Monsters aren’t all bad — at least when they’re dreamed up by kindergartners and rendered in squiggly marker lines and short written descriptions.
“A lot of the monsters are nice,” said Kia Liszak, executive director of the Zootown Arts Community Center.
The kids give them friendly human qualities, such as food preferences (some like pizza, others like dumplings) and hobbies and interests (music, camping). Kids being kids, some of the monsters would prefer to eat brains, or squish people for fun.
Those quirky discoveries are part of the charm of the seventh annual Missoula Monster Project. The nonprofit partnered with classes from three elementary schools — Hawthorne, Lewis and Clark and Rattlesnake — to get it started. The kids drew monsters, and adult artists from the community signed up to interpret the creature in their own style.
So many adults signed up that the ZACC was able to assign two adults per kid monster. That adds up to 333 adult monsters on view this month in the ZACC’s Main Gallery, with around 110 already sold. The proceeds go toward youth art education programs including art projects, supplies, scholarships, or more.
It’s a homegrown exhibition that started quite small seven years ago, with Asa Smetanka, the 9-year-old son of local animator-artist Andy Smetanka, and just over a dozen artworks. It grew organically from there to become one of the largest and most popular exhibitions at the ZACC.
This is only the second held in its new building, and the line during the First Friday art walk drew strong foot traffic with a line around the block. (To keep capacity low inside the gallery, people had to queue up.)
What are they so eager to see?
Elon, a student at Hawthorne, drew a speckle-bodied, bug-eyed creature who is “mad,” “lives in the dark,” and “turns rainbow when he is mad.” Geoff Pepos, an artist with software skills, created an animated 3D version that’s on display on a mounted smartphone.
Sarah Aswell, a writer and comedian, crocheted a hat interpretation of a red, blue, green and pink monster with an oval-shaped body, tiny arms and ostrich legs and four eyes. (This headwear has limbs, too.) The original creator, Cassidy of Lewis & Clark Elementary School, provided this blueprint to her creature’s hobbies, preferences and social life:
“My monster likes to listen to music.
“My monster eats meat.
“My monster has lots of friends.”
Liszak pointed out how the mediums are all over the place. Paintings, drawings, ceramics, prints of monsters making prints.
“This is a jewelry maker,” Liszak said, “and she made a full earring set and necklace. And it still resembles the monster.”
Janine Mazzola’s design is heavy on hoops whose interiors are ringed with cartoonish monster teeth. The description by Beau, a Rattlesnake student, includes another note that its “green eyes shoot trees,” and accordingly, the necklace has many trees on it.
Shanley Swanson’s piece has a geometric beaded design on leather. The blocky robot-style body stands atop a wooden “Monopoly”-like land with actual red and green houses. The original creator, Lucas of Lewis & Clark Elementary, wrote that the creature is not here to play: “My monster likes to fight the villagers.”
For what it’s worth, it also likes to “eat fresh carrots."
Not so scary after all.