Sean “Bazil” Duran: November 25, 1966 – April 30, 2016

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I have so much I want to write and I have no idea how to write it.

So let’s start with a present.

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“I have a present for you,” Chris said, somewhere around 1993, and handed me this little plaster Day of the Dead sculpture.  “Bazil made it.  He made a bunch for a gallery in Chestnut Hill, but when they told him they were gonna sell them as authentic Mexican art, he said no and took them back, so…this one’s for you.”

When I think about Bazil – Sean – this story always comes to mind.  I didn’t know him well, but I knew he had strong convictions and would not only stick to them, but would also make sure the people around him did as well.

Sean was one of the iconic actors at my beloved haunt, Grisly Gothic Gables.  He joined the cast to help him learn how to talk in front of crowds (or so I’ve been told), and perhaps one of the reasons I can’t think of Grisly without thinking of him is that he proposed the haunt’s name to the owner, Allan, during a brain storming session.  His butler character was funny-bizarre, vaguely slobby, definitely frenetic…my favourite haunt memory of him is him filling in for a clown scare, still dressed as a butler.  When the time came to scare visitors, he rose out of a hollowed out bed holding a fake butcher knife and announcing, “I’m not a clown, but I’ll kill you anyway!”

(Lesson:  As long as you understand the scare and what’s expected of you, improv – even if it’s on the bizarre side – as long as it’s in the character of the haunt?  It works.)

I suppose it helps to understand that I became a haunter not because I loved scary movies (which I did) or because I thought Halloween was pretty (which I did), but because the first time I saw Grisly Gothic Gables, with Bazil and Janice at the front of the house looking like everything I’ve ever wanted to see in haunt actors…well, I fell in love with the haunt, with the cast, and at the core of my haunter-heart you’ll still find that perfect visual.

You’ll still find Bazil.

Bazil was the one that helped my ex husband understand why haunting is fun.  “Do you know what a pig pile is?” Bazil asked one day.  “You don’t?  Ok.  So let’s say you enter a room through a door on the left side of the room and the exit door is clearly visible on the right side.  How do you leave the room?  No, you don’t go out the exit door, you jump on top of each other LIKE THIS!! and then you knock down a wall behind you and you leave that way.”  Despite being jumped on and nearly knocked over, my ex agreed to come to Grisly to see what a night of haunting was like, and he ended up doing tag-team scares with Bazil.

…Good times.

At the museum where we all worked, Bazil did so much that most people don’t know, rather like at Grisly, where he designed several of our t-shirt designs with no credit claimed.  He (along with fellow Grisly Peter Cook and Peter’s wife, Lisa) worked on a book about our dioramas that has been used extensively by the teacher naturalists there, and can be found now in the Drexel University library.  He discovered a forgotten mummy by literally tripping over it in our collections. He restored Edgar Allan Poe’s raven, which now resides at the Philadelphia Free Library.  He worked on the butterfly exhibit where I became a butterfly keeper, and helped create The Big Dig, an interactive looking-for-fossils exhibit I helped maintain over the years.  (I’m told he was inspired by Peter and Lisa’s visit to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.)  He and artist Ray Troll worked together on several projects, including one at our museum. He was instrumental in creating the Crazy Critters Chuck Jones exhibit that I have…way way too many stories about working.

For someone who touched so much of my professional life at the Academy, you really would think we would have seen each other more. Alas.

Bazil moved on to work at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, where his resume is truly amazing. Like, amazing in a way that you look at and you think, ‘What couldn’t this guy do??’ I think I speak for many of us when I say that Bazil was the kind of person you quietly make a role model and you hope someday to be even a fraction as good at..well..ANYTHING as he was.  Because he touched so many people’s lives and varied worlds, I’m sure there’s an incredible amount of stories and discoveries to come that will astound those of us that knew him.  (Heck, just from the bit of research I’ve done here, I’m in awe of the man.)

Bazil is survived by his wife, Kat, and his daughter, Bridget…and he’s mourned by too many people to count.

