When Bangor artist Ben Layman sees an old porcelain doll, he doesn’t see an old-fashioned toy for children. He sees a demonic child, possessed by a malicious spirit.
But Layman, well known to Maine theater fans as a longtime artist and educator with the Penobscot Theater Company and its Dramatic Academy, is the kind of guy who’s Halloween for all year round. So much so that when the pandemic struck in March 2020 and the lights went out on the Bangor Opera stage, he started picking up old dolls, dollhouses, toys and discarded household items. and other upcycled pieces, and turn them into Halloween decor – or anytime decor, really.
“I live for this stuff. I am obsessed with horror movies. My house looks like this all year round, ”Layman said. “I fell completely into the creepy craft rabbit hole. I’m obsessed with it now.
Layman got his start with YouTube tutorials, learning to use tools and paints to pick up various objects and age them, distress them, or make them spooky. One of his first experiments was to take a skeleton from a Halloween store, wrap it in plastic drop cloth, and use a heat gun to melt the plastic onto the skeleton to create the appearance. of rotten flesh. He was extremely happy with the results and got hooked straight away.
Soon after, the pandemic struck. Faced with what turned out to be more than 18 months without taking the stage, Layman discovered that his newfound love of “creepy crafts” became a vital creative outlet for him.
“It has absolutely become my pandemic mental health project,” he said. “It just made me forget everything and let me be creative and not get depressed by, you know, everything.”
Since then, he has filled his Bangor home with projects, almost all of them created from items found at thrift stores, yard sales, and dollar stores, or given to him by friends. Among his favorite projects are the Barbie Dreamhouses he reimagined as haunted houses, in equal parts the Addams Family Mansion and the Marsten House from Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot”. It fills homes with creepy little pieces of furniture and even miniaturized scenes, like in a horror movie.
For porcelain dolls, Layman paints each of them and dyes their clothes to achieve the look he wants. Sometimes it’s a vampire bride, sometimes a Victorian ghost, and sometimes a possessed child, like Regan from “The Exorcist”. And for plastic dolls, he cuts off their heads, paints them and puts LED lights in them to create a doll lamp or lantern.
“There is a lot of room for experimentation,” Layman said. “In total, I don’t think I spent more than $ 200 on everything, and most of it was on paint and stain and things like that. These are things that would otherwise be thrown away, but you can kind of turn them into something really unique and creative. “
Layman will be launching his Etsy store in the coming weeks and a Halloween sale is slated for this Saturday at 160 Ohio St. in Bangor, where he will sell his many Halloween items including dollhouses, dolls, lamps and lanterns, horror in hand. movie-themed tabletop coffins and a range of small jack-o-lanterns – which have been carved from moss into fancy shapes and faces, then sealed so they can be put outside.
Eventually, Layman hopes to offer classes, teaching people how to make their own spooky crafts.
“Anyone can do this,” he said. “It’s so much more fun making things than going out and buying them. And it is not difficult. It’s amazing what a coat of paint can do. It can have a really drastic effect on anything you work with.
As for his first love – the theater – the Penobscot Theater in-person season begins November 18 with “Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play,” which will be Layman and PTC’s first live performance in nearly 20 months. . . He’s also busy with the Dramatic Academy’s fall classes, which, unsurprisingly, are all Halloween-themed and include a streaming performance of a stage adaptation of the “Scary Stories To Tell In” short story collection. The Dark “.
“I can’t wait to get back on stage,” Layman said. “But the creepy crafts ended up becoming so much more than a hobby for me. It’s something that I have grown to really love.