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Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas -Introduction


A week from today, it begins. Even those who cut the cord years ago have email boxes full of notices about Black Friday specials. UPS trucks outnumber everything else on the road by three to one. If people aren’t driving like maniacs to get to the mall, they’re driving like maniacs to get home before the football game starts. For those who love and adore the holiday season, it’s absolute heaven. For the poor retail employees stuck in front of a display playing “Santa Baby” in blatant violation of the Geneva Convention, they’re considering a career change or at least a pencil up the nose to kill those chunks of brain that hurt so much. And then there’s the Texas Triffid Ranch’s Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas.

The Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas run on a particular premise. For those of us who don’t know every line in the film The Nightmare Before Christmas by heart, the film ended with Jack Skellington conceding that his version of Christmas wasn’t working, and Santa works overtime to replace the horrific toys left by Jack around the world. When that film premiered in 1993, nobody at Disney understood the draw of those horrific toys, nor ever even considered a scene with a little goth kid crying and desperately begging Santa to leave Jack’s toys and decorations right where they were. Considering some of my friends’ responses, it wouldn’t be hard to picture Santa dragging himself back to Christmastown, a still-burning sleigh to go with his two black eyes and broken nose, asking one of the shop elves to grab a pair of pliers to pull the innumerable sharp teeth broken off in his butt. And when those kids had kids themselves, the cookies and milk were contingent upon the understanding that not only were the vampire bat tree toppers and Dawn of the Dead action playsets welcome, but they’d best not be replaced.

The Nightmare Weekends concept continues this. It’s not anti-Christmas or even anti-holiday. Instead, it runs on the reasonable premise that it’s possible to overdose on holiday cheer, and that some people may need to catch their breath before once more into the breach, once more. It’s for the people who love peppermint but who can’t handle the taste of it by December 20. It’s for those stuck in a workplace where the boss insists upon turning on the intercom and pumping in the local Christmas radio station all day, or the ones that charge employees for the mandatory-attendance holiday party. It’s for those who appreciate the history of those live Norfolk Island pines in the grocery store predates that of the dinosaurs, the parasitic nature of mistletoe, or the use of cinnamon as a fungicide. It’s for those who didn’t complain when Christmas lights and decorations started crowding out the Halloween stuff mid-September, but who want a little bit of Halloween to hang around during the longest nights of the year.

So here’s the plan. The Triffid Ranch has extended hours every Saturday between now and Christmas, with extra time on November 24 as well. No overplayed Christmas carols played far too loudly to hear anybody talk. No overcrowded mall parking lots. For those who missed the previous gallery openings, it’s an opportunity to visit. For those attending in the past at the old Valley View Center location, it’s a chance to see the new space. And for those already familiar with the gallery, it’s a nice nondenominational respite from the outside. With carnivorous plants.

As for questions:

What are the dates and hours for the Nightmare Weekends?

All times for Nightmare Weekend openings are from noon to 6:00 p.m., but these may be adjusted on request. The dates include:

  • Friday, November 24, 2017 (Friday)
  • Saturday, November 25, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 2, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 9, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 16, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 23, 2017 (Saturday)

Are you open at other times?

The Triffid Ranch is always open by appointment, but the Nightmare Weekends are for when everyone is free. During the week, the Day Job prevents being able to keep the gallery open all day, but consultation appointments are always available in the evenings and on Sundays. Also, the hours on the Nightmare Weekends aren’t absolute: if work schedule or other logistics prevent you from getting to the gallery by the normal hours, give us a call and we’ll accommodate you.

Do you have accommodations for children?

Parents attended by their children are always welcome, but any unattended parents will be given six shots of espresso and an American Express Card application. (Unfortunately, because of the sudden nature of the gallery’s move to its new location earlier this year, the Triffid Ranch entrance is not ADA-compliant. However, we’re looking at rectifying that in the future, as new locales in our neighborhood open up closer to the end of our lease.)

Are you working with other galleries and stores in the area?

That’s a very good question, because one of the disadvantages of having a separate gallery is not having the community that those who attended the late, lamented ARTwalk events at Valley View Center may remember. At the bare minimum, Tawanda! Jewelry will be set up in the front of the gallery, but that’s the advantage to being married to the proprietor. Other venues wanting to participate in the Nightmare Weekends are encouraged to get in touch, and additions will be shared before the actual date.

Will you have Venus flytraps?

Sadly, no. Like the vast majority of carnivorous plants from temperate climes, Venus flytraps have to undergo a dormancy over the winter, and all of the flytraps here are in a cold frame awaiting spring. They’ll bring themselves out of dormancy around the middle of March, but until then they HAVE to stay dormant, because forcing them out of dormancy early could kill them. This also applies to North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) as well: not only do they require the same sort of cooling off period as flytraps, but that dormancy is necessary for the huge display of blooms around St. Patrick’s Day. The gallery has a lot of tropical plants on display, though, and those don’t require a dormancy, so those are the stars this time of the year.

Suppose I’m looking for something other than the enclosures already available. What are my options?

That depends upon what you’re seeking. Are you looking for a whole new unique enclosure? Are you wanting to convert an existing reptile enclosure or aquarium into a carnivorous plant display? Do you want specific elements, such as a rock sample with sentimental attachments or a specific lighting arrangement? Come in during a Nightmare Weekend for a consultation. Depending upon its elements and construction, as well as the date in which it’s commissioned, the final enclosure may not be ready by the end of the holidays, but there’s always the surprise of getting a gift during the post-holiday doldrums.

Can I come by to watch the plants eat something?

