Jo Quillin Tomson is going back in time for Halloween. The Wichita artist is aiming to return people to a period when the annual autumn celebration was more fanciful and theatric in nature. Seventeen of her ghostly mixed-media collages are on display at Watermark Books and Cafe through Nov. 22.
Friday the public is invited to a “Heebie Jeebies Party” to see the vintage side of this spooky holiday.
“I’ve loved Halloween since I was a kid,” Tomson said. “I remember drawing pictures of things like ghosts, haunted houses and bats and putting them up all over our house. It’s always been my favorite holiday. I just love the dressing up, the element of being someone different for a day, and, of course, the trick-or-treating.”
Tomson said that Halloween has become disconnected from the fun care-free elements that defined it in earlier decades. For this series, she drew inspiration from the lighthearted bygone party-era of the holiday.
“Historically, this holiday was much more of a celebration. It was very whimsical. There were dances, parties and music,” she said. “They didn’t have the bloody costumes and the gore that you see today. I try to take people to a more simple time in my works.”
Tomson is a graphic designer and earned her graphic design degree from Ft. Hays State University. She’s the art director for The Strategy Group, a strategic marketing firm. Her husband is Howerton+White Senior art director Craig Tomson. They have a 7-year-old son Zayden, whom Tomson credits with giving her inspiration to make her Halloween-centric collages.
“I started doing these pieces about four years ago,” she said. “I feel like I get to relive my childhood a little bit by doing them, but it’s even better because now I can go trick-or-treating with my son.”
There’s a vintage quality to the pieces in this show. Each work is a colorful collage on art board augmented inside a black-framed shadow box that incorporates acrylics with cut images and word phrases. Many of the materials are from old issues of “Good Housekeeping” or “McCall’s.”
“Flapper Dress” centers on a witch-emblemed garment hung on a clothes rack adjacent to a spooky, spry owl. A masquerading moon peers upward amidst an illuminating red sky. Merriment and lore are themes of “Mr. Owl’s Hootenanny” as a bird entertains pumpkins and bats with his guitar. “Trick Or Treats” is a seminal Halloween piece with a friendly witch and feisty mage cajoling a playful pumpkin.
Mixed into the works are random word phrases that add meaning and intrigue to each box.
“I like to take simple words from out of the blue so people will ask themselves what those words mean,” she explained. “It’s sort of playful.”
For this show, Tomson hopes people will find happiness in the simplicity and spirited nature of the images.
“Have some fun, keep it light and carry on a light-hearted tradition with your children,” she said.