Baton Rouge has become known for its growing arts scene, but a new niche group is on the rise: the obscure art community. From spiderweb jewelry to framed preserved butterflies, oddities are being embraced by local makers who gain inspiration from nature’s curiosities.
Putting their own spin on taxidermy, these artists ethically source their materials from sanctuaries and even roadsides and encase them in vintage frames and glass domes. Their goal is to create new life out of materials that might have otherwise been buried or forgotten.
Recently, they launched the Obscure Art Market pop-up, where they can sell their goods and connect with the community. From dried animal hearts to bleached jaw bones with teeth still intact, these items are fitting for spooky season but can also add something unique to home decor year-round. Meet these Baton Rouge creators who are turning passed creatures into conversation-starting art.
Story Berthier tries to make death as pretty as possible. From framed vertebrae to stuffed parakeet heads, Berthier works to memorialize the critters she works with by making art that freezes them in time. Almost every creature is given a name so that it can live on in its new life as an art piece.
“I try to capture the beauty of nature even after it’s gone,” she says. “I’ve always been a weird little child. Looking back, I’ve always picked up stuff. I’ve always been intrigued by bugs, and I will never be the one to harm the spider.”
Berthier began her business, Odd Storyland, by selling colorful gemstone jewelry. It has since expanded to include pet memorials, pinned bugs and other oddities that Berthier finds fascinating. She dreams up creative ways to display her art in objects like gumball machines, clocks and candle lanterns. Berthier creates her own jewelry, which now consists of chains holding gothic pendants and corked jars containing bones, teeth and dried flowers.
“My mission is to preserve things that would usually freak people out and try to make them pretty,” she says.
Fans can shop her creations through her Instagram page and catch her at local pop-ups like the Obscure Art Market. instagram.com/oddstoryland
Shantell Gomez remembers her mother’s greenhouse as the place that first sparked her curiosity for bugs. As they got trapped in the hot space, the bugs naturally passed away. Gomez would discover all types of dead insects, just like the ones she uses today to create art with her business, Framed Findings. What started as a part-time project has progressed into a full-time business that now includes jewelry, domes and, of course, framed pieces.
“I don’t necessarily describe my art as creepy,” she says. “I would describe it as a way to give some kind of life after death or seeing some type of beauty after death. So I just try to incorporate that as much as I can with my pieces.”
Gomez sources her materials from nature or from sanctuaries. She says she keeps an eye out for bones when she walks her dogs along the levee. She even got to keep some dental pieces from her previous job as a vet tech, and she uses scaly skin from a friend’s pet snake’s monthly sheds. Gomez makes sure to get full use out of all her materials by creating earrings and collages with broken wings and miscellaneous leftovers.
After realizing that there was a growing community of people who appreciate oddities and curiosities in Baton Rouge, Gomez spearheaded the first Obscure Art Market held at Brickyard South this past July. This pop-up market specializes in oddities and works to bring this new arts community together.
“I just wanted a pop-up that was all-inclusive,” she says. framedfindings.bigcartel.com
The Urban Flora
Arika Shaffett carries a pair of gloves and a bag with her everywhere she goes. She wants to be ready in case she spots some roadside animal skeletons to use for her art. She even recalls a time when she was driving to buy driftwood out in the country and saw a full goat skull on the side of the road. The skull was next to a live alligator, but Shaffett knew this find was too good to pass up.
“I pulled over, got out of the car and was like ‘I’m going to fight this alligator for this goat skull,’” she says. “And I still have that goat skull displayed in my own curiosities cabinet.”
As someone who loves plants and works with them daily, Shaffett initially focused her business on plants, operating under the name Pot It Like It’s Hot. She has since rebranded into The Urban Flora, inspired by new life taking over what would naturally decay. Though Shaffett loves to make pieces from bugs and bones, she’s also expanded her art to include other creations like repainted dolls, vintage pieces and plants.
Catch her at various pop-ups around town like the Obscure Art Market, The Pink Elephant’s trunk sales, and events like this fall’s White Light Night and next spring’s Hot Art Cool Nights. Shaffett encourages everyone to give obscure artists a chance. She says people might be surprised and want to start their own collections. instagram.com/the.urban.flora
ABOUT THE EVENT
Obscure Art Market
Baton Rouge’s Obscure Art Market embraces those who love all things odd—and occasionally spooky. The makers define “obscure art” as unconventional, sometimes dark objects transformed into beautiful creations. The event boasts taxidermy, antiques, jewelry, sculptures and other art. Ahead of Halloween, catch the next market Saturday, Oct. 22, at Brickyard South and the 13th Gate.
This article was originally published in the October 2022 issue of 225 magazine.