Well, that’s problematic. With the plants that aren’t dormant for the winter, most either capture prey too small to see without a microscope, or they have passive traps that don’t move. However, that said, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, getting a bug’s-eye view of the inside of an Asian pitcher plant is now both possible and easy, so expect a viewing schedule soon.

Will Shirt Prices still apply?

That’s just silly. Of COURSE they do. The gallery has a limited number of Triffid Ranch shirts for sale, but if you want to order one online, come out to the gallery while wearing it and take advantage of the lower prices.

And that’s about it. Keep an eye out for specific attractions on specific days, as well as notices about new enclosures constructed in between weekends. To quote one of Dallas’s greatest culture writers, you’ll boogie ‘til you puke.

State of the Gallery: November


Another month, another expansion. The official opening of the gallery on October 13 went without any serious hitches, and subsequent group appointments went even better, including one group that came out from Memphis just to view the new enclosures. The school lecture schedule started last month, and my experiences just confirm that no matter what teachers are paid, it’s never enough. (The art teacher at one lecture in Fort Worth was responsible for the Nepenthes hemsleyana portrait at the top of this post: this is going up in a place of honor on the gallery’s art wall.) Other than that, it’s the usual October rush: getting the gallery ready for the holiday season, doing everything that needs to be done outside before it’s too cold to do so, and prepping the Sarracenia and other temperate carnivores for their winter dormancy. Even Halloween was a surprise, with considerably more trick-or-treaters out, with regular threats of rain, than at any other time in the last decade. I won’t even start with the plans for next spring, because the last two years imparted that lesson over and over.

And what does that mean for November? Well, it means that the first two weekends of the month are going to be ridiculously busy, because it’s time to focus on the now-annual road trip to Austin. This year, the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show runs on November 19, so it’s a matter of loading the van on Saturday, driving down, recuperating for a few hours, setting up on Sunday morning, breaking down on Sunday evening, and driving back on Monday. The advantage of the new date isn’t just a lack of conflict with events at the University of Texas, but an opportunity to say hello to people starting an early holiday vacation that weekend. This is important because…

…the rest of November and December are going to be just as busy. As with last year, the Triffid Ranch will be open both for the Friday after Thanksgiving and for Small Business Saturday from noon until 6 p.m. CST: the difference between this year and last is, of course, having a much more central location. After that, the gallery will be open every Saturday from noon until 6 CST until Christmas (which works out to December 2, 9, 16, and 23), with earlier or later hours by appointment. As always, the Triffid Ranch is open by appointment during the week, but the holiday hours facilitate drop-by visits, especially from people desperately wanting to get away from the malls. For those seeking custom enclosures by Christmas, get your specifications in early, and we can even facilitate special deliveries and premieres at the gallery if you’re planning a special surprise.

After that? As a particularly influential television show noted nearly two decades ago, it’s a matter of going back to the end of the beginning. December 2002 was an especially rough time, and a 15th wedding anniversary party should celebrate how far you’ve come from those early days, right? Details will follow, because it’s been a very long strange trip over the intervening decade-and-a-half. Until then, see you in the future.

The Hour That Stretches

Whew. October 13. Nearly four months since the soft opening of the gallery, and now it’s showtime. I could go on about experiments with new materials not working out the way they were expected, or whole enclosures being held up based on how one component finished, or the simple fact that paint takes at least six times much time to dry as expected, but you know what? The work speaks for itself, and it all goes live this weekend. Relics: A Carnivorous Plant Enclosure Exhibition starts at 6:00 CST on Friday, October 13 until midnight, and reopens on Saturday, October 14 from 5:00 CST until midnight. After that, a day or two to recuperate, and then back to the sphagnum moss and silicone molds until the end of November. 

As an additional note, many regular Triffid Ranch customers are familiar with the concept of Shirt Price on the larger enclosures: attend an event wearing a Triffid Ranch shirt, and so long as you’re wearing the shirt, the listed discount “Shirt Price” applies. Since October 13 is a Friday, and it’s a little over six months until the 2018 Texas Frightmare Weekend starts, Shirt Price discounts at the Relics show apply to anybody in a Frightmare T-shirt as well. The individual Frightmare year doesn’t matter: if it’s a Frightmare shirt, it qualifies. This isn’t authorized by or endorsed by anyone involved with Texas Frightmare Weekend: this is just a return for all of the kindnesses and considerations I’ve received from Frightmare staff, guests, and attendees over the last decade. You lot have earned it. (He said, frantically collecting caches of glassware in anticipation of next year’s Frightmare. The 2009 Frightmare was small enough that just about everything I had fit into a PT Cruiser: next year, I might have to move to a 15-foot truck to haul enough plants to the show to keep everyone happy.)

For those who can’t make it this weekend, this definitely isn’t the last gallery event of the year. It’s a little too late to get involved directly in the Ricochet 17 art event through the Arts Incubator of Richardson on October 21, but next year’s Ricochet is on the agenda. Instead, after the Blood Over Texas Horror For The Holidays show in Austin on November 19, we’ll be open all day for casual wander-arounds (and wooing dates) for Small Business Saturday on November 25. As always, the Triffid Ranch is open by appointment, and now’s the time to discuss custom enclosures in time for the holidays.

And after that? Let’s just say that everything for the first half of next year pivots on getting a special confirmation in November, but I’m not going to say anything until said confirmation comes through. When it does, though, the Triffid Ranch moves to a whole new life stage and a whole new location. Until then, you’ll just have to wait.