Thank you for touching my life and for inspiring me, you most perfect Grisly.

bazil

Info about a celebration of his life:

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More info about Sean:

http://www.frostscience.org/blog/a-loss-for-frost-science-and-miami

https://sciencemuses.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/your-listening-hue/

http://blog.orselli.net/2011/09/why-we-do-what-we-do-interview-with.html

http://www.martinhsu.com/press.php?p=50 – Dinosaurs of China exhibit

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article6718815.html – Amazon exhibit

http://www.frostscience.org/blog/miasci%E2%80%99s-sean-duran-awarded-prestigious-noyce-leadership-institute-fellowship

http://www.frostscience.org/blog/green-roof-tour

bazil

 

 

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on the issue of selfies, snapchat, and consent

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Over the next stretch of weeks, I’ll be writing about my recent trip to work a haunted attraction in Australia – yes, really! Australia! – and it’s a mixed bag of experiences, to be sure…but one of the biggest things sticking in my memory is not exactly related to haunting.

Selfies.

What I found, while being in costume at the haunt, was that everyone wants a photo of characters.  That’s not unusual, but it was…extreme in Sydney.  One of our team members literally couldn’t take a step at times without being asked to pose for a photograph. (I videotaped this because it was truly amazing how many requests he would get.)

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the daytime crowds were nicer about this than the people that showed up as the sun went down.  We moved from having family groups with babies to teenagers and early 20-something year olds that were more aggressive about their requests.  I realized, as the requests came in, that they weren’t requests.

They were demands.

As a woman, this was far from a comfortable situation.  It didn’t matter if I was working, if I was obviously busy, even if I was talking to someone else.  The only answer to, “Can I take a selfie with you?” is, “Yes.”

If you say no, you find a celphone-holding hand being slipped around you and a photo being snapped.  In my case, I was taking tickets in a line queue, so there was no way I could avoid having people surround me, and honestly after 12 hours of work, I didn’t have the patience I had earlier in the day to just grin and bear it.

Also?  That’s a disturbing thought right there. I can’t say no. I can’t stop this from happening. My best bet is to smile and pretend it’s ok.

That’s exactly what I found myself thinking, and in light of the growing awareness of rape culture, that’s friggin’ disturbing.

There’s no WAY this is ok. 

“But it’s just a photograph, right?  Why is that a bad thing?”

Because ANY time your right to say no to something that involves your body, your personal space, is taken away?  There’s no damn WAY that’s anything BUT a bad thing.

I’m in no way familiar with the world of selfies and Snapchat, so maybe the aggressive taking of these pics is only news to me.  But seriously?  I ever catch someone I know treating anyone the way I was treated in Australia, I will make sure that behavior stops ASAP.

And if you’re one of those people thinking you have a right to take a photo of someone just because you want to do it even though you’ve been told no?

You’re wrong.

You’re being abusive.

You need to check your privilege and re-educate yourself about what ‘no’ means.

 

a class in casting

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“Have any of you done casting before?” Stacy asked our tiny group of three students.  I raised my hand, feeling a little foolish in doing so.  My answer was yes, but I couldn’t say I really understood the process.

Of course, my first experience was helping to cast a leg bone of a type specimen fossil found in Egypt…

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…That’s a leg bone from Paralititan.  The thing is nearly as tall as I am, and honestly, all I remember about the experience is that we were all learning as we went along and that it needed a mother mold to help support the dang thing.

I’d also had my face stolen…er, a cast made of my face…by my friend Lynati, but I’m not sure the experience entirely counts.  Still, both factoids helped me to feel not entirely lost as we started to learn varied applications of casting.

The main focus of the class was to create a mold and then cast a breakable bottle, as one would use on stage during a bar brawl.  The class stretched over the course of several weeks to allow the varied parts of the cast to be made, so we were also working on other projects.

For our first trick…sorry, project, Stacy handed us each a bit of blue clay and asked us to sculpt a Small Something.

I instantly panicked.  Sculpting really isn’t something I do.  But then I thought about how a friend sculpted these tiny faces to set into the high corners of her home, rather like easily-missed gargoyles, and I decided to try making something like that.  We each created a small box without a lid around our creations, mixed together two ingredients to create our mold, and poured that into the box.  (I should say, we used products from Smooth-On – a great company with great customer service that can help you choose the product that best fits your needs.  Because there’s a lot of stuff to choose from.)

