Tag Archives: lectures and events

Leap Day Event Update

February and March are already going to be packed with events, but for those wanting to come out to the gallery, please take note that we’re hosting a special Leap Day open house on February 29. Art, jewelry, carnivorous plants, and the opportunity to get in an early celebration of my birthday on February 30. Get your tickets now.

The Aftermath: Oak Cliff Gardeners Halloween Party at the Texas Theatre 2019

For all of my efforts to encourage friends and cohorts to come to Dallas for entertainment options (and something other than the greatest documentary about 1980s-era Dallas ever made), I am ashamed to admit that until two weeks ago, I had never been to the famed Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. Long a focus for JFK assassination buffs, the Texas is also a perfect venue for all sorts of gonzo film, as I discovered when Caroline , our friend Jon Feldman, and I drove out to see Memory: The Origins of Alien about two weeks ago. The theater is almost exactly on the opposite side of Dallas from the gallery, but you know what? When the much-hyped alternative hasn’t played an alternative film in a decade, and seems to think that a healthy midnight movie selection consists of incessant repeat showings of The Goonies, the drive is worth it.

Being invited to a movie theater to show plants isn’t new, but doing so for the Oak Cliff Gardeners Group was definitely a first, particularly since the group was combining an afternoon showing of Little Shop of Horrors (musical with happy ending) with a Halloween costume competition. Oh, and did I mention that the theater has an exceptional bar offering a show special of grasshoppers? And did I mention that one of the costume competition prizes was offered by Byron and Jiri, the two owners of the outstanding goth club Panoptikon? Yeah, it was that much fun.

Combine all of this with the Texas Theatre being the one movie theater in Dallas selling copies of the newly revived Horror magazine Fangoria, and this little albino duck is a fan for life. There WILL be other events over here if I have any say in the matter.

The Aftermath: Carnivorous Plant Workshop 2019(2) at Curious Garden

Some people ask why I do so many carnivorous plant workshops at Curious Garden near White Rock Lake in Dallas. A lot of reasons present themselves: Curious Garden is the sort of store I’d want to run myself if the carnivores didn’t rule my life. Its clientele consists of the same sort of people I welcome with open arms at the gallery. It’s a short distance from the gallery. I have a lot of fun reassuring participants that many carnivores are easy to raise, and they shouldn’t be afraid to delve into carnivore culture just because that half-dead Venus flytrap purchased for them when they were five didn’t make it. All of these are valid, but that’s not the real reason.

No, the real reason I drop everything when co-owner Jason Cohen asks “Do you want to do another workshop?” is because of a decades-long debt. Nearly 30 years ago, Jason was my neighbor when we both lived in Exposition Park near Dallas’s Fair Park, and he also had to deal with me when he started a coffeeshop/bookstore in Expo Park in 1992. Since I was considerably less cultured and sedate than I am today, the current efforts are to thank him for not drowning me in the gutter out front when he had the chance. (Let’s put it this way: back then, I was chugging ginseng soda in order to mellow out and focus. You’d contemplate suffocation via gutter slime, too. I extend the same considerations to three ex-girlfriends for the same reasons.)

This time around, the emphasis was on extra-easy, so everyone went through step-by-step in learning how to set up a spoonleaf sundew (Datura spatulata) enclosure and the whys of each component. Right now, Jason and I are making plans, probably in January, for a more advanced class involving Nepenthes hybrids, and details will be available soon. After all, I still have a longstanding debt to repay.

The Aftermath: 2019 Autumn Extravaganza and Open House

Four years since the original gallery opened at Valley View Center and two years since the current gallery opened for business, and we’ve reached a wonderful equilibrium between shows, lectures, and open houses. Four years ago, the thought of holding an open house the day after a big out-of-town presentation would have started a few hours of panic screaming. Now, it’s just a matter of sweeping up, putting the construction materials and the airbrush away and unlocking the door. Holding October’s open house during Texas/OU Weekend worked out perfectly: not only did it give an opportunity for those who wanted to avoid the drunken nightmare of downtown Dallas, but between cooler temperatures and the full moon, the timing was exquisite. As always, thanks to everyone who came out: at the rate things are going, this will become a fulltime venture before you know it.