State of the Gallery: September

Six months after the emergency move, and everything is coming together. New plants are adapting quite nicely to the new gallery conditions (including the honestly impressive bladderwort Utricularia calycifida “Asenath Waite”, which threatens to take over the place), and every enclosure that leaves gives an opportunity to try a new species or genus. Combine this with a flood of new shows and events, and it’s hard to believe how far everything has come from that little Deep Ellum booth ten years ago. 


On that note, the first serious gallery exhibition of the year, “Relics,” is still running on October 13 and 14, with the gallery opening on subsequent weekends by appointment. This includes a series of never-seen enclosures created specifically for this exhibition, ranging the gamut of carnivorous plant genera. For those who haven’t been to the gallery yet, this will probably be the perfect opportunity, so make plans now.

Before going into upcoming shows, a little note about Houston. It’s absolutely impossible to avoid discussion of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and it’s particularly heartbreaking because of the number of longtime customers and good friends (and the Venn diagram of the two is pretty much one circle) from Houston who are having to pick up the pieces. Instead of publicly pledging a certain amount of Triffid Ranch sales going to Houston relief, which usually falls apart with a bad show or two, I’m instead going to do what the rest of us do: making contributions from sales and from Day Job wages as often as possible, to the folks who can do the most good. I’m also not stating how much, because that isn’t the point, and instead I’ll just let you know that the good folks at Operation BBQ Relief are probably some of the best morale boosters this side of the Cajun Navy, and for the same reasons. The people of Houston have shown me incredible support and love over the last ten years (one of my first sales was to a Houston native who was in Dallas for the weekend, and I honestly want to run numbers on how many Texas Frightmare Weekend regulars are Houstonians), and I for one won’t stop until the whole city is back on its feet. I owe all of them that much.

With that in mind, the show schedule over the next few months became considerably more complex, due to events throughout southeast Texas. September 9, of course, is Small-Con, a one-day event in Addison dedicated to furthering interest in STEM careers, and there’s always more room in the next couple of generations for botanists. The very next week, gears switch slightly and the Triffid Ranch sets up in the two-day Dallas Comic Show in Richardson, literally two exits on Central Expressway north of the gallery. After that, things go quiet on the show front until after the gallery exhibition, and we’re still awaiting word on a show in Oak Cliff on the last weekend of October. And then…

November will be a very busy month at the gallery, and not just from getting ready for holiday sales and events. November is when several big shows in 2018 approve or decline a vendor space, and it’s also the month in which the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show runs in Austin. Even with it running right after Halloween, last year’s show was an absolute joy, and the BOT crew was happy to take my booth fee, er, I mean, welcome back a returning vendor. The love is reciprocated: a great central location in a very funky venue, and while I can’t drink, the Bloody Mary bar was very appreciated by everyone else attending. With its improved date on November 19, the weekend before Thanksgiving, it serves that part of the population that would otherwise spend that Sunday alternating between Halloween withdrawal and dread of the subsequent shopping weekend. Either way, this year, I’m getting set up extra-early so I can visit the other vendors, because I saw a lot of interesting items that I couldn’t view because of the crowds. (And yes, there are crowds. Great crowds.)

After that, it’s back to Dallas, with the gallery open on Thanksgiving weekend and subsequent weekends until the end of the year. (New Year’s Eve Weekend is especially important, because it marks 15 years of marriage to a very special someone, and you can never have too many people at a crystal anniversary. Now I just need to find good copies of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins Crystal Palace dinosaurs for the anniversary cake.) With scheduled shows in the first half of 2018, I just have to quote the comics artist Matt Howarth: it may stop, but it never ends.

State of the Gallery

No combat-ready unit ever passed inspectionWelp. Two years ago this week, after years of planning and plotting, the Triffid Ranch finally made the transition from a show-only operation to one with a permanent base of operations. An awful lot has happened since then, with a lot more to happen between now and the end of the year. Close the roll cage and keep the fire extinguisher at hand, because things continue to get interesting.

Firstly, while the first official exhibition in the new gallery space isn’t until the weekend of October 13, things aren’t going quiet. The exhibition itself, titled “Relics,” takes up nearly all of the available gallery space, and the enclosures for that are filling out. This leads to funny discussions with friends, and there’s nothing quite like telling Jeff VanderMeer (author of the Southern Reach series, with the movie adaptation of the first book Annihilation due very soon) that an enclosure based on his latest novel Borne is the reason why my work area is covered with Anne Hathaway heads. Trust me: it was even funnier to explain how to get an Anne Hathaway head out of a space helmet without damaging the helmet. And if the thought of WHY a space helmet is so important in a carnivorous plant enclosure, then I’m definitely talking to the wrong audience. (If you’ve read Borne, you’ll know why I needed three.)

Incidentally, as opposed to the one-night ARTwalk events at the old Valley View location, future Triffid Ranch shows will run with extended hours. The opening of “Relics” stretches over Friday, October 13 and Saturday, October 14, with the gallery opening to the public over subsequent weekends until Halloween. The Triffid Ranch is supposed to be an art gallery, so it’s time it acted like one. 

And with the mention of shows, September is going to be quite the busy interlude. In addition to SmallCon in Addison on September 9, it’s time to announce the Triffid Ranch’s first appearance at the Dallas Comic Show in Richardson, Texas on September 16 and 17. The DCS was always problematic at the Valley View location because it tended to coincide with ARTwalk weekends, but with the gallery’s move, the Richardson Convention Center is literally up Central Expressway. This means not only a quick and reasonably painless load-in and load-out for the show, but interested bystanders wanting to view larger enclosures have the option of coming by the gallery after the Saturday night festivities. If this one works out well, a trip to the Irving Convention Convention Center event in February 2018 may be in order.

