Factory Girl

When your friend’s in grad school and asks to spend her first Saturday off in months with you, you are obviously excited. When she asks if you want to spend said Saturday going off to take pictures, you can’t believe your good fortune. Which is how I found myself waking up one Saturday morning to go shooting on the North Side with my friend Whitney. Both with a love for architecture, we thought we’d go explore the old factories and neighborhoods of this often overlooked Milwaukee area...

It was at this point that Whitney’s camera promptly decided to die on us (some sort of switchboard malfunction we later learned, RIP). We got back in the car and headed into the Sherman Park neighborhood where I was hoping my aimless driving would eventually lead us to one of my favorite Milwaukee murals. Which it did. Upon approaching the mural, you’ll notice it’s divided up into sections. On the far left side is the continent of Africa, and on the far right is a young boy setting an eagle free in front of the state of Wisconsin. In between these two are figures of women – “the cushion, creators, and comforters… connecting the cultures, values, and history of the two locations” - draped in color and African textiles. George Gist is the artist behind this bright and colorful piece and was asked by the Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum to paint a mural that projects and showcases their African-American community as a celebration of community and culture.

Luckily Whitney still had a couple disposable cameras in her bag too so all was not lost.

Our last stop before heading back home, was discovering this seemingly abandoned school house. Someone had painted some beautiful geometric designs on the boarded up doors and windows and we were instantly drawn to them. We were also weirdly into this Cold War-looking building out back and snapped a few shots. We’re brutalists at heart, what can I say.

Louisiana Musings | NOLA | Part II

We last left our heroes wandering around a cemetery older than some US states. Left being the operative word here since we were unaware that New Orleans had “operating hours” for their graveyards. We had just wandered outside the main gate to snap a pic of the historical marker when we heard a woman yelling, “THREE MINUTES AND I’M LOCKING THIS DOOR AND Y’ALL GONNA BE STUCK IN THERE FOR THE REST OF THE NIGHT!”… it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Good to know.

Feelings of hunger were beginning to take hold, so wandering down Magazine Street in the Garden District seemed like a good decision. Rum House nachos, here we come…

After exploring the Garden District for the better part of the day, John and I headed back to the Seventh Ward to change into some fresh clothes and head to our predetermined dinner location: the Three-Legged Dog. We had stumbled upon this little hole-in-the-wall Easter Sunday due to it’s crawfish boil sandwich board out front and quickly made friends with the staff, telling them we’d be back for the boil. And damn did they do it up. We proceeded to down probably 2lbs of crawfish with the Milwaukee Bucks game in the background (bless you Blake for putting that on for John) and PBR’s in the foreground; you can take the boy outta MKE, but you can’t take the MKE outta the boy. We probably left the bar around 1 or 2am and as we drunkenly made our way back to the house, you can bet that I was blasting “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X from my phone like I was a 90s boom box emcee.

Woke up to a debilitating hangover the next day and cursed the gods for my lack of foresight in water consumption. When I could finally move my body, the only thing I wanted was fried okra, convinced this was the one cure to my ailments. So I dragged John back to the Quarter for some southern comfort: a cup of gumbo and an overflowing platter of fried okra, feeling more whole as I proceeded to clear my plate.

It was our last full day in New Orleans so as we walked, we soaked up the last bits of NOLA like french bread and étouffée. I was gonna miss our neighborhood strolls between the shotgun houses and the creole cottages, and of course, the doors…

Thanks for the memories Louisiana. You’ll always be number one in my heart… okay, maybe number two; that guy up there is looking pretty cute.

Louisiana Musings | NOLA | Part I

John pretty much knocked it outta the park this Christmas when he presented me with tickets for the two of us for New Orleans in April. He had never been “down south,” let alone NOLA, and knew how much I wanted to show him around my home state and basically just show off. Plus it would be our first trip as a couple completely on our own; no friends, no family, just us against the world. I’d say we did pretty well for ourselves.

