This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 9, 2008 - A furry black creature with big teeth and pink spikes stretched out its arms in welcome at the Crammed Organisms plush show – an exhibit in four parts.
Michael Browning, a student at Washington University, came with his roommates to check out the show's first event at Delmar's Star Clipper Comics. Browning's childhood teddy bear, Teddy, looked nothing like the two-headed girls, green blobs and other works.
"It's funny to see something like stuffed animals that are kind of a household fixture to be treated creatively," the 21-year-old said.
The "plush" on view are individual artists' ideas of stuffed animals. Many use found materials, recycled clothing and quirky touches to create wholly new creatures.
The show was organized by 21-year-old David Wolk, owner of Cranky Yellow, a boutique and independent publishing house. The idea came about during a conversation between Wolk and artist and Cranky Yellow worker Cate Aneuski.
"It started out not quite as big and then, as we went on we said, 'Oh, we can do this and we can do this' and it kind of grew into this monster that consumed six months of my life," Wolk said laughing. The St. Louis Craft Mafia and other groups co-sponsored and worked with Wolk to put on the show's four events. They will also publish a coffee-table book of the entries.
Crammed Organisms' theme is "Fairy, Folk and Fable." Artists were given free rein to put the theme into plush, Wolk said.
"We wanted stuff that was kind of funky and edgy," he said. "It was pretty tough because everything was exactly what we were looking for."
Other plush shows have been held in cities such as Seattle, but St. Louisans are claiming that this show is the largest. It certainly challenges old notions of plush creations.
One of artist Stephanie Richardson's pieces featured a tree with a face. Richardson, 25, said she believes interest in plush as a craft is growing.
"I think all of these artists are kind of on the same page," she said. "It looks like we're all children of the '80s whose minds were warped by all these strange cartoons. It's just like fun character development and it's fun because you can't mess up."
Not only did visitors enjoy the creations of others, they could search for the right old shirts and eyes to make their own creatures after viewing new local and international takes on the traditional stuffed animal.
One hundred thirty artists from 15 countries participated in the show. It’s first venue was Star Clipper on June 6. It moves to Cranky Yellow on Cherokee Street June13. It will also be at Subterranean Books and Apop Records. The plush pieces are for sale and a six-foot tall plush work will be raffled off. Portions of Crammed Organisms profits' will go to charity.
"We're kind of using this empire of plush we've built to effect some social change," Wolk said.
Sarah Boyle, 28, and Chrissie Scelsi, 26, came out to support their friend Richardson. Boyle, an amateur plush artist, also came for inspiration.
"Once you have some vague idea of the work that goes into it, you appreciate it more," Boyle said. "You know it's not just somebody with a sewing machine and some scrap." Planning Crammed Organisms began in 2007. Suzanne Shenkman, 36, a member of the St. Louis Craft Mafia and one of the show's organizers, said that once word spread, the challenge became sorting through the hundreds of images from artists interested in participating in the show as well as keeping track of entries.
After the artists were chosen from 200 applications, each submitted four or more creatures. Works represent artists from countries such as New Zealand, Sweden and Israel. The number of works created space issues, Shenkman said.
"You can only imagine boxes and boxes of plush coming in every day," Shenkman said. About 20 volunteers worked tagging, photographing and setting up the show. "It was fun because you're just surrounded by these creatures and it just makes you smile," Shenkman said. "It's like falling into a soft world. It's not your mother's plush."
If you want to go
Crammed Organisms show "Fairy, Folk and Fable"
Fridays in June, 7 to 11 p.m. The remaining events are:
- June 13 - Cranky Yellow Boutique, 2122 Cherokee St., St. Louis, includes an outdoor craft market
- June 20 - Subterranean Books and Gallery, 6275 Delmar Ave., University City, with a "Plush You" book giveaway
- June 27 - Apop Records, 2831 Cherokee St., St. Louis, features live music
- There will be a raffle, goody bags and prizes at events. Ten percent of the show's proceeds go to charity. For more information, visit www.crammedorganisms.com
To reach author Amelia Flood, contact Beacon features and commentary editor Donna Korando. Photos by Rachel Heidenry, Beacon