And on a separate note, the much-beloved Alamo Drafthouse chain announced this week that it was hosting specialty 35mm screenings of the original George Romero film Dawn of the Dead, with the Dallas and Richardson venues running Dawn on August 21 and 23. This is noteworthy partly because the film hasn’t been screened in Dallas since the original AMC Northwood Hills 4 midnight shows ended in 1986, partly because I always wanted to host a screening over at the Valley View space, and partly because this is a charity screening for lung cancer awareness. Oh, and the Alamo Drafthouse Richardson is also literally up Central Expressway from the gallery. If you feel so inclined to catch the greatest documentary about life in 1980s Dallas ever made, I look forward to seeing you all at the Richardson screening on August 23. (For those of us who remember the Northwood Hills midnight shows, it’ll be slightly bittersweet: the Northwood Hills hosted an audience participation crowd that made Rocky Horror look sick, and we can’t relive those days because of Alamo Drafthouse’s strict no-talking policy. Sadly, screaming “You mean I spent the whole day shooting zombies, and all you’ve got is LIGHT BEER?” falls under that policy.)

And on final notes, a mea maxima culpa is due. For decades, my relationship with the Dallas Observer was, shall we say, adversarial. During my writing career (1989-2002), I worked for the Observer‘s competitor The Met specifically because the word that best described Observer writing was “smarm”. There was the story about the editor who introduced himself with “You, of course, know who I am, don’t you?”, and would slam in print anyone who didn’t get down on knees and thank him for the privilege of kissing his butt. There was the other editor who spent all of his available time negging the Dallas Morning News in the hopes that the paper would hire him, or anybody else, really. I was nearly stomped at a music festival in Carl’s Corner, south of Dallas on I-35, because I was introduced as a writer and half of the bands there assumed that I worked for the Observer. I won’t even start with the writer best known as “The James Lipton of Fandom”: to this day, members of Dallas’s music community refer to being nagged and bullied for freebies and access and then slammed in print for acquiescing as “getting wilonskyed”. And then there was the lovely habit of the annual Best of Dallas Awards, where five to ten contenders in every category would be told by the ad department that they would be listed as the winner if they bought at least a half-page ad, and you can imagine the surprise when the Best of Dallas issue finally hit the stands.

Well, as they say, that was then and this is now. The change was first noticeable in Editorial, when an editor apologized in print to a writer for adding incorrect information instead of hiding behind a “We regret the error” note in 4-point font next to the masthead. Then starting with former editor Joe Tone, the paper shed the smarm and the entitlement (not to mention dining reporters prone to making the paper settle on libel lawsuits), to where it’s barely recognizable today from where it was circa 1999. While I can complement many of the regular writers, particularly news writer Steven Young, the changes to the Arts & Culture section under editor Caroline North are stunning. The highest compliment I can ever pay to any publication is noting that the writers all appear to WANT to be there, rather than just collecting a check while paying back on high school slights, and Dallas news and entertainment coverage is all the better for it. By the time Observer reporter Nicholas Bostick stopped by the Triffid Ranch space last February, I wasn’t dreading getting covered by the Observer. I was welcoming it, to the point where I have a standing invitation for the Observer staff to come by the gallery and let me pay for the beer. No expectations, no obligations, just thanks from someone horribly burned out on writing for a crew that makes me want to read a weekly newspaper again out of enjoyment.

In a roundabout way, this is my cue to let everyone know that the ballot for the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards is now online, and I ask everyone to chip in. No obligations, no expectations, and certainly no slates (although I’ll say that I’m very fond of many of the nominees, and a couple of the categories were a tough call in picking the best out of four or five). Dallas is becoming a very different city from the one I grew up in, and we need to encourage and celebrate that. Hell, maybe this is the year I start buying Observer advertising, just to do my part to keep the paper hale and hearty, and keep those great writers and editors in coffee and spare pencils. If you’d told me in 2004 that I’d say this, much less in 1996, I would have punched you in the throat.

Otherwise, it’s the usual song: developments are upcoming, mostly because I can’t talk about them yet. That said, though, sleep between now and the end of the year is going to be something I only hear about. And so it goes.

State of the Gallery

Well. We made it. We had to get through the first half of the year to get there, but the Texas Triffid Ranch is set and situated in its new home. The gallery’s soft opening (the art world’s equivalent of a dress rehearsal) occurred on June 30, with the only problem being everyone coming early. Not that this was a problem: the early attendees included Nicholas Bostick of the Dallas Observer, and his assessment of the soft opening gives a lot of ideas for future plans. Combine that with commentary and suggestions from other attendees, and it’s off to the races for the next big exhibition, Relics, starting on October 13.

In the interim, in addition to the Small-Con and Blood Over Texas shows in September and November, the Triffid Ranch goes on the road. Of course, it’s just down the road to the Half Price Books Mesquite store, with a lecture and presentation starting at 12:00. Admission is free, and this may be the start of many at Half Price stores through the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Emphasis on “may”: everything depends upon the attendance at this one, so feel free to come out and gaze upon South American and Australian pitcher plants and other surprises. (Later this month, I hope to share news about upcoming shows for the next year, but a lot of that involves confirmation of acceptance. For instance, next year would mark ten years of the Triffid Ranch at Texas Frightmare Weekend, this is dependent upon making it past the juried acceptance process, and neither I nor any other vendor at TFW will make that kind of assumption. We have too much respect for the TFW crew to even think about it.) 

