By Pat Lawrence
HILLSBORO — Amy Schneider isn’t just a devil’s advocate; she’s also a proponent of ghouls, witches, pumpkins, imps and a horde of unearthly entities sporting woeful faces and peculiar dentition.
Many of these creatures inhabit her home — and they couldn’t be more welcome.
Schneider is an avid collector of Halloween art, a multimedia specialty that shares attributes of both folk art and fine art.
Around the end of August, her uncomely throng begins migrating from a room of cupboards and coffins to assume their appointed places throughout the Schneider household as highlights of her annual Halloween extravaganza.
Fall is Schneider’s favorite time of year and Halloween is her favorite holiday.
As she admits, “I am deeply in touch with my inner pumpkin.”
Schneider’s love affair with All Hallow’s Eve started when she was a child. Her Nov. 6 birthday was always Halloween-themed with a fun twist, she said.
“I always liked the idea of dressing up and being anything you want for one day,” Schneider said. “I grew up loving Halloween. I was a different kind of witch every year.”
In college, she was still carving pumpkins and, after she got married, always hosted a big Halloween party.
“I’d drag in tree branches and dead leaves to set the tone. I looked for ghoulish grannies and odd creatures in boutiques, collected photographs and posters from old circus freak shows, bought bad taxidermy and hung paintings that were a bit bizarre. I’ve always leaned to the macabre,” she said.
Then one magic moment, browsing the Internet, Schneider discovered the world of Halloween artistry and the kindred, slightly skewed spirits who inhabit it.
“I found the Whimsical Whittlers site, and they made mention of a Halloween art fair, the Ghoultide Gathering. I called my mother and told her, ‘We have to go.’ It was a five-hour drive from Hillsboro to Chelsea, Mich., and we had to stand in line to enter, but it was an amazing experience,” she said. “We missed the first gathering in 2006 but none since. The first piece I bought was titled ‘Ghoul in a Box’ by William Bezek for almost $300. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I learned I’d have to save my money to come back.”
The annual sale and celebration introduced Schneider to the joys of art collection and brought her into a national circle of compatriots who speak her language and share her enthusiasm for all things weird and whimsical.
The artists and their devotees quickly become friends. She communicates regularly with fellow “Gatherers,” buys online as well as in person and has been delighted to watch fellow enthusiasts become new artists and even Ghoultide exhibitors themselves.
The artists’ clever creatures, imaginative accoutrements and cunning settings are irresistible, Schneider said, but what sets these original pieces apart from even good reproductions is the incredible attention to detail and craftsmanship.
“Everything is handcrafted. It makes the faces so expressive. You can see how eyelashes were painted using a brush with a single bristle. Bats and cats are made of fine fur. The dolls wear undergarments edged in hand-sewn lace; their gowns are made of vintage and antique textiles,” Schneider said.
Over the years, Schneider has amassed a formidable legion of beastly creatures and accessories and nothing pleases her more than bringing everything out each year to create engaging tableaux. Many pieces are only inches tall, but each one is lovingly staged to its best advantage.
“One display might be pumpkin heads or witches or skeletons. Last year we had an entire display of devils. Naturally, Day of the Dead images are included and sideshow characters like the bearded woman and lobster boy,” she said. “I’ve always been intrigued by conjoined twins, so there are lots of those — two heads are better than one.”
The dining table is set appropriately with black or maybe orange dishes, a chandelier festooned with peat moss, bats and gourds or perhaps spider webs and skeletons.
This year, the living room display will include multiple life-size banners commissioned from Ghoultide artist Nina Huryn. Elsewhere, the doll sisters Trick and Treat by Joyce Stahl and the impish horned gourd by Laurie Hardin will take places of honor as well.
Perfect lighting is the final touch. White, orange or purple lights on each grouping add depth and dimension to the display and highlight the expressive faces.
Schneider said, “I’ve even used flame lights. Lighting makes everything better.”
With inspiration and assistance from her artistic friend, Avery Applegate, Schneider said, “Every year is different, every room is different and there’s always new things.”
One reason for the frequent additions is that people who know Schneider, and there are many, tend to bring her anything they find suitably sinister.
“If it has warts, horns, bug-eyes or is just weird, for some reason, it reminds them of me,” she said. It explains the old dental chair and the petrified bat.
People choose a favorite holiday for many reasons, but Schneider’s favorite holiday seems to have chosen her.
“I still love it,” she said, “and, every year, when I get everything out, it’s all brand new again.”
She is ever so happy to accommodate the disembodied pumpkins with bad hair (and worse complexions), the winged skeletons with missing parts, the fiends with benefits and all agents orange and black. She welcomes them, as she does the seasonal stream of eager visitors, with warm hospitality, warts and all.
Pat is a professional journalist, congenital gardener and incorrigible collector of hostas for her historic Hillsboro home.