I am currently a La Mesa Oktoberfest curmudgeon. In my early 20’s I lived ten feet from the corner of 4th and La Mesa Boulevard – the epicenter of Oktoberfest brawls and late-night barfing.
I liked it better back then.
The heart and soul of a community get-together — good food, a little drink, and some goofy dancing — have been traded straight into the hands of knick-knack vendors. It’s like a Koby’s swap meet planted with a German flag. If only some of the stuff were Germanesque, or locally produced, or at least handmade…
On O-fest Saturday, with my bad attitude in hand, I cruised the main drag feeling entire satisfaction in my disdain for the widgets and wares being (falsely) plied under the guise of Deutsch delight.
Thus I was totally unprepared, as I stepped into the doorway of Handful of Wildflowers, to fall in love with a table full of Halloween crafts.
Now there are a couple of things you should know about me. 1. My love of Halloween decorations is right up there with my love of taking a vacation with a large group on a tour bus (i.e. not up there). 2. My love of clever and quality handmade is up there with my love of a sexy white wine and a plate of fresh lobster (i.e. way up there).
With that in mind you should come to appreciate what a difficult task these strangely attractive and curious items faced to cast their spell over me. A beguiling mix of ravens and skulls, jewels and vintage doll heads, skeletons and flowers, permeated the ghoulish yet friendly collection of decorations and do-dads.
Innocent eyes and infant smiles took on whole new meanings perched atop candlestick holders and in curio boxes, dangling disembodied from earrings and necklaces, or peeking out from behind vintage lace on a felt hat. There were greeting cards, pins, candy dishes and best of all, in my opinion, head bands. All were infused with the same tongue-in-cheek morbid whimsy, and I thought to myself that this was the work of one clever craftsman. After a few short moments of admiring the creative goods on the table, it donned on me that I knew the artist.
Jennifer Wiley (or JennStar68 as she signs her pieces) is the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates. I knew her to be an avid paper-crafter and remembered her mentioning she made decorative head bands, or “tiaras” as she says, to celebrate various holidays. So when I saw the elaborately worked tiaras — I would almost call them headdresses — I knew this must be her work. A quick glance at the tag confirmed it.
The tiaras (in the $35 range and which by the time I went back the next day had all flown off the shelves) were my favorite pieces. Somewhere between costume and artwork for the head, she has devised a one-piece way for child or adult to express Halloweenism in a fun and stylish manner. Her work is rich in detail – a mix of new and vintage objects, arranged poetically and whimsically, as if each piece were embedded with a virtual wink from its author. (If Tim Burton wore head bands, they’d be JennStar68’s.)
The collection that Jennifer had at Handful of Wildflowers was not only clever (and attractive) it communicated a unique voice. As I stood there appreciating her work, and imagining it just as easily in a full spread in Elle magazine as in this gift shop in downtown La Mesa, I thought I should and could spread the word about her creativity.
I caught up with Jennifer and asked her to tell me about her work. This is what she told me:
“My creations are all one of a kind. I feel they are like coloring outside of the lines, made up of various odds and ends, vintage findings and bits. I love to turn something old and tired into something new and whimsy.”
“The vintage-inspired tiaras and hats have no words… it’s like an entire play on top of your head. You know when you look inside a snow globe and there’s this whole fantasy world in there? It’s like that but better. I create for Halloween, Christmas, New Years, birthdays and themes.”
“I have been doing this for about 6 years now. I am originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan… the offspring of two amazing artists… metal sculpture artist, Sonny Dalton, and Roxie Dalton. Currently I am a Southern California gal who enjoys life, vintage finds, re-purposing items into art, family, pets and friends. I have been unemployed for a year and a half and my passion would be to be able to continue to do this as a full-time career.”
So even though I’m still an Oktoberfest curmudgeon, I am delighted to have found Jennifer’s work (and am certain her passion will take her where she wants to go), and hold hope that this kind of originality will plant a seed that the Oktoberfest can continue to grow, and harvest, in years to come.
Jennifer’s work can be found locally at: Handful of Wildflowers in La Mesa, With Love in San Diego, and Out of the Blue in Solana Beach, or online at www.etsy.com/shop/Spooktacular; www.etsy.com/shop/creepycutehallow; or www.etsy.com/shop/jenstar68
She also does custom orders and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org