Because of next month’s show schedule, the next open house is tentatively scheduled for November 30. The good news is that November 30 marks the beginning of the annual Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas, where the Triffid Ranch is open every Saturday after American Thanksgiving until December 21. See you then.

The Aftermath: Spooky Science on Tap 2019 at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History

Remember my mentioning earlier in the year that 2019 was going to be the big year for the Triffid Ranch stretching its legs? Well, an opportunity presented itself at almost the literal last minute, as with the Perot Museum in Dallas, the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History hosts regular after-hours adults-only events, and its Spooky Science on Tap costume event had room for a certain carnivorous plant rancher to show off representative genera all night. Before you knew it, I had a space on the second floor next to a model of Sputnik, and the rest of the night belonged to patrons wanting to know more about the differing pit traps with each pitcher plant genus and explanations on how flytrap traps reopen after capturing prey.

All told, the whole show was a resounding hit, and after quick talks with the FWMSH crew, I’m keeping the calendar open for their events. I’m particularly hopeful for events in mid-April, as the Manchester United Flower Show could always use a larger audience.And the only problem? The FWMSH has featured a life-sized Acrocanthosaurus model out front for decades, just begging for it to participate in the pre-Halloween shenanigans. Why some enterprising museum volunteer didn’t fit it with a speaker playing “This Is Halloween” is beyond me.(And one advantage to firing blind with a phone camera after everyone else went home and I was preparing for the long drive back to Dallas. Even in daylight, most people wouldn’t have noticed the dragonfly sleeping on the model’s nose. Since it was beyond dark that night until the moon rose, it was just one more surprise discovered after I got home.)

The Aftermath: Spooky Spectacle 2019 – 3

One of the things about big shows like Spooky Spectacle is, no matter how busy vendors may be, we’re already making plans for the next three or four shows during every downtime opportunity. It’s the newbies who sit around at a slow show and sigh loudly: the rest of us are evaluating potential repairs to displays, ordering new inventory, contemplating new signage, and generally making hay. That’s in addition to making contacts and comparing notes about new venues. It’s absolutely amazing how quickly a show like this goes by when you’re already making plans two years in the future.

And so it goes. I honestly have no idea if Spooky Spectacle runs in 2020, and a weekend after the show is too soon to know for sure. Either way, expect a lot more from the Triffid Ranch, including a new open house on October 12 and a return of the carnivorous plant workshops at Curious Garden on October 19. And then things get BUSY.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Spooky Spectacle 2019 – 2

For all of the aggravations with the Will Rogers Memorial Center, one of the joys with last week’s Spooky Spectacle involved an old friend from Tallahassee. Ever since that chance job offer in Tally introduced me to the world of carnivorous plants, the dream was to be able to grow Sarracenia pitcher plants in Dallas that were as robust as those in the Florida panhandle, and the famed white pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, was a particular challenge. Part of the thrill lay with S. leucophylla being as much of a nightowl as I am: in addition to the secretion of nectar and the UV fluorescence it shares with other species, the distinctive white lace lid and throat of its pitchers also fluoresce under moonlight. Even under a half-moon, the pitchers’ glow makes them stand out among other Sarracenia, but under a full moon, the pitchers are spectacular.

That this is an effective strategy for insectivory is demonstrated by cutting open a dead pitcher and examining the shells and other detritus of its prey. Fully half of the remains in a typical leucophylla pitcher kept outside are of moths, click beetles, and other purely nocturnal insects, and if you go around a stand of leucophylla in the middle of the night with an LED flashlight, you’ll see the cigarette-cherry glow of moth eyes as they fight to drink the nectar on pitcher lids and lids. (That’s not all you’ll see glowing. During the day, many Sarracenia have mantises, ambush bugs, lynx and crab spiders, and even tree frogs and anoles waiting next to or inside pitchers for incoming insect prey. Sarracenia leucophylla, though, also gets wolf spiders and the introduced Mediterranean gecko Hemidactylus turcicus camping out at its pitchers to feed on moths, and the same LED flashlight that reveals moth eyes will also return eyeshine from the wolf spiders as they await their chance.)

