Uncover the curse at the Merchant Street Art Gallery

October 13, 2018

The Merchant Street Art Gallery of Artists with Autism invites you to uncover “The Curse of the Black Phone” beginning Friday.

“The Curse” is the gallery’s first Halloween-themed art presentation. Art therapist Dawn Wolfe leads the presentation alongside artists Drew Carriker, Andrew Carroll, Julia Knitter, Shiro Ma, Caitlin Phillips, Jonathan Small and Jenna Varley.

Wolfe and the gallery artists have created an interactive art exhibition, inspired by the classic game of “Clue,” requesting guests to unlock the “curse” plaguing the gallery, which was the previous location of a Kankakee telephone company.

Julia Knitter, 16, of Bourbonnais, wrote the story of “The Curse.” Inspired by works such as the Netflix series “Stranger Things” and the novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” Knitter researched actual curses online and adapted them for her story.

In Knitter’s story, a phone operator named Mirriam Sorrell, working at the gallery’s own location, mysteriously disappeared Oct. 13, 1944. Years later, there is still mystery surrounding her death and what became of those who knew her.

Knitter, who identifies as more of a writer than an artist, said she had a great time writing the story, though she did experience some bouts of writer’s block.

“I really enjoyed it all, but I really, really enjoyed writing it, even though it took a lot of effort,” Knitter said.

During the more frustrating parts of the writing process, Knitter received some help from the rest of the group.

They all collaborated during their creation and production meetings at the gallery during September and October, which allowed Knitter to receive constructive criticism and new ideas from the group and use them in her writing. In the end, the group’s efforts proved successful.

Guests of “The Curse of the Black Phone” will hear the story as they walk around the gallery and view original artwork. Under the curse, all the art has become “creepy” and “unsettling,” Knitter said. So, if you’re looking for pleasant, happy artwork, look elsewhere.

The works created for the gallery’s “Curse” are unlike anything many of the artists have done previously. The artists have tapped into their “creepy” sides while creating the presentation, Wolfe said, though some artists already had embraced their “unsettling” art.

“I really like building creepy things,” said Carriker, who has been with the gallery since its inception about three years ago. For example, he built a “creepy” knight named “Midknight,” among several other works.

Even Carriker, a seasoned artist, was able to learn a lot from the planning and creation of “The Curse.”

“I’ve already known that doing art takes a lot of patience,” he said, “but now I know that doing art increases your patience.”

Carriker has devoted weeks to creating many of his art pieces, he said, because they all require careful attention to detail and an occasionally monotonous design process.

“The Curse” displays all different mediums of art, including classic paintings and drawings, as well as some three-dimensional art and written art pieces.

To experience what Knitter calls a “family-friendly horror,” contact gallery director Janice Miller at 815-685-9057 or jmiller_etc@yahoo.com to purchase tickets and reserve a spot. Spacing is limited, so it is recommended you buy tickets in advance.

“The Curse of the Black Phone” will be presented at 6 and 8 p.m. Oct. 19, 20, 26 and 27. The show lasts about 40 minutes. Because of the scary content of the show, guests younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Tickets cost $15; all proceeds go toward the gallery, which runs on volunteers, sponsors and grants to remain open.

After the final show, an open reception will be held at 9 p.m. Oct. 27, where guests can meet the artists and learn more about their works.

While attending “The Curse,” a silent auction will be held for certain art pieces beginning with the first showtime. Guests can place bids to buy art pieces until the auction closes at 10 p.m. Oct. 27. All proceeds from the auction directly benefit the artists and the gallery.

For more information, contact Miller, or find the gallery on Facebook.

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