by at night, but it doesn’t suppress the sleep hormone, melatonin.” He decided to make his own candles with beeswax because it’s carbon neutral, as opposed to the traditional paraffin, which is a petroleum distillate, or soy wax, which is very energy–intensive. Beyond this, he likes beeswax for its warm glow and air purifying qualities. He even mentions that the candles may have anti–depressant capabilities. And from a purely sensory aspect, he also describes the wax as “incredibly fragrant. It’s a lot like wine,” he continues, “and whatever the bees are pollinating gets into the wax. So it’s sort of a record of the land.” One specific group of his customers—witches—are especially interested in the wax due to its long–standing pagan religious significance. “People who have a spiritual practice burn candles for a living, so those are our best customers!”
2. Vintage Comic Belt Buckles
Artist: Susan Forker, creator of joeyfivecents
“I’m very much into kitsch and old–school…with an urban edge,” says Susan Forker, creator of jewelry and accessories brand joeyfivecents. Her style draws largely from vintage products, often directly recreating antique findings. “I source old books, wallpaper, [and] postcards from flea markets,” she said. “I don’t scan or reproduce—everything is one of a kind.” Her booth at the yard sale included pendants, earrings, and bracelets, but what I found most interesting was her belt buckle collection. Forker’s belt buckles are large, industrial–looking accessories made from an array of paper products. As a former film editor, she is very interested in imagery. Thus the materials that she chooses to work with are very visually engaging: The buckles featured geometric prints, animal drawings, and—my personal favorite—cutouts of old graphic romance novels. The scenes she curates for the buckles include lovers smiling, embracing, and gazing into one another’s eyes. She says of the vintage material, “I like to bring their stories from old products into a modern context.”
3. “SIMULATION”: Apocalyptic Graphic Novel
Artist: Nicole Rodrigues
Rodrigues’ booth was, in a word, otherworldly. Their work includes graphic novels, screen printed apparel, and ceramics. Laced through all these products, however, is the same zany, extraterrestrial attitude. “I create images and narratives about…the imaginary realm—but also it interfering with our reality,” they said. “Life and death and aliens!” Rodrigues notes that “people are always … transforming into different versions of themselves,” and incorporates a lot of butterfly imagery to convey that. They like “imagining things in [their] own weird world.” The piece of theirs I found most compelling was their newest comic, called "Simulation." Set in a post–apocalyptic world, the story follows a girl living through simulations on an android spaceship after evacuating the Earth. The comic’s vibrant cover features a humanoid head, its mechanical inner workings, and a girl attempting to navigate the scene
4. Blobby Patterned Sculptures
Artist: Phoebe Grace
I honestly didn’t know what to make of Phoebe Grace’s booth at first. I saw her sitting by a stack of posters and a large, green thing. It was covered in orange squiggles, and stood freely without any clear purpose or meaning. It was, on first glance, just a blob. Inspired by such artists as Franz West and Ken Price, Grace started making the blobby sculptures about three years ago. Typically, her work involves making large, invasive, site–specific sculptures, but she also takes commissions for smaller blobs to be privately purchased. “These are my babies,” she said. “I [am] really interested in how we…anthropomorphize things that are so inhuman.” Accordingly, part of her booth included school picture–style photos of the blobs and a poster titled “How Are You Feeling Today?” showing them in various emotional states. She even asks her clients to take “Flat Stanley–style” pictures of the blobs going on different adventures. And she absolutely succeeds in giving the blobs personality: I found myself wondering who had upset the "sad" blob on her feelings poster.
5. 3D Printed Desktop
Artist: Angelo Spagnolo
Now an architecture student, Angelo Spagnolo has been making art for a while. He started out primarily producing artistic food props, like big pizzas or pieces of lettuce. He describes his style as “somewhere between art and prop.” He adds, “it all looks like it’s made by a fourth grader, which I kind of like.” But there was nothing elementary about his pieces. Sharing a booth with his wife, Spagnolo displayed a range of work: laser–cut coasters, blue wood sculptures, a massive quarter pizza, and my personal favorite, a 3D–printed height map of his computer desktop screen. No idea what that means? I didn’t either. At first, the little white rectangle looks like nothing more than an unassuming slab of plastic. But when you hold it up to the light, the pattern can be made out. “The more material, the darker, the less material, the lighter,” explained Spagnolo. By layering the printing material in certain areas, he was able to recreate a capture of his screen. “This is a picture of my desktop. This is a McMansion. This is me carrying a bunch of…scallions and a milk jug,” he told me, “This is the Google bar.” What I found so revolutionary about this piece was its hidden intricacy. It goes from looking completely bland and purposeless to suddenly revealing a world of complexity: Every last detail, down to the minuscule tab icons, is represented in the print. But only if you know how, exactly, to look at it.
While Angelo Spagnolo does not currently have a website, I definitely recommend you keep an eye out for his name and art.
I had no idea what I'd find going into the Black Hound Clay Studio’s yard sale—certainly not inanimate blob sculptures or a textured 3D screenshot. What I appreciated even more than these awesomely bizarre pieces, however, was getting to talk with local artists and discuss their histories, processes, experiments, and visions for the future. And yes, I’m still thinking about who hurt the "sad" blob. Of course I am.