Anyway, the first full moon on a Friday the 13th in 19 years was a welcome coincidence the night before Spooky Spectacle, but even more welcome was that the leucophylla in the Triffid Ranch collection simply exploded this September. Sarracenia tend to have two growing seasons in North Texas with a long layover in the worst of the summer heat, with autumn pitchers being much more vibrant in color and size after their summer near-dormancy. The enthusiasm this year’s leucophylla had, though, wasn’t just surprising. It was almost shocking. Apparently others are reporting blowout leucophylla growth all over the Northern Hemisphere, and also with hybrids such as the favorite “Scarlet Belle,” but the only thing better than seeing it was being able to haul in plants to show off. I don’t know exactly what environmental factor is responsible for such growth, but that factor returning next autumn wouldn’t be unwelcome.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Spooky Spectacle 2019 – 1

After a long run of exceptional events in 2019, it was inevitable that a show might not work out as well as others. The crew behind Spooky Spectacle, formerly the Granbury Paranormal Fest, tried their best to put together a great show, and having one that wasn’t outside in last weekend’s heat was very much appreciated. That said, I’m making the formal announcement that after four shows in the venue over the last decade, future shows at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth simply aren’t an option.

(I want to apologize to people who tried to come out and couldn’t find parking, so they had no choice but to turn around and leave. Will Rogers is already lacking in parking for events as it is, but between blocking off vendor parking and forcing vendors to take up potential attendee spaces, a walkathon that took up one entire lot, and remaining parking going to a “Party on the Patio” event at the Kimbell Art Museum during the evening, I’m glad that anybody could show up at all. I won’t get into the rampant incompetence of the company handling the parking in the first place: dealing with contradictory directions from yahoos who got off on the chaos made Saturday morning load-in an absolute joy, and I understand that things only got worse as the day went on. Combine that with “Party on the Patio” drunks driving the wrong way down one-way streets as we left and the main thoroughfare connecting the center to the highway undergoing its perpetual repair and subsequent narrowing to one lane each way, and I was surprised to see only one fistfight between frustrated attendees just wanting to park for the day.)

Anyway, barring the parking situation, the show gave a great opportunity to hang out with Triffid Ranch stalwarts and newcomers, and this is definitely a show I’ll show up for again…so long as it’s not at Will Rogers.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 5

Well, that’s about it as far as this year’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo season is concerned: check back after Halloween to find out alongside me as to dates and locations for 2020 events. And because the managers there deserve a special shoutout, many thanks to the Extended Stay America in downtown Austin next to the Palmer Event Center: I literally couldn’t have done this without you. Selah.

And so it goes.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 4

As promised, this year is the start of events outside of the Dallas area: this hasn’t been deliberate, but a side effect of setting up the old gallery and then having to move to the current location just as the old space was under control. Now that the current gallery is reasonably under control (but as Matt Howarth used to say, “It stops, but it never ends”), it’s time to start exploring.

As far as explorations with the Oddities & Curiosities Expo crew is concerned, that’s a funny story. Both August’s Austin show and last March’s Dallas show were absolute joys, both with attendees and staff, and my only problem lies with people asking “So are you going to be at next year’s shows?” The problem is that as of right now, nobody outside of Expo staff knows a thing about 2020’s show schedule, either dates or locations. I know that a lot of attendees are clamoring for Houston and San Antonio shows to go with Dallas and Austin, but we’ll all discover the 2020 plans on Halloween. Until then, rest assured that the Triffid Ranch will show up at Expo events for as long as they’ll put up with me, and 2020 might also feature two magical words on the Triffid Ranch show and event schedule: “New Orleans.”