And future plans for the gallery? As mentioned previously, a new exhibition, Relics, opens on October 13, full of new enclosures and displays, and expect hints and in-progress shots on a regular basis. Until then, keep checking back, because reality stretches, and things currently invisible may emerge if reality stretches enough.

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. 

 

Last Views: The Old Space – 3

moveout_02272017_1

A little tip to beginning gallery owners: unless you own the building, don’t get too comfortable. Even if everyone involved swears up and down that tenants get 60 days’ notice before they have to vacate the premises, that promise is generally worth the paper it’s written on when the owner decides otherwise. I say this not out of bitterness but as a friendly warning: For those not already prepared, 30 days to find a new space, take care of occupancy permits and fire inspections, get the keys, and move everything is problematic even if everything works perfectly. Here in Dallas, where often the only way to get a retail leasing agent to return phone calls is to call the CEO of his company and ask if he’s unavailable because he’s hurt himself from masturbating all day, 30 days just simply enough. It’s possible, barely, but it requires starting packing and searching pretty much the moment the notice came through. We were lucky: as we were leaving the day before everyone had to be gone, we had neighbors who were just starting to look because they’d assumed that this notice would be the same false alarm as it had been for the previous five years. As we pulled the last items out of our space, others were openly wondering what they were going to do, and you do NOT want to be in that position when the doors are being boarded up and the demolition crews start rolling in.moveout_02272017_2

After eighteen months, it was strange to realize that we were the last-ever tenants in a particular venue, especially since that venue had been around for almost as long as we had been alive. We moved out on the last weekend of February thanks to the Herculean efforts of friends and cohorts who didn’t need to waste a weekend helping to pack and lug multiple truckloads of detritus, and when it was done, the place was strangely smaller for being empty. The only echoes of past tenants were little touches of urban archaeology: the number for Mall Security on a piece of masking tape (with no area code because most of the area was under only one area code until 1997) on the front counter, the tags for long-removed paintings from the previous gallery, and the strange assemblage of clothes displays from the next-door Foot Locker, apparently scavenged after a rebranding, in a Home Depot box over the fire escape door. The move wasn’t something we’d planned, but it was done, and now it was time to leave with a bit of dignity and grace. Trying to stay only would have made the memories sour.

moveout_02272017_3

And in the end, that was it. The last truck was loaded, and we waited for the sole security guard to inspect the space, ensure that we weren’t trying to prise fixtures out of the ceiling, and sign the all-clear on what was called the “sweep-out form.” We handed over our keys and turned off the circuit breakers in the back for the last time, and the guard rolled down the gate. 20 months since we first viewed the space and contemplated moving the Triffid Ranch to a semipermanent location, it was all over. We no longer had any connection to the mall, and with the impending demolition, we knew we’d never see it again. And so it goes.moveout_02272017_5

Last Views: The Old Space – 2

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One of the aspects of a gallery setup and expansion that nobody considers, until they have to do it, is working with the space as is available. The old Triffid Ranch space was apparently used since its construction as a men’s clothing store, so it had all sorts of vagaries that you’d never find in other locales. A lack of electrical outlets, for instance: in the main space, we had a couple in the main register island permanently affixed to the west side of the room, two along the back wall, and two on each side of the front gate. Of course, those ones by the front gate were on the ceiling in order the power the ridiculous halogen lighting so popular in the 1980s for store displays. This meant that extension cords were our friends, and we were incredibly happy to live in a future where compact fluorescent and LED lighting took a significant load off the electrical system while still supplying enough light for the plants. Getting the cords to the lights, though…that was fun.oldspace_01232017_8

One of the problems with working in a mall after hours is the ridiculous quiet. With the exception of the occasional security guard doing his rounds, most nights were accompanied acoustically only by tintinitis unless you brought sonic or visual stimulation. Hence, because the big register island couldn’t be moved, and Square point-of-sale apps made having a distinct register area as quaint as daily milk delivery, it became the de facto worktable. Also, since the mall was built at a time when wifi and cell phone reception were science fiction but tornadoes weren’t, phone reception cut out about three meters from the front gate and radio reception of most sorts after about five. Combine that with a mall wifi installed around 2005 that wasn’t going to be expanded or updated, said entertainment consisted of lots and lots of DVDs and a rather old flatscreen that got the job done. This even expanded into formal events such as the ARTwalks: considering the outside crowds coming to the mall during its final months, it might have made more sense to turn our openings into Babylon 5 viewing parties, because everyone was glued to episodes playing in the background.oldspace_01232017_9

Because the space was intended to be work area and showroom, we at least tried to separate the two with curtains, but naturally that meant that everyone wanted to see what was in the back. Those same people strangely had issues with workspaces that had everything I needed, combined with a “Hunter S. Thompson crashing in your living room for a month” vibe that should have said “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” Silly me: that was just encouragement, because this was where the magic happened.oldspace_01232017_10And then there was the actual back growing area, intended for plants that weren’t ready for general dissemination. The spacescape painted over the entire area was there when we moved in, a legacy of the art gallery that had been there until early 2015. Combine that with the reflective film on the growing racks to reflect light back onto the plants, and it was as if the1980s never ended.

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Finally, one of the biggest challenges was letting new visitors know where the space was located. By the time we moved in, the mall’s owner had no intention of updating the various “You Are Here” maps throughout the mall, but he had no problem with our putting up signs to steer customers. This was when we learned the extent to which most Americans have learned to block out advertising as a matter of mental survival. Multiple signs on the upper and lower levels, the big Styrofoam pillar covered with posters and fitted with postcard holders, and an extensive online presence that included maps, and wise still got calls asking “So where are you? I’ve been looking for you in the mall for an hour!” And so it goes.