We booked a house in the Seventh Ward; an adorable shotgun, “creole cottage” about a mile outside of the French Quarter. I always try to make it a point to stay and explore more of the neighborhoods of New Orleans versus the Quarter but it was nice to be removed yet within walking distance.

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We first arrived pretty late at night and struggled with our rolling suitcases through the darkened backyard. We made it without waking up our host and immediately changed out of our traveling clothes and headed straight back out the door towards Frenchman Street, determined to catch some jazz and make the most of our 10:30pm arrival.

Passing by the Spotted Cat, we eventually found ourselves in a small bar slash restaurant that had a live band and parked ourselves at the bar. There ended up being quite the dance-off in front of us; girlfriends were stolen from their partners, boyfriends quickly stole them back, and all the while Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was hilariously playing on mute in the background.

The next morning, after I had enjoyed a cup of coffee in the backyard, I left John to his slumbering and explored our new neighborhood. I’m kinda a sucker for regional-specific architecture…

Did I mentioned that the day after we arrived it was also gonna be Easter Sunday? Surprise! I was stoked that we would be able to catch the Easter parades down in the Quarter so once John was up, we dressed in our freshest “Sunday best” and fixed us some geaux-cups for the walk (when in NOLA after all). We caught the tail-end of the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade but our sights were mainly set on the 19th Annual Gay Easter Parade that started at 4pm. If anyone needed any ideas for the (at that point upcoming) Met Gala theme this year, we had the ultimate mood board…

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After the last of the floats disappeared around the corner and the resounding sound of “YAS QUEEN” was slowly dying down, we decided to make our way back home, stumbling through our shortcut through Louis Armstrong Park and back through my favorite neighborhood, Treme. We found our way onto North Prieur Street and happily collapsed in our little blue home-away-from-home. I gave John a pat on the back for our most successful Easter Sunday yet. Ya done good kid, ya done good.

The next day, we decided to catch a ride to the Garden District and explore Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Burying the dead in a city built below sea level was definitely a problem that needed a solution for the early residents of New Orleans; the ingenious solution being to entomb the deceased in marble chambers above ground, lest the flood waters carry away the unfortunate souls buried in the earth. This uniquely NOLA tradition ended up creating one of the city’s most lingering attractions that is both steeped in history and remains hauntingly beautiful to this day. Being born in Lafayette, Louisiana, it was somewhat comforting being enclosed in a place for the dead named after the city of my birth… I’m kinda a weirdo though.

I’ll save the rest of my musings for Part II but just to round out the haunted vibes, I’ll leave you with some window displays that warmed the cockles of my Halloween heart. What more could you expect outside a cemetery founded in 1833? Crafting projects for next October? Check and check.

Factory Obscura | BEYOND

The Future is Collaborative. This is the mantra behind Factory Obscura, an Oklahoma City-based art collective creating immersive experiences through ephemeral art installations. Their goal is to awaken wonder, build community, and make the world better (something I think we all can get behind these days). My dad’s partner had taken us to their first installation experience back when they started in 2017 (she’s pretty hip to the art community in OKC and has several friends in the scene so we felt fairly cool and “in-the-know” by association) so we were eager to check out their latest when she mentioned a new exhibit last November.

BEYOND, which ran from late November 2018 to January 2019, invited participants to abandon all their preconceived notions and embark on an immersive art odyssey into what lies beyond, a mystical journey to the farthest corners of one’s mind. What I would really like to highlight however is that all of this is happening in an abandoned tire factory in the middle of nowhere slash the outskirts of downtown OKC. Picture your family being loaded up in your dad’s Subaru, driving the length of town, passing through all the city lights, past the Thunder stadium, and into a slightly crumbling area surrounded by neglected weeds and sporadic fits of litter; you pull up to a derelict yet quaint tire shop and Claudia tells you, “We’re here!” Cue confusion and pure childish excitement.