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo – 3

After looking at results over the last few years, I’ve noticed a major sea change in outré events such as the Oddities & Curiosities Expos, and I’m still processing the implications. Widely anticipated events that only occur once per year are increasingly packed, if only from the number of people who heard about the previous event and buy tickets very early so as not to miss out. Biannual two-day shows for a very specialized crowd can work, but generalized gatherings for a wide range of enthusiasts come up short. For one-shot events, touring shows, or revived or rebooted events, one-day shows work well, but two days just spreads out the crowd without getting new attendees. It’s easy to blame social media for this (and I’ve watched some event organizers do so, to the point of one personally contacting everyone who expressed interest in his event to nag them about why they weren’t at the show), but I suspect the shift away from three-day and four-day events just signals a change in available free time. One-day first-time events require a commitment to getting out to it on that day: two days means it’s far too easy to kick the football to Sunday, only to have something else get in the way.

Whatever the situation, one-day events are becoming quite the thing this year, and I heartily endorse them in the future. Yes, they require more preparation beforehand, but they also attract people who really want to be there. That sort of enthusiasm is infectious.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 2

For those who have never been to Texas, a primer in humidity. As can be expected with a state with such a wide range of climates and biomes, each big city has a completely different atmosphere. Being very close to the Gulf of Mexico shore, Houston is soupy: incessant winds off the Gulf bow moisture inland. Austin is semidesert, where competing south winds strip the essential moisture from your skin and leave a crackle of salt on your skin that used to be sweat. Dallas is the worst of both worlds, where the morning air is best described as “too thick to breathe, too thin to waterski on,” but afternoon humidity in August can drop to as low as 7 percent just before the sun goes down.

This led to some interesting conversations at last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Austin, as about a quarter of the attendees and vendors hailed from Houston and New Orleans and another quarter from Dallas and Tulsa. No matter how often they visit, the Houstonians still can’t get used to their scalps bunching up and their lips dessicating as the day goes by. The Dallasites, though, revel in salt crystals growing between their shoulder blades like Godzilla fins and leaving lumps of uric acid in the toilet, because it beats the slow poaching of Houston. Listening to all of this are people from more amenable climes, who can now count their kidney stones by listening to the rattle while they walk, who break the monotony by screaming “What the hell is WRONG with you people?” when they aren’t screaming about their eyeballs collapsing in on themselves.

It’s a fair question, especially when wandering the streets of Austin looking for food that won’t require two hours’ wait for a seat. That’s why you stay away from anyone over the age of 50 in Texas when complaining about the weather: the odds are pretty good we’ve lived through the record highs and lows, and as soon as you hear the sigh of “If you think this is bad, you should have been here in 1980,” it’s already too late to escape.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention – 3

One final mention about the DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention: in a year of truly outstanding shows, it’s the little ones that keep surprising me. The organizers tentatively plan for a followup show in November: if it doesn’t conflict with Austin trip, I’ll be the first one handing over the booth fee.

The Aftermath: DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention – 2

One of the more interesting aspects of the recent DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention was watching the culmination of a sea change I’ve observed with shows of this sort for the last decade. The old perceptions of flea markets and thrift fairs are falling apart: why would anyone with access to a smartphone put up with a surly vendor with a pile of broken or heavily worn items at “you won’t find it anywhere else” prices? (I submit that this is a major factor in the ongoing implosion of literary science fiction conventions, too, but that’s a different dangerous vision.) Successful vendors in this new world are engaging vendors, and attendees notice and respond to naked enthusiasm. At this show, a small subset complained loudly about how the word “thrift” was misleading, as there weren’t any spectacular discounts they could steal away and sell on eBay. They were overwhelmed by a very large crowd that was willing to pay an admission fee for an experience, and boy howdy did they get one. The venue itself was a little small, but a lot of intriguing vendors, carrying items that attendees didn’t know they wanted until they saw them, didn’t mind in the slightest.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention -1