Once it solidified, we could take the box apart and remove the clay sculpture, leaving a cavity in the shape of the art piece (shown in the first pic below).  Then we mixed together two other ingredients and poured that into the cavity, creating a cast.  When that had become a solid (second pic), we could remove it from the mold and…yay!  A face!

 …Not the creepy face I had  intended, but that probably says more about me than I’d like it to.

If you look a little closer at my finished face, you’ll see he has a kind of buck tooth thing going on.  This means that there’s a small pocket, probably created by air.  If I want to cast another face and I don’t want him to look derpy, I can pop a small bit of clay into that upper lip bit to I should say that when you mix your ingredients together to cast your mold, you don’t always have a lot of time to futz around with the liquid, as it wants to start solidifying pretty quickly, generally speaking.  So you move faaaaairly quickly, and you try to not waste materials if you can.  In our case, if we had mixed a little too much stuff, Stacy had us pour it into other casts to create things like mirrors, stars, and coins.  The last two items were then used in the Civic’s production of “Mary Poppins.”

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This photo shows better what our sculptures looked like pre-mold, and what the casts looked like as they solidified.

Doing all this small stuff successfully filled in the time while we waited for the bigger stuff to get done….which looked like this!

We each took an empty beer bottle, created a ‘cork’ with a bit of clay, and glued it to a small square base.  Then we centered it within a cardboard tube and repeated the steps above.

The cardboard tube was cut on one side to allow us to open it up after the mold was created. In the first group of photos above, you’ll see that there are velcro bands around the tube; this was to hold it together because of that cut.  We also hot glued around the outside of the tube where it met up with that square bit of backing so that the mold mix wouldn’t leak out too much.  (Bear in mind:  Mold making is MESSY.)

Once we had a solid mold around our bottles, we removed the bottle and then created a wax cast of the bottle by pouring hot wax into the mold, waiting a moment, and then pouring the wax back into the original heated container.  We did this four or five times, and then we poured more of the mold making material (the blue stuff) into the cavity so that we had a cast of the inside of the bottle.  This all took longer than just one class session.

The wax bottle could then be disposed of (although of course I kept mine because WOO I MADE SOMETHING!!!).

The next step was to reassemble our mold so that the thing in the middle was inside the thing to the left, as perfectly centered as we could get it.  As it turned out, this was the hardest part of the whole project.

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The above picture shows Stacy pouring very hot liquid plastic into one of our molds.  We tried the process twice.  None of us ended up with a perfect bottle. 😦

Lessons learned:

  • If you waited for the cast to be completely cool?  It breaks when you try to remove it from the mold.
  • The hot plastic will sorta settle into the mold as it cools, but if you top it off?  You will get the funky fake ‘cork’ seen in picture #2.
  • Related:  You can add a second pour.  It won’t show as layers in the finished product.
  • If you don’t have your inner mold perfectly centered?  You end up with the sort of swirly incomplete side seen in picture #3.
  • If you are insane enough to want to fix your bottle with superglue?  Sure, you can do that…but this material is meant to be easily broken, so guess what?  It will break again very easily!  This is why the clearer bottle is such a mess.

It may be that the wax bottle process needed to be a little thicker.  We were so sure we had our inner molds centered, but I think all three of us had the same thing happen seen in picture #3.

Other things we did in class…we made vases!  (These were also used for “Mary Poppins.”)

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I suck at vases.  These used a very solid ‘mother mold,’ which is a sort of cradle that supports the mold to keep your cast from getting wonky and your mold from warping.  I wasn’t quite strong enough to pop my vase half out of the mother mold easily.  It’s a very finicky process and I should have taken more photos of said process.  Alas.  The real reason for this photo was that I wanted to show the different finishes.  If the vase mold was sprayed with…I believe it was an auto body primer…you got this more paintable surface on your cast.

The other thing we worked on in this class was using a mold to fix a picture or mirror frame.  (I personally think this is the coolest thing ever.)

  1.  Look at your frame and figure out what non-broken part of it matches the broken part.  You will be making a mold of that bit.

    Good bit – broken bit – make a mold!

