In the Artist's Studio - Chuck McClenning
Do you remember trick or treating as a kid? Dressing up, going around the neighborhood and getting candy, going through all your candy to find your favorites? Did it seem like you were in your own Halloween world when you walked around, seeing your neighborhood friends dressed as something or someone different? Those feelings are encapsulated in Chuck McClenning’s “The Villages of Halloween County”. Want to learn more? Read on to find out about Chuck’s art, the Villages and how his art has grown over time.
When Chuck and I connected, I noticed in his email that he had a website (www.thechasmaciancrafter.com/store) , so the first thing I asked in our conversation, was ‘What the heck is The Chasmacian Crafter??”
Chuck laughed with my outburst of a question and went on to tell me how that came to be. “Chas” comes from his name – “Charles”, “mac” comes from his nickname (he was a machinist), and “ian” makes it a village.
Chuck has a shop in his local, little town that not only serves as his studio, but also has a small retail spot in the front so that people can come in and see (and buy) his work. While I know Chuck as an ESC artist, what I didn’t know is all the other things that he creates. He had been showcased in four different Prim magazines, so became in high demand for his work.
I encourage everyone to look at his website because he has candles, room sprays, primitive silicone light bulbs, original artwork and more! Make sure you look at the candle label (Dorothy Mae Candle Co). That’s his mom when she was 3!
Now that we know where he is now, I asked Chuck to tell me a little about his history. How did he come to be an ESC & Co artist?
As a little boy of around 8, Chuck remembers when Reynolds Wrap had an advertisement about a book in their foil that showed how to make things with their product (and no, not food). He begged his mom to find that book and really enjoyed making ornaments with popsicle sticks among other crafts. It was around that time that he found that he enjoyed creating ‘things’ and when people tell him how ‘cool’ it is.
Throwback to old Reynolds Wrap How-To Booklets:
When macramé was a thing, he became an expert and he would try just about every popular craft. His work has been showcased in four Prim Magazines, which grew his following quite quickly. In addition, Quad Cities by Davenport has a big show called The Festival of Trees. It is used as a fund-raising event for the arts. Chuck has won numerous awards for his art, allowing him the ability to line his wall with beautiful ribbons!
We naturally move into his current work with ESC & Co and how he creates art that is reproduced year-round for his collectors:
There’s work (a job) and then there is work (a passion). Chuck has a passion for creating and ESC & Co allows Chuck to be known and collected all over the world because of his reproductions. How does he feel about his work? Very critical (sounds like many of the other artists I talk to), but in the end all that matters is that when all the finishing touches are applied and a character can be seen in a holiday display as part of a collection, it was well worth the wait.
If you have followed Chuck, you know that his Halloween characters are all a part of Halloween County. There is a story to follow, as each character has a place in this town. Take the Mayor for instance, dressed as befitting of one of power, holding his scepter high, smiling at the local town folk. If you don’t know the characters of the village, check out his blog on ESC’s website (The Villages of Halloween County).
In discussing characters and details, we talk about where his inspiration comes from:
His inspiration typically comes from old German Style Halloween. He loves to incorporate not only the orange and black of Halloween, but add in color (that still looks old). Again, when talking about the details, we go back to discussing his Village friends and how Mysterious Man hovers the pumpkin between his hands, or the fact that the town needs some light (there’s no electricity in this wonderful town) so Larry and Leroy Lamppost were created to brighten the streets. No detail is left behind when it comes to a town full of love, empty of hate and nothing but kindness lives here.
Another facet to creating is the art of expression. As an artist, Chuck works hard to master the eyes. A lot of the process is in evolving the method, it could be the sculpting in the face, or the folds in the pants. It’s finding that bridge between sculpting and painting to get just the right amount of wicked put into a smile, or intensity set into the eyes. Just as one might think, Chuck tries new methods, colors, or tricks to get just the right look so that when we see a new piece, we are like ‘wow, look at that intense stare’ (ok, that’s what I did when I saw King of the Cornfield).
Designing isn’t something you force, sometimes it just comes to you. Mostly though, it just takes time. Time, practice, and evolving.
How does that inspiration and work then play into Chuck’s work?
One of the best parts of being a creator is in the freedom to tell a story. That’s exactly what Chuck does with his characters in Halloween County. Each character is thought out and has a place and as they come alive, they are dressed for their role, behaving as one would expect. The Mayor is dressed to impress, carrying his scepter. The King of the Cornfield is perched on a pumpkin showing an attitude of authority with his stature and intensity.
Chuck loves fall colors. He loves the hues of orange and yellow. He loves the black and the white (warm white) and he loves to crackle and stain his pieces. He gets a lot of his ideas from Pinterest, specifically looking at things like Victorian toys. As his characters come to life, they fit right into the story he has imagined for his spooky Halloween County!
One thing I like to know from artists is what they are thinking as they create:
As Chuck works with the paper clay, he is envisioning how his character will be portrayed in his village. Halloween County is a place of love. There is no room for hate. It is a place that many of us love, that special Halloween day stretched into eternity. A place where you can be someone or something else and be happy. It never snows (YAY!) and everyone has a fondness and respect for one another.
In the creation process, hands always go last. Never first. It’s at the very end when it will just come to him as to what that character might hold. It could be a pumpkin, or it could be a Trick or Treat bag full of candy. Either way, it’s always last. Like an ‘ah ha’ moment that completes the piece.
I ask Chuck when he is most satisfied with his work:
As with most artists, Chuck feels quite vulnerable when he puts his art out to the public. He wants his art to be loved and appreciated. It’s when a collector looks at the final design and ‘smiles’ that he knows his story has been told. He feels the most satisfaction though when a collector sends him an email and says that they LOVE his work. That’s his reward.
One of my favorite pieces from Chuck:
I don’t know if I have said it before, but people shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to their favorite artists and let them know how much they are appreciated. They are people too and they have feelings! Send a note today to your artist of choice and just take a moment to tell them that you love their work and how much you appreciate them!
While we all have a ‘job’ (even though the job may be a passion), it’s nice to know what people do outside of their everyday work. Chuck is no exception, so I ask him “what do you do outside of your day job”?
There are days that Chuck loves to have a good cup of coffee (check out his coffee offering on his website) and go meander around Goodwill or Menard’s. There’s nothing more satisfying than to come across a good find that you take home to treasure. He also loves to have a beer at the end of the day and just relax as he scrolls through Pinterest (SAME!).
He is also active in some local clubs supporting his political preference, animal rescue, PFLAG, and has recently been awarded the honor of being on the board at the art gallery. Sounds like a lot!
So where does he go from here I wonder?
Chuck will continue his art for as long as he can. He has a goal to keep pushing and wants the world to know who he is. He’s hopeful to continue creating characters for his Halloween Village, but also to create other fun holiday art. One of my favorites is Bedtime Santa. Take a look at the detail in the slippers and the little mouse! In this next year, he’ll also have several Belsnickle Santas for us to enjoy!
Holiday Pizzazz will continue to carry your favorite collectibles from Chuck McClenning. We love to see not only the current works, but also can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next year!