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CENTERPIECE: Petaluma artist’s ‘creature’ comforts

WHERE TO FIND CHRISTY SILACCI’S CREATIONS

Christy Silacci is one of 64 artists who will be exhibiting at the 9th annual Holiday Crafterino on Sunday Nov. 12, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Hall, 1094 Petaluma Blvd S. Silacci’s creatures are also sold at Summer Cottage Antiques, 153 Kentucky Street, Petaluma. More of her creatures are on display on her website at ChristySilacci.com.

“I was 30 before I started making art,” recalls Christy Silacci, Petaluma-based doll-creator and inventor of weird, whimsical “folk art” creatures. Born in Two Rock, a small community just west of Petaluma, Silacci, 70, grew up on her parents’ ranch, where she developed a deep bond with the land and the animals that share it. Of her knack for creating imaginative beings out of fabric scraps and leftovers, she explains, “One day I bought a Santa figure. I liked him, but something wasn’t quite right. So I tore some of his pieces off and redid him. And that’s when I started making creatures.”

Ever since, the sheer joy of making uncommon critters has guided Silacci’s crafting career. To date, she estimates she’s built thousands of the little cloth creations, each one brimming with charm and personality.

“I see things in odd ways,” Silacci admits. To her, a bottle cap and some twigs, and just the right little piece of wood, are the raw components of a life not yet created, the first part of a unique creative process that almost always begins with trash.

Laughs Silacci, “When I walk down the street and pick up stuff, my friends ask, ‘What are you doing!’ and I say, ‘Wouldn’t this make a perfect nose?’ I found some old wire, brought it home, washed it and it became some creature’s wonderful hairdo.”

With the nose and hairdo (or other limbs and features) thus identified, all she needs then are some bodies.

Silacci explains, “I start by making a few bodies. Maybe I don’t even know what they are going to be. All of a sudden, an idea will just pop into my head, and I say to myself, “What if I do that? And usually I do. After that, the little creatures build themselves. I don’t really think about it. It just comes to me. Every single one is a separate being. That’s what I like about them.”

Silacci explains that her process is a mysterious one, in which she “listens’ to her little creatures as she builds them, watching as a personality begins to emerge with each new creation. It’s a blend of the unexpected and the spontaneous. When it stops being just a collection of stuff, and becomes an actual person, she knows she’s done.

Of this “I’m done” moment, Silacci says, “It’s just the way it is, not even how I wanted it to be. All of a sudden, it’ll be like, ‘OMG! There you are! There are my people!”

Silacci adds, “I make animals, but I call them my people. Born in the dumps from stuff people threw away.”

Since starting her craft business, Silacci’s oddball beasties have won themselves plenty of fans, some of whom travel long distances to craft shows just to have first-crack at her latest designs. The thing-a-ma-beasts have even been featured in their own YouTube video, created by producer and writer Bryan Hale. His 92-second-long mock-TV-advertisement puts Silacci’s creations into a fictional reality television show called “Down in the Dumps, Again!” It’s a cross between “Gilligan’s Island” and the “Island of Misfit Toys,” with a bit of “The Kardashians” thrown in for good measure.

Collector Leslie Taylor is well acquainted with Silacci’s unique blend of natural elements and human cast-offs. For Taylor, who has acquired over 70 of Silacci’s “people,” she feels a strong emotional connection to the one-of-a-kind art pieces.

WHERE TO FIND CHRISTY SILACCI’S CREATIONS

Christy Silacci is one of 64 artists who will be exhibiting at the 9th annual Holiday Crafterino on Sunday Nov. 12, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Hall, 1094 Petaluma Blvd S. Silacci’s creatures are also sold at Summer Cottage Antiques, 153 Kentucky Street, Petaluma. More of her creatures are on display on her website at ChristySilacci.com.

“They have spirit!” Taylor exclaims. “Most folk art is monochromatic. Silacci’s critters burst with the colors and materials of the natural world. There is something mystical about her work, like a view behind the curtain, evoking forests, vegetable spirits, wood smoke and full moons.”

Taylor says the creatures convey a strong connection to the earth, one that flows through Silacci’s work. The creations, she describes, are, “intertwined with edgier versions of Vintage farmhouse and Grandma’s kitchen. Mixing Jell-O molds and old aluminum funnels with eucalyptus twigs and baling wire, Silacci’s experiments are out at the edge, using trash repurposed in a spiritual or metaphysical way.”

Silacci says she makes creatures all year long. By her own estimate, there are some 2500 of the critters in existence.

“I make about 80 to 100 a year, so when I sell one, it’s a form of population control,” she says. “I have twenty books of ideas. I could never get to all of them even if I live to be 100. I do keep about 25 to 40 favorites that I love, at home. There are several I made about ten years ago, and some days I think, ‘It’s time for some of you guys to find a new home.’”

Silacci insists that making her craft pieces is anything but “work.”

“I glow with happiness when I’m creating,” she says. “I can never quit. I have to make them.”

Adds Silacci, “To me, they really are like people I’ve known, people who go off and have their own adventure.”