Dark Art and Oddities Con displays framed invertebrates, skeletons during weekend event


Nyla Owens

Kimberly Walker, a Belvidere resident and owner of Bast and Baetyl Alchemy held a table at the Dark Art and Oddities Con over the weekend. (Nyla Owens | Northern Star)

By Nick Glover, Lifestyle Editor

There was a buzz in the hall.

Legends like animator Philo Barnhart, who spent the event slowly drawing and coloring a portrait of Maleficent, and up-and-comers like author E.S. Fein were all in the same room, showing off their art. 

Framed invertebrates, images of skeletons and science fiction were everywhere. 

On Saturday, the third annual Dark Art and Oddities Con was held in Altgeld Hall Auditorium.

The convention is hosted by Willy Adkins, owner of DeKalb’s Breaking Fate Entertainment, a company dedicated to getting independent art and artists into the public eye.

With Adkins’ insight on the film industry and the connections he has made through running film festivals, the convention was in great hands. 

Co-sponsor of the convention and host of the “Weird Darkness” podcast Darren Marlar said he understands that these conventions may seem scary because of their connections to dark art. However, they are really about meeting the types of people that are interested in dark art and oddities. It is about the people, not their things. 

“You meet people you would never expect to meet,” Marlar said. “I didn’t used to be a people person and I got into this, but, man, I love it.”

Marlar cares about his audience too. Though he tells stories of the macabre and the horrific, he does everything in his power to help his audience.

“I’m an advocate for mental health,” Marlar said. “I’ve created a page on my website specifically for that purpose. It’s called ‘Hope in the Darkness.’”

Marlar does not stop there. He donates all proceeds from his merchandise sales to the resources on his site. He also hosts a fundraiser every October for this cause. According to Marlar, during the fundraiser he made over $5,000 this year alone to donate to mental health organizations. 

Marlar is not the only one who likes to help. 

Morbid Orchid Co’s Mason Gold turns his hand towards helping nature and the animals that he works on. 

Gold is an artist who works on showcasing animal specimens in artistic and creative ways. 

His focus is on invertebrates and the beauty in animals not normally seen as beautiful. By using beetles, bees and spiders, Gold is able to show the natural beauty in typically underappreciated animals. 

“My goal as an artist is to synthesize science and art,” Gold said. “I like to try to bring into focus these animals’ beauty, the things that they do for us and for our environment, for nature.” 

Gold also finds a way to give back to the animals that make up his art. 

“I look for breeders around the world that have conservation on the forefront,” Gold said. “Roughly a third of what is bred is to regenerate a captive population, another third is sold to folks like myself and a final third is released into the wild. In order to, for the third piece, for releasing into the wild, you have to seek out people who are raising things that are native to their part of the world.”

Gold also donates a portion of his proceeds to the Xerces Society, an invertebrate conservation group. 

Other artists at the convention show their care in different ways. 

For Fein, that care is shown through the questions he poses in his stories.

“I’m trying to challenge any of my readers to question everything about their reality,” Fein said. 

Fein said he knows that though this act of challenging preconceived notions is important, it is not his main goal. 

A Dark Art and Oddities convention may not be seen as the conventional place to find those who care deeply about people, nature and the world as a whole, but the people at a convention like this are open to new experiences, and they will certainly be open to you. 

“I want you to think, and I want you to explore and expand your mind, but more than anything, I want you to be entertained,” Fein said.