October Issue, 2013

Halloween Haven

“The reaction I get from everybody is, ‘I can’t believe that is made out of papier-mâché,’” says Midland artist Scott Stoll.  No kidding. Looking around Stoll’s Stolloween studio near downtown Midland, at tables full of witches’ heads, pumpkins with grotesquely twisted expressions (marketed as Tortured Pumpkins—Really Bad Seeds), leering demons, and even a giant replica of a child’s beloved stuffed bunny, it is hard to believe these creations are made from clay, newspaper, cardboard, and good ole flour-based paste.

Stoll has been immersed in all things gory, and using papier-mâché to create it, since his college days, when he tackled a Ferris State University television production class assignment with something a bit beyond the standard “how to make a cookie” or “ how to change a tire,” as his classmates were doing. Instead, he produced A Beginner’s Guide to Grave Robbing, complete with friends digging up papier-mâché cadavers in front of papier-mâché headstones planted in his parents’ yard, jewelry encased in gelatinous goo, and, of course, creamed corn “vomit” splattered onto glass perched atop the camera. “I created a reputation for myself at that point,” laughs Stoll.

Scott Stoll - Midland Studio

His serious creations began in 1992, when for the first time he had a yard of his own to decorate for Halloween. And, oh, how it’s decorated! Larger-than-life witches gathered around a cauldron to brew up some nastiness, gargoyles perched atop 9-foot-tall columns, demon reapers awaiting their next victim—each year has a different theme. This year’s display will feature cartoonish bats and balancing demon sculptures, with hands and heads bobbing in the slightest breeze. “It’s always the same questions,” Stoll says, of people who stop to admire the display. The dialog goes something like this:

“Where did you buy all this?”

“I didn’t buy it; I made it.”

“What’s it made of?”

“Papier-mâché.”

“No way!”

Stoll stresses using the most basic items in his artistic creations. Thanks to his participating in some online papier-mâché contests over the years (many of which, not surprisingly, he won) that challenged contestants to use specifically assigned items, Stoll now has winged angels of death resting on unseen buckets, a grinning skeleton made with a candle, a stick, and string, a gargoyle that started with a water bottle, and, of course, his tortured pumpkins, which begin life as garbage bags stuffed with newspaper.

ScottStoll-ZombieHeadHis endeavors took a professional turn in 2006, when he entered, and won, a Reader’s Digest contest for a Halloween display that featured his demon reapers. As a result of that publicity, he was getting so many how-to requests that he went online with www.stolloween.com, which features tutorials for many of his creations. From there, he started participating in national forums for home haunters. “That set me on fire,” says Stoll, and suddenly papier-mâché wasn’t just for Halloween anymore, but a 365-day undertaking, creating items for sale as well as teaching instructional workshops and making custom creations.

Stoll offers a variety of workshops for making dragons and zombie heads to tribal masks, tortured pumpkins, and even a kid’s monster factory workshop, in which kids draw and design their own papier-mâché monster. Many of the pieces displayed in the studio are there to serve as both lessons and inspiration for students. It can be hard for them to imagine that their first rough-formed clay dragon head will lead in just two weeks to a beautiful, sleek creature. “A lot of my projects, you have to have a little faith,” Stoll says.

Stoll credits his own start with a trip to Disney World with his grandparents. For Stoll, who had idolized George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic effects in the Star Wars trilogy, and who had devoured every issue of Fangoria, a magazine dedicated to fans of horror movies, “that was like Nirvana, going through the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean,” he says.

The thrill did not end there: It drives his creativity still today. It is inspiration for his Halloween yard display, for each tortured pumpkin and demon head, and, yes, even for the replica of his son’s toy, “Mr. Bunny.”

“You know, people that visit our yard, they get that same look in their eyes,” Stoll says. “I’ve created an experience. And that’s why I do it. It still gives me chills. I like to create that experience.” •

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