I won’t lie: every vendor at any show, despite the evidence, has a little voice running in the background whispering “You KNOW, you could just go back, put everything up, and go back to bed.” That voice picks up on every minor aggravation and misgiving, from the torrential rain and literally flooded-out streets on the way to a venue to the one fellow vendor who blocks off the only ramp from the parking lit to the venue sidewalk with his car and refuses to move, and pushes that one last nerve. One of the biggest secrets to selling at shows, conventions, and events is to grab that voice by the throat, shove it head-first into a 55-gallon drum, pour concrete into the drum, and then shove that drum into the nearest lake. That won’t kill it, but it’ll slow it down for a while.


For instance, the morning of the DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention, sponsored and run by Thrifty Pirate Vintage Retro, the whole of the Dallas area was inundated by a seemingly never-ending wave of thunderstorms. With most shows, morning thunderstorms, especially in summer, are a moodkiller, and combining that with it being a first-time show, the odds weren’t good. Some people, vendors and customers both, would turn around and go back home, grumbling all the way. The professional response, though, is to try to make things work: the fact that almost everyone else felt the same way was why the Thrift Convention had the most enthusiastic response to a first-time one-day show that I’ve seen in years.

Among other joys: the very enthusiastic response to the Larry Carey Triffid Ranch poster almost made me regret Larry wanting to update it, but only just. (As a reminder, even though the poster and shirt design are changing, the Shirt Price discount still applies to the old shirts, for as long as they’re wearable. In fact, if you have designs on making old shirts into more fashion-forward attire, run with it. The discount still applies.)

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: August 2019

Seven months of 2019 down and dead, and five to go. We just might get to the end of the Twenty-Teens in one piece after all. Of course, I also said that at the beginning of August 1989, and we saw how THAT turned out. (Don’t even bring up August 2009: there’s nothing quite like having to go in for a CT scan of a lung “anomaly” on your birthday, that turned out $900 after deductible later to be pneumonia scarring that had been on record since 1982.)  As is our wont, it’s time to discuss the gallery and how things are progressing, and pass on interesting news that might come in handy to others.

To begin, those who haven’t been by to visit the Event Calendar in a while are going to be extremely surprised, as 2019 is the Triffid Ranch’s busiest year yet. This includes signing up for a lot of new shows, such as the Massacre on Division Street Dark Art Festival in Arlington on Halloween weekend and the Deep Ellum Creative Market at the beginning of November. (Yet another reason for staying in Texas: the first real cold day usually hits by the end of November: the beginning of November might be exceedingly windy, but it’s usually really nice, especially for those cooped up inside all summer long.) The big news, though, is that the promised expansion of Triffid Ranch shows outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton triangle worked out better than expected, with multiple shows in Austin and now the Houston Horror Film Festival next June. I’m not quite ready for Brownsville or Corpus Christi because of the drive (Brownsville is nearly eight hours away from Dallas on a good day), and the Texas Panhandle is still terra incognita, but it’s a start. This is in addition to showings in other galleries throughout the state, but that’s also something that’s on the agenda.

August is another reason for celebration other than the Halloween decorations and displays in the local Michael’s stores: it’s hard to believe that we’re coming up on the second anniversary of the soft opening of the current gallery and the fourth anniversary of the original opening at Valley View Center. Naturally, that means having another open house on August 24, right after coming back from the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Austin on August 17. The plan is to debut several new enclosures on the 24th, which is a bit necessary: between purchases of existing enclosures and commissions, it’s getting a touch bare out here. We should all have such issues.

Anyway, it’s back to the linen mines: tomorrow’s DFW First Thrift Convention in North Richland Hills starts off the month, and there’s still a lot to do before the doors open at 10:00. See you then.