  2. When the putty-looking compound is dry, try to anticipate where your casting liquid is going to want to go and create dams with clay to keep it from escaping the mold.  I pretty much failed step two, but I can show you why.  See how there are all these open ends on the right side of the photo?  That’s where the liquid escaped.  It’s hard to see all of these areas when the mold is still on the frame.  Fortunately, you can add casting material in stages, so I ended up waiting for my first disastrously messy pour to harden up..then I’d add more…wait for THAT to harden up…and add a third batch.  Sigh!  But I promise, once everything’s done?  You can’t tell.20151211-154524.jpg
  3. If desired, you can dye the casting material with something like this – it works kinda like food dye.  A little goes a long way.
  4. If desired, you can also dust the inside of the mold with a powder that will help colour the cast as well.  (I apparently forgot to get photos of all of this.  Alas.  But you can see a bit of the gold powder in my mold.)
  5. Pour your casting material into your mold.  NOTE:  This will create a cast that is attached directly onto your original frame!!!  For this to go perfectly, you want to make sure your mold is really flush with your frame; otherwise, you’ll have a slight lip at the connection point.  (Again, I apparently failed to take a pic of my finished piece, which was not perfect, but for a haunt would be pretty dang ok.)

So this is a huge dang blog post, but goodness, did I love the experience!  The materials are a little pricey, although starter kits are readily available online, and I’m really looking forward to being able to finding a practical application for these lessons!  😀

on having my face stolen

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On December 11, 2010, my friend Lynati stole my face.

More specifically, she did a cast of my head for a project she was working on. It was interesting and a bit terrifying and I only caught some of it in photographs…but here’s my version of what happened.

Lynati mixing plaster of paris and VERY VERY COLD WATER

I apparently looked pissed off a LOT during this process.

(We attempted to contain my hair with a shower cap and a bathing cap. My hair is sentient so this didn’t work as well as it should have. Which is entirely the fault of my hair, I assure you.)

We covered my face, neck, and ears in Vaseline. Because we surely do know how to party on a Saturday night.

The back of my head, covered in plaster of paris.

(This felt really heavy..and then weird as the plaster warmed up and started hardening, pulling at my skin.)

At this point, my phone was taken from me so I couldn’t twitter any more whining about how friggin’ COLD that crap was, nor could I take any more pictures. Which is fine because the next step involved sticking tubes up my nose and covering my face in alginate..and I’m not actually sure I want to see that. 0_o

COLD COLD COLD. And not as claustrophobic as I thought it might be. Though there’s some…you become very very focused on breathing. I kept playing with the globs of stuff that were falling off of my face, in part to show that yes, I was still alive.

Then one of my breathing tubes fell out. I panicked a little bit, I admit.

Then the next layer of plaster started. “You probably won’t feel how cold this is,” I was assured. Not quite true, but not as cold as the first layer had been.

But what’s really friggin’ weird is staying still while someone is slathering isolating layers of plaster on your head. Will you be able to get back out of this? You suddenly feel very vulnerable. I couldn’t help but wonder how this was used during, say, the Inquisition…and really, if it was? I’m not sure I want to know, because my mind is already spinning out some pretty horrible ‘what if?’ scenarios.

I think the whole process of turning my head into a cast took..an hour and a half? Maybe? And was infinitely messier than I’d anticipated. (Fortunately, Lynati knew EXACTLY how messy this was going to get.)

And then I could hear her trying to describe what she was doing to free my head, but..I couldn’t really hear her. I did hear her say to start moving my facial muscles to loosen up the alginate, which was an innnnteresting feeling.

And then we realized that my friggin’ hair was very very caught up in the plaster and we had to cut and struggle to get me out. Friggin’ hair. I did of course immediately start whining that she and her cast was scalping me, because I am a joy, a friggin’ JOY, to work with, oh yes I am.

See how joyful?

“Mm, I have her face AND her scalp!”

“Grrrrreat.”

My face!

My scalp!

…All joking aside, this was a really REALLY nifty experience and I’m so so glad I got to do this! I may have had vaseline in my ears for the next week and sneezed sculptures for…a while, but it was nifty!

The reason for all of this was that Lynati was creating a mask for me that remains one of my most favourite possessions.

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bringing up the gothic baby

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About two years ago, Bones and I trashpicked a baby stroller that had seen much, much better days.

