The spooky-artsy festival embracing Michigan’s weirdos: “Frankenfest”

It’s alive, and growing.

Beneath its spooky exterior, underneath the cosplay, the fishnets, the horror memorabilia and art that ponders mortality, “Frankenfest“ is a festival that celebrates being(s) slightly outside the mainstream.

It’s a half-art festival, half-costumed-Halloweenish extravaganza that’s been appearing at historical venues in Michigan since 2021. The fourth and final event of the 2023 season is an indoor event in Jackson, located in what was originally a 19th-century carriage factory.

“We don’t really classify it as a Halloween type of art fair, but it’s got that spooky flair to it,” said Frankenfest co-founder and artistic director Krista Johnston. “We’re just a bunch of weirdos, and you can express yourself in so many different ways. Whether it’s their fashion, or their artwork, it’s people who are just very expressive and comfortable in who they are. And they’re very welcomed.”

Artist Ashley Sanchez, of

Tyler Scott

Artist Ashley Sanchez, of “Lady Spirits 7” standing next to some of her recycled “garbage art”. She also has framed pieces featuring dried plants and small animal bones.

Nearly 60 vendors are listed for this Saturday’s “Bride of Frankenfest” in Jackson. The Frankenfest website also lists several “attractions” besides the people-watching and homespun art, including acrobatic troupe D3 Circus, the makers of the podcast “Haunted Mitten,” and tours about the history and architecture of Michigan’s first state prison.

The three previous Frankenfest events were at the Turner-Dodge House in Lansing, Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit (where organizers boasted it had 10,000 attendees) and the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in Port Huron.

At the Port Huron event, rows of vendors lined up on a field in the shadow of the old lighthouse. The feeling of being in a space created by others who came before added to the ambiance. It was fitting for Artist Ashley Sanchez, who creates what she calls “gothic home decor” inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe.

“I love the representation of life and death … with bones and different flowers and driftwood and things like that. It all comes full circle,” Sanchez said. “None of us make it out alive.”

Sanchez also playfully calls some of her work “garbage art” because it’s made with materials like broken CDs, bottle caps, and other refuse she repurposes instead of throwing out.

“Everyone loves art on their walls,” Sanchez said. “Why not turn something that’s going to be thrown away, and negatively impact all of us, and (instead) turn it into something positive.”

The crowd in attendance was a mix of normies in street clothes with a healthy showing of cosplayers, young people in all-black clothes, and families — though Frankenfest likes to say some of the art “may not be suitable for the youngest eyes.”

A crowd gathers to watch an aerial performer for the performance art troupe, D3 circus.

Tyler Scott

A crowd gathers to watch an aerial performer from the performance art troupe, D3 Circus.

Besides the booths for art, tarot readings, crystals, and graphic t-shirts, people posed for pictures next to a replica of the “Mystery Machine” and the car from “Ghostbusters.” Other art and goods ranged from slightly macabre or supernatural interior decor, to bespoke perfumes and leather.

Sarah Mills, the force behind Pumpkins & Pomegranates, was a vendor at the Port Huron event. She’s selling prints of designs for what she said will be her custom-made tarot deck. Describing herself as a former Christian, Mills said she thinks some people are looking for alternative ways to connect with their spirituality.

“I do a lot of these spooky events, but I also do flower festivals and I do really well at them,” Mills said. “Because (I’m) usually the only spooky person there. And so my people find me, especially with my black tent.”

Leslie Gauthier of Gingerly Made, was another Frankenfest vendor-artist (whose illustrations feature naked bodies in poses suggestive and explicit). She draws what she calls smut, and sells it as stickers and prints of various sizes.

“I really love the potential sexiness of men, women and ‘enbys’ everywhere,” Gauthier said, using an abbreviation for people who are gender-nonbinary. “So I just draw a bunch of, basically, dudes on food. Because I like dudes, I like food. It’s a lot of pin-up art, lots of cheesecake.”

The self-proclaimed weirdo said Frankenfest and similar events encourage authentic self-expression.

“People are just pretty okay with being their genuine selves, and genuine to a lot of people does mean weird. So that’s just me. I’m just a big, genuine weirdo drawing what I love and doing what I love.”

“Frankenfest” this Saturday runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in The Carriage Factory, at 634 N Mechanic St. Suite 25, in Jackson.

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