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Fort Wayne Fantasy Festivity
The myths inside the mundane
By Rebecca Stockert
Fort Wayne Reader
Fort Wayne artists Nick Ferran and Jack Ellsworth are bringing a special Midwest mythology-themed art exhibit to the Valontine business located in The City Exchange Shops downtown at 127 W Wayne St #100. The Fort Wayne Fantasy Art Extravaganza event opened the evening of Thursday, February 15th, but artwork that did not sell that night will be available in the shop through March. The prints and merchandise sold during the Art Extravaganza are limited edition and, in the words of Ellsworth: “When they are gone, they’re gone!”
The Fort Wayne Fantasy Art Extravaganza is based on the mythological and mystical aspects of Fort Wayne and the Midwest. Ellsworth explains: “Since I was a child I’ve always loved magical and mythical creatures and as an adult they are still important icons in my life and my now, my business. I wanted to showcase that magic can be found in the mundane Midwest existence – like if you look close enough you can find fantasy anywhere. Fort Wayne has become a city of budding opportunity and I feel you can create your own destiny here.”
Like a wonderstruck traveler seeing the Sierra mountains for the first time, Ellsworth sees the same sublimity in the nooks and crannies all around Indiana. The area has its own lore and mythology, if you know where to look. For the Fort Wayne Fantasy Art Extravaganza, Ellsworth and Ferran looked at three neighborhoods, Downtown, Lakeside, and West Central, and created work exploring the magical aspects of these places. The duo may also branch out into other neighborhoods, if the project is successful.
The piece for West Central depicts a two-color scene reaching back into the past and into our imaginations. In the foreground, a unicorn gallops down the street next to train tracks with historic homes (an intrinsic characteristic of the neighborhood to the present day) in the background. The darkness of the scene and vivid night sky can only be made possible by existing in a time before the widespread use of electricity. There is a wildness to the scene that is accentuated by the tall, black trees framing the houses.
Ferran feels a similar draw to the city as Ellsworth, contributing to the collaboration’s success: “...when I was walking down Washington Boulevard at dusk to take reference photos for the drawings, it felt like the city was pushing me to discover more of that subtle magic and mystery that has kept me, and so many others, enchanted with Fort Wayne."
The unicorn has a its own place in the history of art and the imaginations of people. European and Middle Eastern artwork from the middle ages to the present have seen the occasional appearance of the mythical beast. Horses and horse-like creatures with a variety of horns have represented the many different ideas of what people imagine the creature to be like. But one thing remains constant: they are magical. Like the past, they come and go in our minds, visions of them being obscured and altered as we go. Just like our city’s past, we renegotiate with history on the details and use them to construct our future.
Two more pieces follow the two-color, mythological creature motif and feature Lakeside and Downtown. The Lakeside piece portrays the iconic rose gardens, the Indiana state bird (the cardinal), and a mermaid lounging just on the edge of the pool. This isn’t Ariel, but rather a bored siren waiting for an unfortunate passerby. The downtown piece takes us to a bird’s-eye-view and leaves us wondering at the solidity of our safety. We are accompanied by a big-eyed griffin who acts as gatekeeper to the city of our dreams.
Collaborations between artists itself is a magical thing. There is a kind of alchemy that happens when a couple creative souls get together to make something larger than themselves. Ellsworth and Ferran have been working on the Fort Wayne Fantasy Art Extravaganza project together since July 2017, but they first met when they were both on the marketing team for Cinema Center’s 2017 Hobnobben Film Festival. Ellsworth explains the quick bonding that happened between the two artists: “We became fast friends and found we really got each other artistically.”
Valontine itself features goods enchanting in nature. A quick stroll around the shop will give the curious shopper plenty of strange and fantastic kitsch, paper goods, accessories, gifts, clothing, and novelty items. It is plain to see Ellsworth’s love of Fort Wayne and fascination with myth. Objects adorned with unicorns, pizza, cats, Beetlejuice, midwest memorabilia, and vulgarity line the walls and tables. The shop even carries cards featuring my celebrity crush, Christopher Walken. However, just because you find something there once doesn’t mean it will be there then next time, Ellsworth is always growing and changing the merchandise in his store, making each visit fresh and keeping regulars on their toes.
The name of the shop, Valontine (pronounced like the holiday, Valentine), comes from origin of Ellsworths’ own name. His legal name is James Valon Ellsworth III, after his grandfather who was born on Valentine’s Day. His great-grandmother wanted to name his grandfather Jimmy Valentine, but settled on James Valon.
The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am - 6 pm. Check them out on Facebook or Instagram @valontinevintage.