Last Views: The Old Space – 1

Now that the new gallery is getting to the point where it isn’t a horrible post–apocalyptic accumulation of dead tech and cultural detritus, it may be time for a few last looks at the old. When we got word that most of the remaining tenants at Valley View Center had to move, we’d finally managed to beat our space into something approximating a real gallery. One whole wall covered in shelving, separate aisles set up and clear, and ready visibility of both finished plant enclosures and in-progress projects to anybody who came in. Naturally, getting everything under control meant that it was time to move, but at least we’d worked out most of the logistics issues by the time it happened. Oh, and what a space it was.

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In addition to the plants, the old gallery was the home of Tawanda Jewelry, and it became a vital meeting locale for new and longtime clients. Just as with shows and events, it made sense: why couldn’t you mix plants and carnivorous plants in the same space?oldspace_01232017_5oldspace_01232017_6

And there it ended, right after our January ARTwalk. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely getting there, and it gave us plenty of experience with setting up a more permanent gallery. And so it goes.

…and the Beginning of the New

Meanwhile, after four days of shoving, sorting, and cursing, everything is now moved to the new gallery. Don’t expect any photos of the current mess: while everyone compares it to a Tetris game, I’m reasonably that real Tetris pieces don’t have the potential nor the opportunity to kill you. Rather, I put out a general notice that anybody currently negotiating a grim and gritty reboot of The Red Green Show should contact me now, because I have the perfect shooting set.

In the gap between now and when everything is finished, here’s a preview. The new gallery is slightly smaller in square footage than the old space, but with more useable room because of the lack of the monstrous counter island. The biggest compromise was in the restroom, and we’ll all miss the old restroom with enough floorspace for dancing. (The sink is the first thing to be replaced, because that 1990s glass bowl relic could double as a bidet for hobbits.) The ceilings are much taller, the walls more continuous, and a former break room with counters and cabinets makes preparing everything for openings will be MUCH easier. And should I mention plenty of parking, a much more central location, easy access to DART rail, and lots of outside space for smokers?


Anyway, back to the linen mines:  the next big Triffid Ranch show is in two weeks, and we’re making tentative plans for a soft opening after that. The first priority, though, is getting the plants back up and under lights…

The End of the Old…

As of last Monday, the old Triffid Ranch space is back to where it was when we moved in. Well, maybe a lot cleaner, with fewer burst sweet and sour sauce packets in the counter drawers and about $1.35 less in pennies all over the floor of the back room. (Seriously, the way bad pennies kept turning up, I started having dreams that they bred like cockroaches.) The space will never see another tenant, as the fixture recycling and dismantling started March 1 in preparation for Valley View Center’s eventual demolition. However, we were there to see it off, and we were the last to see it as a retail space.What happens  next is up to the property owners, but at least we had the time we had. Selah. 

The Last ARTwalk

We’ve been waiting for word, and dreading the word, and now receiving the word: today, we received notice from the owners of Valley View Center that the Triffid Ranch lease expires on February 28. From the beginning, we knew that the wonderful chance we had would be limited: I told people from the start that if we had 18 months here, I’d be absolutely thrilled. Well, word came 18 months after we signed the lease, and we’ll be moving out (leaving it “broom-ready,” as the parlance has it) a week over 18 months after our opening.  And so it goes. 

Not that this ends the saga of the Triffid Ranch: we’re still committed to shows in March and May, and we’ve been searching for a similar space for about a year to restart the gallery. However, the crew at both the Galleries at Midtown (particularly Carmen Kelley, who has had an incredible amount of patience with such an unorthodox space as ours) and the Valley View staff have become family, and we’re truly going to miss them when we leave. I’m going to miss people peeking in after-hours, when I’m frantically working on enclosures and they’re wandering back to the parking lot after catching a late-night movie. Oh, and I’m going to miss the great people who came out and supported us at ARTwalks, or came inside and asked interesting questions, or even just exclaimed outside “Carnivorous plants? COOL!” All of you made it worthwhile. 

And just because we’re moving doesn’t mean that we’re not open. We’re still having our ARTwalk event for February 18, now ominously titled “The Last ARTwalk,” and we’re inviting past, present, and future visitors to come out to gaze upon the space one last time. As an added incentive, Shirt Price will apply to everyone on that Saturday, so if you’ve been itching to get a particular enclosure but wasn’t sure about having a space to put it, get that space set up NOW

In the interim, the real work starts up. Packing and sorting begins this week, interspersed with checking with realtors who were just waiting for the word to move forward. I have no idea what’s going to happen between now and the end of 2017, but the universe definitely chucked us into the deep end of the pool. Now watch us swim.

State of the Gallery

The big buy-stuff-and-get-drunk holidays are done. At the day jobs, everyone’s starting their first full week of work, and already planning vacations to get away from co-workers without the promise of violence. The kids are back in school, which in Texas means dodging the dolts who are terrified of thunder birds swooping down and stealing their children away, so they have to park in the middle of the street at rush hour and walk their kids directly to the front door. This being Texas, the weather keeps fluctuating between “black ice on the bridges” and “you’d think it was spring if you didn’t know better.” Yes, January is here, and preferably with as little pain as necessary.