This thing was DISGUSTING in a way that wasn’t immediately obvious.  It was waterlogged from being out with the trash.  It had a far-from-healthy layer of mildew/mold growing in the liner.  Apparently it had been some sort of parade prop, judging by the pipe cleaners and silver sticker lettering that hadn’t quite managed to fall off yet.

Bones thought it was perfect for a haunt just the way it was.

I, on the other hand..

Well.  In most ways, Bones and I think very much alike.  And then there are surprising blip-moments in which I am reminded that I must not assume we are always completely in sync and maybe I should ask him for his opinion before I start to dismantle an Awesome Something.

I decided to start to tear the bedraggled buggy apart and work on the metal frame first.  Rust was removed and everything was given a new layer of paint.

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Yay!

As is usual for my projects, I didn’t consult the Google before I began trying to figure out how to transform this monstrosity.  I dug through my stash of fabric and found some lovely black flocked velvet and a sheer red that fit my mental image of what a proper gothic buggy should look like, and I decided to reupholster the vinyl.  Some of the inner bits had to be disposed of because they were just too disgusting to save.

This horrible photo is doing its best to disguise my horrible first attempt at creating a flat inner lining using hot glue.  In retrospect, spray-on adhesive might have been a better bet.  I’m not sure.  In the end, I would have to redo a fair bit of this, including the realization that part of my problem was that I actually was using too much fabric.

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I don’t have photographic evidence of my first attempts to cover the blue vinyl with black fabric.  When I tell you that I had no damned idea how to deal with all of the different angles/lines and how to get around the metal framework, you honestly can’t imagine how bad a job I was doing with all of it.  I also don’t have a photo of the look on Bones’ face when he realized I had taken his fantastically disgusting prop and started to make it pretty.

Oops.

We had initially planned last year to use an orphanage theme for our haunt.  When our focus changed, I set the buggy aside, and it languished unloved and vaguely reupholstered until this past summer, when I decided to take a deep breath and try again to wrestle the thing into submission.

After a good deal of cutting away of the previous efforts and regluing things into place?  I was finally becoming happy with my project.  Bones was finally digging it, too, and gave me some feedback on what to do with the roof of the thing.  I went back into my fabric stash and pulled out some black trim to finish off the gothy goodness.

Creepy Zombie Baby was ok, but Roxie and I decided that Werewolf Baby was a much better choice.

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I wanted something else to finish off the sides of the buggy, and remembered I had some bats from a company I used to love, The Eccentric Griffins.  A few coats of silver paint and a bit of hole drilling by my ever-fabulous partner, Bones, and we called the project complete!

 

stitching out stigma

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In the mid 1990s, I started having severe panic attacks.  It’s tempting to think of that as the first time anxiety kicked my ass, but looking back at my childhood, I strongly suspect this would be a very naive assumption on my part.  Still, it wasn’t until my early 20s that I discovered what it’s like to be out of control of one’s body and brain, hyperventilating until my lips turned blue and all I could think was, ‘It would be so easy to stop breathing.’  I learned that my version of ‘fight or flight’ was to try to leap out of cars to escape whatever trigger had set off my most recent fit of panic.  At its very worst, I was having panic attacks several times a week and exhibiting symptoms akin to MS.

I learned that therapists – at least back then – were not inclined to believe one’s self-diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.  I argued with my therapist until he finally went over a list of symptoms and reluctantly admitted that I was probably right…so hey, do you want medication for that?

I said no thank you and I figured out ways to live with this inner tension.  It’s like having a particularly harsh inner barometer.  You don’t dare let yourself get too stressed out, because if you do? Bam, you start shaking and you can’t breathe.

I’ve spent years at this point getting this under control.  For the most part, it manifest in small ways now, like night terrors; or, if I delay in answering an email or responding to a voice mail, the steadily increasing levels of anxiety about that make it very difficult to ever respond.  (When The Bloggess talks about her repeated decision to just open a new email account because she can’t deal with what she’s not responded to?  I can see why that would be tempting!)

There’s so much stigma about depression and anxiety.  People have criticized me for being at all open/public about my struggles, saying that if they were hiring managers, they would never hire me.  I’ve lost friendships because, at my worst, people have found it hard to watch that struggle and not be able to help.

