I’m in a shop where posters on the walls feature Wisconsin legends, ranging from the Hodag to the Devil’s Lake Monster. The prints heavily feature dark blues, grays and forest greens, reflecting foggy atmospheres and midnight mysteries. Nearby, technicolor shirts with printed animal designs lie on shelves. So do glass mugs and greeting cards and candles. Zip-Dang, billed as the purveyors of the un-massproduced unusual, sits among gold-tinted trees at the corner of Monroe and Knickerbocker on Madison’s west side.
“I oftentimes call myself half-graphic designer, half-folklorist or half-historian cause I just love facts. I like looking into history, I like doing research, I like reading about things that happened wherever I’m at. Particularly like right now, obviously, in Wisconsin. So, a lot of the prints that I make are based on history stuff; so the folklore series, the Wisco-Mythos prints are all Wisconsin folklore. It’s just looking up these kind of weird, little folkloric or spooky stories that happened in Wisconsin—because we’re a very weird state—and making art out of it,” says Mike Bass, one half of Zip Dang. He specializes in creating the prints on the walls, which range from facts about Madison lakes to urban legends. Natalie Bass designs the clothing around the store.
“Well, my design style is definitely inspired by the Sixties and the fashion and color and style of everything being very monochromatic and being bold and bright. I love bold and bright patterns, so that’s what you see when you come in here on almost everything,” she says.
Some of the artwork draws inspiration from Madison and Wisconsin. Mike says these expanded naturally from his interests. “That started as I wanted to do a poster or print about the name of the lakes here in Madison. And then when I did the research, it ballooned into something much bigger. Same with the folklore and some of the other— like the Farmers Market prints. Those all kind of have a Wisconsin-centric theme to them.”
Natalie agrees. She also says one of the benefits of being a local artist is forging connections with the community. “When you have repeat customers and neighborhood people and friends that come in that you know now because they’re regulars you can order and make things according to what people ask for and what people say they want and that’s a really huge benefit and that’s one of the most rewarding and probably fun things about being a small business is when something I can make or order is something someone asks for, and then they come in and get it, and they’re like ‘oh this is so great this is exactly what I wanted’ and you’ve made that happen.”
Lately, they’re preparing for the Halloween season with plenty of themed accessories. They’ve created everything from skeleton t-shirts to Frankenstein kitchen towels, while grinning Devil faces gaze from coffee mugs.
Another Wisconsin artist is also preparing for the Halloween season with Christmas ornaments sporting Devil faces. Artist Memento Moira, who prefers her artist name over her legal one, Andrea Jacoby, operates her studio as an online shop. I discovered her art at the Madison Odd Market pop-up a few weeks ago. Her art involves using material and images in creative ways. This ranges from jewelry to candles to clothing – all with a spooky or Victorian twist, with influences from her upbringing.
“My father was Hungarian and my mom was into horror movies. So, in the early 70s I was watching Hammer horror films with my mom and I had commented to my family that Dracula sounded like my grandmother. So, my dad having been an English professor read my Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and I don’t think that I was even in the elementary school. So I’ve always been into the creepy,” she explains.
Moira draws her focus from everything around her – whether it’s Milwaukee cemeteries to crumbling, abandoned structures that litter the countryside. She sells everything from dresses printed with old, grainy Victorian photographs to skeleton key necklaces. Similar to Mike Bass, she draws from Wisconsin’s weird side, especially the numerous legends that populate the state. “Every town has their own spooky legend, whether that’s the old house down the road or an accident that happened 100 years ago at the mill, and sometimes you can still hear the workers. There’s a lot of paranormal and weird in Wisconsin!”