With the new year comes the regular evaluation of where the Triffid Ranch is going, because we’re not sure ourselves. To answer the incessant questions: yes, we’re still at the old Valley View Center in North Dallas. Yes, we know the mall is going to be demolished. No, we don’t know when it’s coming down, or when we’ll have to vacate the space.With the incessant TV news segments involving someone who hasn’t been to the mall in 30 years, with closeups of the shock on their faces to discover that Wicks ‘n Sticks and Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby are shut down, you’d never know we had a thriving gallery community out here. Tell some people where we’re located, and they react as if they’ll be hit with demolition charges and buried in loose bricks the moment they step inside.  (I had to explain that to a niece who had to comment that “the mall is coming down” as if we’ll be caught in the destruction the next day, explaining that just because the mall will eventually be brought down, but it won’t be brought down today.)  This isn’t being helped by coverage in the Dallas Morning News by the self-styled “James Lipton of Fandom,” where you have to wonder exactly how many times he had his head flushed in mall toilets during his high school days that he’d dedicate so much time and effort gloating about the mall’s demise. (As someone who also once had a career at a weekly newspaper involving writing about nothing but science fiction movies and comic books, yes, it sucks that nobody can afford to pay for that coverage any more. Get over it.)

So here’s the situation as we know it so far. Yes, Valley View Center is facing demolition. Everyone knew that going in, and we specifically knew that when we opened the gallery nearly two years ago. No, we don’t know when demolition will start: that information hasn’t been shared with us or any other gallery owner. Yes, some galleries have cleared out, but most of that was because of the hype about the demolition last summer, where patrons worried about flying bricks stopped visiting. Right now, what we know is that the AMC Valley View 16 cinema, which I’ll add is the best first-run movie theater in the Dallas area for the price, signed a new lease for at least the next six months, and demolition can’t be completed so long as the theater remains. The old Foley’s building at the southwest corner of the mall is beginning demolition, but as that space had been empty for years, this doesn’t affect anything with the main mall and won’t for a while. For the duration, until we specifically hear word otherwise, the Triffid Ranch will remain at its current location, and we’ll be continuing with events at that location until we get that final word.

On that subject, the next Midtown ARTwalk is scheduled for Saturday, January 21 from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., with this month’s theme being “January Green“. This one will be a bit different: besides premiering a new commission for famed voice actress and dear friend Clarine Harp, this show features guest horticulturalist Christian. A local high schooler, Christian first came out to the gallery last year to see Nepenthes pitcher plants in situ with his large and very enthusiastic family, and then invited me to see his collection of rescued plants. Folks, seeing Christian’s work with cuttings and plants previously rejected as being “too rough for sale” made me remember what I was like when I was 17…and makes me want to invent cheap and effective time travel to go back and kick my previous self’s lazy butt up around his shoulder blades. January Green is an exhibition and sale of Christian’s best houseplants, and all sales will be matched by the Triffid Ranch with a donation to the charity of Christian’s choice. Yes, he’s THAT good.

As for the rest of the year, the show season is going to be a bit sporadic, and only partly because of the mall situation. For those unfamiliar with the glorious fiasco that was the Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve event last month, we didn’t dodge a bullet by not attending. We dodged Slim Pickens riding the bomb. We missed this, but after last summer’s InfiniCon, combined with more and more local conventions and shows having issues with attracting attendees, it’s a matter of cutting back on outside shows and concentrating on the gallery. That said, All-Con on March 16 through 19 and Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 5 through 7 are still essential. As for the next Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at the end of the year…if they want to put up with me, I’ll be honored to show off plants. Until then, ARTwalk is always open, and expect a special surprise involving the Dallas Arboretum in March. Details WILL follow.

Have a Great ARTwalk Weekend

Well, we’re down to the last ARTwalk of the year this Saturday, and the Triffid Ranch will be open along with the other galleries from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. OOOo or whenever we close up. Carnivorous plant enclosures, books, T-shirts…we’re all set. Combine this with an early 14th wedding anniversary celebration, and you have reason to come out and see the gallery, eh?

The Texas Triffid Ranch One-Year Anniversary

The way available discretionary time keeps disappearing, it doesn’t feel as if a year has gone by since the gallery’s soft opening last August. Apparently, other forces have other ideas, and the Midtown ARTwalk on August 20 is a perfect time to recognize this. With that in mind, the invitation goes out to everyone within range: August 20. 6:00 until 10:00 p.m., at the space. Feel free to spread the word, both to friends and local news venues. We don’t know how much longer we’re going to be at Valley View Center, but let’s make an impression while we’re here.

Manchester United Flower Show 2016

And since we’re going through archives this week, it’s about time to bring out the results of the Manchester United Flower Show presented at the Triffid Ranch gallery last April. Since our spring was a bit off, the Sarracenia blooms in particular were about a month late, but they made up in volume what they lost in tardiness. All in all, this was an extremely successful show, judging by the response of first-time ARTwalk visitors, and it’s definitely happening in 2017 no matter where the new space may be located.

Upcoming Events and Developments

Now that the word got out about the upcoming demolition of the mall, you don’t even want to see the fan. After a meeting between the mall owner and the various gallery owners, we know now that the mall will start at least some demolition by the end of the year, but the actual date where we all have to clear out is still unknown. A lot depends upon such issues as asbestos mitigation (don’t forget that the mall was constructed at a time also famous for smoking, leaded gasoline, and mercury in thermostats), so while we’re gunning for remaining at the current location until the end of the year, everything is fluid. Either way, we’ve started looking at new locations, and any recommendations of affordable locales north of LBJ Freeway would be greatly appreciated.

With that news, it’s time to look at the upcoming schedule. Updates here on the blog have taken a lesser priority to gallery maintenance, running shows, and spacehunting (a movie I wasn’t all that fond of the first time around), so let’s see if the shows will make up for it.