After checking in, we entered the foyer of my dreams; all oracle elements and witchy vibes. Very much regret not asking them what they were going to do with those sweet painted armchairs after the show because I was instantly in love but alas, future project noted. Since we had been to the Factory’s first installation, SHIFT, we knew that everything held a secret, a hidden world waiting to be discovered. We opened bureau drawers to find sleeping animal dioramas, checked the mantle for clues of rooms to come, and opened up teapots discovering intricate scenes in miniature, giving us the feeling that we were about to embark on a journey down Alice’s rabbit hole.

The foyer then led into a hallway with four pathways, and four possibilities. Each of the doors represented a different experience - Empress, Moon, Tower, and Death. It felt like you were walking into your own dream-like tarot card reading, the doors decorated with quotes and drawings reminiscent of a modern tarot deck. There was an attendant in the wings in case you needed a little explanation of where to go from here; the idea being to choose a door to begin your journey but not worry about missing out on the rest as we would ultimately be redirected back to choose again.

With our FOMO put to rest, we decided to start at the beginning. “Empress” it is. And impressed we were.

Okay. So some of these are not the best pictures I’ve ever taken in my life but for the sake of documentation I have included them anyway. Because I was too busy taking photos of the entryway, Margo entered “Empress” before me and discovered a ladder to an upper level. As I finally opened the door and entered the room, I looked up and there she was (as if I wasn’t excited enough).

This is the terrifying creature that Margo was hanging out with in the secret upper deck above the door frame. Labyrinth vibes anyone?

I did not climb up to the top of this tower regrettably but Margo and Nick reported that once you got to the top, there were little dioramas behind glass featuring long-limbed, white-furred, deer-like creatures… a mysterious clue of things to come, or just another hidden gem?

We exited through the final door of this magical underwater sea cave to a room covered entirely in pink velvet, a disco ball reflecting slowly from the ceiling. We were ushered through one more door to find ourselves back outside the tire factory, ready to start again.

Back through the mysterious foyer, and back to the hallway of doors, like Jack Skellington searching for meaning in the forests of Halloween Town. This time we chose “Moon,” and Margo’s trip to the top of the tower in “Empress” was rewarded with larger-than-life replicas that were truly out of this world…

We were beamed out yet again into the velvet-disco room and back out into the night surrounding the factory. At this point we were beginning to get the drill and excitedly made our way back through the halls to our next path: “Tower.”

Hints of things to come in this awesome death’s-head hawkmoth stained glass…

Velvet. Disco. Tires. Foyer. Repeat.

Time for the final door. My favorite tarot-like door. “Death” welcomed us with dying rose petals and winking fireflies, floating candles leading the way to the main stage and the final hoorah… “And then he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly…”

Dad playing with an interactive digital painting that mimicked your movements…

If opened, the felt covered bedside table revealed a hand-stitched dead bird on a bed of petals and leaves made of fabric. A second bed was concealed below the mattress of the figure, welcoming participants to lie down in a soothing cocoon of softness.

And so we made our final trip out of the abandoned tire factory that was not so abandoned anymore; homages to the four paths spay-painted on the brick wall shielding our car. It’s hard to express how exciting it is to see things like this popping up in places like Oklahoma City, paving a way for artists and the community at large to express themselves in new and immersive ways; to create a sense of both community and wonder, allowing one to revel in their childish curiosity yet again. I know everyone’s all about scoring tickets to the next Meow Wolf experience, but who wants to road-trip it down to OKC for the next Factory Obscura? My photos hardly do it any justice, just one of those things that has to be seen to be believed.

Alley Cats

Some long awaited photos I’ve been wanting to share, back when it was one of those awesome afternoons where the stars align and you and your friends all have the day off for some reason and you decide to be hometown tourists for the afternoon … and also so Luke could find some good stretches to skate in… Black Cat Alley it is!

Next stop, Shakers; mainly cause we wanted to be those people who order an extra dirty martini at 4:30 in the afternoon, but also because I’m always down to go to a historically haunted bar. Sadly a ghost tour had either just departed or it was out of our price range for the day, I can’t remember, but it was fun to just have a drink and hang out for the day, plus bonus time to plot our next adventure.