Still, I’m open about it because I think it’s important to talk about these things.  The Bloggess does it brilliantly.  So does Wil Wheaton.  And their posts have helped me, and so I hope that I might help others as I learn to help myself.

Enter Stitching Out Stigma.

A woman in the UK, Natalie,  came up with the idea of a quilt project made up of cross stitch and embroidery squares created by people dealing with varied mental illnesses.  Due to Facebook, Twitter and varied articles in varied magazines and newspapers, that ambitious thought extended to people internationally, and it was through that network of articles that I heard about the quilt last summer.

Most of the participants are in and around the UK, but I really wanted to be a part of this project…in part, I wanted to do it as a nod to the Bloggess, whose words have helped me so much.  So I decided to use the quote she, and Wil, and so many others use on Twitter..

 

depression lies

The design isn’t exactly what I envisioned, and if I ever actually mapped things out before I started stitching, it would have worked out better, but…la, there it is!  I sent it off to England and I waited nervously to hear if it arrived safely or not.

…It did. 🙂  It’s one of around 45 squares that have been sent in for the project, and some of the squares have been on exhibit at varied events over the past few months..

Gabalfa Mental Health Clinic – May 15, 2015

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Newport Mind Mental Health Event – October 9, 2015, South Wales

(Because not every square had arrived yet, the quilt wasn’t being assembled, so squares were placed into a notebook along with their accompanying stories.)

This month, the quilt is starting to be assembled, and the variety and beauty of what’s been contributed just astounds me.  A gallery of the completed squares can be found here, but I’m going to post a bunch of assembly pictures because I’m so full of wow over it. (It looks like the team sewing the quilt together is going to get some news coverage,too.) The goal is to have this finished by January 2016, to be put on display in a new purpose built Mental Health Unit in Wales.

 

 

 

if you enjoyed AHS’s Freak Show, go watch this stuff

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(This is an unusual blog post for me, but I’m wicked geeked out about the topic right now, so humour me. 🙂  )

Like a lot of people, I don’t get caught upon TV series until they hit Netflix.  American Horror Story is one of those shows, and considering the wild popularity of that show, I thought I’d share my wanderings through Netflix’s collection of things that don’t always pop up easily on people’s feeds.

Last year – and honestly, unrelated at all to AHS – I discovered a reality TV show on Netflix called “Freakshow.” You may not be into reality shows, but Todd’s desire to replicate freak show history today in Venice Beach is pretty interesting/educational…and with only 2 seasons?  Not a huge commitment.

When I finally got around to watching American Horror Story’s fourth season,  I found myself really glad I’d watched the aforementioned show because I felt like I understood the season better.  But goodness, was I missing stuff.  I knew (mostly) who had inspired varied stories; I just didn’t realize how many of the actors on the show were real-world ‘freaks.’  Indeed, even the opening credits reference real people.

Curious about Dot and Bette?  You’ll find “Bound by Flesh,” a documentary about conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, to be well worth your time.

I don’t know of a film about the “Lobster Boy” character Jimmy Darling’s real-world counterpart,  Grady Stiles Jr, but his son (who shares the family’s ectrodactyly condition, is a part of the Venice Beach freakshow and discusses his father on one episode.

Not related to AHS but definitely related to freaks, I highly recommend the following two documentaries as well.  First is “The Real Beauty and Beast,” which primarily tells the story of Petrus Gonsalvus, a man in the 1500s who was afflicted with hypertrichosis, causing long dark hair to cover most of his body.  He and his wife are believed to have helped inspire the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast.”  (The trailer below doesn’t really capture much of what the documentary is about, although you’ll see the Venice Beach freakshow making yet another appearance.)

And then there’s this documentary about the Ovitz family – a family of Romanian dwarves that survived Auschwitz.  (Why don’t we all know about their story?)  This one doesn’t have much of a connection to anything else I’ve mentioned other than the obvious tie little people have to the world of the side show/carnival, but oh, I so encourage you to watch this one.  This family’s history is an incredible story.

I would not be surprised at *all* to learn that I’ve missed a thing or two from Netflix’s collection.  But since we know that things offered up for our viewing pleasure there does change over time…if the history of carnivals/freak shows interests you at all?  I encourage you go to take a look at this stuff.