The Aftermath: Curious Garden Carnivorous Plant Workshop – July 2019

The location: Curious Garden, run by Jason Cohen, a former neighbor when we both lived in Exposition Park in Dallas in the early 1990s.

The project: A carnivorous plant workshop, dedicated both to sharing information on carnivorous plants and to walking everyone through the construction and planting of their personal spoonleaf sundew (Drosera spatulata) enclosure.

The turnout: This was the workshop that kept growing, from one workshop of about 15 participants to two workshops of 20 each, and we very easily could have filled a third if we’d had the resources.

The response: Sometimes the best way to learn is to get hands-on experience instead of just taking notes at a lecture, so the whole enclosure process was set up to explain not just the how but the why of every layer and addition. Several attendees admitted that they had been too worried about getting into carnivorous plants before the workshop, so I now look forward to seeing their own contributions to carnivorous plant horticulture. (It may be time to talk to friends about setting up meetups for a local branch of the International Carnivorous Plant Society, because the number of Dallas and Fort Worth enthusiasts is hitting critical mass.)

The aftermath: After the second workshop, we still had more people stopping by to ask about the next one, so Jason and I are working out the details right now. Right now, we’re shooting for either August 31 or sometime in October. Look for details in the very near future.

The Aftermath: 500x Gallery Hot & Sweaty 2019

All is said and done. The Hot & Sweaty 2019 open show at the 500x Gallery was a success on two levels. Firstly, the very enthusiastic response to the two enclosures put on display, particularly during the show opening, suggests that a deep dive into research on science art shows and exhibitions is something that needs to be done this summer. At the very least, the Hot & Sweaty proved that carnivore enclosures on display need two cards: one on the construction, and one on the natural history of the plant on display. I’m not ready to manage or curate a separate exhibition of science and engineering art, but it may be time to track down somebody who is.

And the other level? Something about the 500x was very encouraging to both of the plants on display. I’m used to Nepenthes ampullaria going through sudden growth spurts with little to no warning, but the Cephalotus pitchers on display in Antarctica in Decline just exploded. I don’t know if it was due to additional light in the new gallery, increased carbon dioxide, or the simple fact that Cephalotus are attention hounds and simply got their fill, but I’m going to have to try this again.

The Aftermath: Swizzle’s Waipuna Tiki Flea 2019

Hot, humid, and sticky. All three apply over most of Texas all year around, but it’s particularly relevant in Dallas in June. This changes rapidly in July, when humidity drops like a rock after the sun comes up and the south wind starts up, but we’re not yet to July. Combine that with an impending storm front that concentrated that heat and humidity, and Dallas on June 15 was, if you squinted hard, an analogue for Honolulu. What this meant was that it was an absolutely perfect day for the Swizzle’s Waipuna Tiki Flea show at the Industry Alley Bar just south of downtown, and nobody involved was going to let a little thing like geography get in the way of the fun.

As part of Dallas Tiki Week, the Tiki Flea is now a regular and much-anticipated event, and dragging out plants to next year’s show is a given. In the interim, Swizzle’s hosts an annual holiday gift show in December, and that’s where I expect things are going to get good and weird.

The Aftermath: 500x Gallery Hot & Sweaty 2019 Open Show

After years of little weekend shows and events, the Texas Triffid Ranch has arrived: enclosures exhibiting in an established gallery. The 500x Hot & Sweaty open show, at one of Dallas’s most famous galleries, had a wide variety of submitted art in different media and formats, but I was confident at the beginning that it probably wouldn’t have any science art or science-inspired art. At the Hot & Sweaty opening on June 8, not only did that make the two submitted enclosures unique, but the response suggests a combination of art show and museum exhibition, with either interactive displays or live provosts to explain the science side of displays for those unfamiliar with the background.

Hot & Sweaty 2019 ends on June 23, but don’t let that stop you from coming out during the week and weekend. The 500x is open on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5:00, and open during the week by appointment. If you’ve wanted to view a Triffid Ranch enclosure but haven’t been able to make an open house, here’s your chance.