Firstly, with this weekend being the third of the month, it’s time for Midtown ARTwalk, which became considerably more lively once word of the mall’s impending destruction got out. Besides the premiere of several new enclosures, look at this one as a prequel to next month’s one-year anniversary. Festivities start at 6:00 on Saturday, July 16, and it only gets better from here.

After ARTwalk, it’s time to get back to shows, with the first August show in several years starting on August 5. Infinicon is a new convention, but it’s run by the same people responsible for March’s All-Con, so that’s a plus right there. We don’t know where we’re going to be located, but as soon as we get word, it gets passed on to you.

And finally, it’s official: the Texas Triffid Ranch returns to Texas Frightmare Weekend in 2017. This is problematic for one reason: this year, I packed up and shipped out nearly three times as many plants as I have for any other convention or show, and only had a handful left when the show ended that weekend. I may have to bypass buying the van I need for shows and just move directly to a 12-foot truck. (As if I’m complaining about this.) Gallery obligations have been in the way of posting photos from the last several shows, but when they’re finally available, you’ll understand why even the 12-footer may not be enough.

And that’s it for now: see you at ARTwalk, and let’s make plans for August.

“It’s the beginning of the end, nothing lasts forever…”

The last nearly twelve months of work on the Triffid Ranch gallery have been among the most productive and successful months of my entire life. Besides having the opportunity to work on larger enclosures than what was practical or sane to bring out to Triffid Ranch shows and lectures, it helped buffer the massive leap between a home-based business and one that might actually grow into a full-time retail establishment. I’ve met an incredible number of wonderful people, heard a lot of fascinating commentary, and managed to juggle full-time employment and gallery fun with only a few regrets that nobody has discovered the 87-hour day. The only other regret is that this stage ends in another six months.

Upon moving in, every artist at the Galleries at Midtown knew that this was a great but ephemeral opportunity. We knew from the beginning that the once-great Valley View Center, which had survived innumerable threats from other shopping venues only to succumb to the power of the smartphone, was going to be demolished and replaced with an outdoor mall arrangement. We knew from the beginning that we’d best make hay while we had the chance, because the combination of central location and inexpensive rent would end once the next stage started. We knew all this, and yet it’s still hard to get over how the current gallery residents will be the last people in Valley View Center as the lights go out and the demolition crews come in. Gee, it’s as if life imitates art:

Well, we got the word last week, but the official notice came out today: the city of Dallas approved the new plan for the mall redevelopment, so everything has to be turned off by December 31 as part of the deal. We’ve been told by the owner that they’re seeking an interim location for the galleries until the new MidTown is complete, and that gallery and workshop space is going to be part of the draw for MidTown, but that’s at least three years away. In the interim, the Triffid Ranch is moving.

Where we’re moving is a good question: a lot depends upon location, rent, and available parking. “When” is a good question as well: we’re going to stick it out in the current location for as long as we can, knowing that when the Christmas season ends, we’re leaving whether we like it or not. In the interim, work continues at the space, we’ll continue to prepare for shows and events, and ARTwalk, obviously, continues all through the remaining time here. In particular, stick around for the one-year anniversary party on August 20 (this doubles as Caroline’s birthday party, so grab cake and barbecue while you’re here), and let’s celebrate what we have while we still have it.

When we moved in, we figured realistically that we’d have a year in the space before the demolition started, and we hoped for two years. 18 months is a good compromise. Now let’s see where we go from here.

Past Events and Future Press

imageWell. Two weeks away, and life keeps getting interesting. As can be told from the photo above, the presentation on biofluorescence at the Perot Museum was, well, interesting. The whole venue was well-lit with UV LEDs, which made me feel like I was stuck inside an Eighties-era tanning bed, and the big issue was less with showing the fluorescence and more with blocking out the amount of visible light emitted by the LEDs that washed out said fluorescence. This led to quite a bit of planning for the next such demonstration, including learning that classic E-Z Up tents now come in black, but the event was a learning experience all the way around. Among other things, I could stay underneath both shortwave and longwave UV lights without recreating key scenes from the film Near Dark. Sadly, one of the Heliamphora pitcher plants in the display didn’t have that advantage, but it’s already making a strong recovery. I’ll just name it “Homer”.

In any case, continued blog silence means that things at the gallery keep getting lively, and that includes new signage. The last big ARTwalk event demonstrated that even with the existing signage in the mall showing where the Triffid Ranch gallery is located, people had issues with finding it, so it’s a matter of making signage that can’t be overlooked. This beast started out as a Styrofoam insert for a sound baffle in a movie recording studio, so let’s see what it looks like after about two hours of texturing with a heat gun, repainting to pass for basalt, and lots of detailing, eh?

And then there’s the weekend. Sunday marks a return to the studios of the Fangirls of Dallas, to talk about plants, the space, and just about anything else that comes to mind. Between now and then, though, I have a LOT of painting to do. Updates to follow.

 

Back on the air: October ArtWalk

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Well, it’s been a little while: between work at the Day Job and work at the space, updating the blog has fallen in priority. However, with a camera just full of imagery, it’s time to get back to it. Since last month’s Black Friday show was a complete loss (and I give nobody any grief about this, considering that the Dallas area was hit with one of its biggest November rainstorms ever, the whole weekend long), how about photos from the October ArtWalk?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

More hints

Oztopus mural

As mentioned a couple of weeks back, things have been a little crazy around the Triffid Ranch, and not just because we went from rainstorms that would have stunned Gilgamesh to classic North Texas Hot’n’Dry with nary a transition. Details will follow very soon, but the upshot is that the Triffid Ranch outgrew its origins, and it’s time to evolve. Best of all, that evolution involves air conditioning.