For the past 16 years, Duane Aamot of of 911 N. Electric Avenue has taken front-yard Halloween displays to new levels of size and creativity. This year, he transformed his house into a creepy wetland called the "Voodoo Bayou." Aamot created drooping trees, an abandoned skiff, and a bridge over a dark stream of water leading to his front porch. Last year, Jesse Chang spoke to Aamot about how he comes up with his themes, neighbors' reaction, and community support.
What started as a simple graveyard of tombstones with hay bales has evolved to his current creations literally swallowing his front yard and often the front of his 1908 Craftsman home. It is a fascinating look at the creative process and how it can inspire neighborhood and community engagement. The displays even helped him land his current job at American Film Institute. Alhambra Source caught up with Duane the night after hundreds of people came to see his two-story “Blood Mine” creation in 2011.
How did you come up with your idea for this year’s theme of a mine shaft?My most successful creations in the past were out of wood, and I just love old wood. Everything for me in creating these pieces is about materials and texture, and old wood has so much texture and history. I try to stay away from modern technological setups and go for something that’s more earthy. So I tend toward themes that might be more vintage and classic (pirate ships, Western themes, etc). My goals are simple in the design: It should hide my house, people can get into it, and I don’t spend a dime. Old wood that’s usually thrown away can get another chance to be useful. What’s great is that as a set designer/stage manager for American Film Institute, I not only get ready access to lots of materials I need for each year’s piece, but I get to recycle most of this back into future sets.From those goals I create a full-scale model beforehand. I start tinkering around starting in March and April to figure out how things will come together. The actual build this year was 90 days—working some mornings and weekends—all while juggling a full-time job. How did you get your job at the American Film Institute?In 2006, I had to close down my family business (a machine shop) of 39 years. About a year later, someone I knew who saw my Halloween setups and knew my background recommended me to apply for their job opening and I started working for them in 2008.How supportive have your neighbors and the community been about your annual Halloween project?There’s been such an overwhelming response from everyone. (Councilman) Steve Placido and his wife came out to see it. The numbers of people coming to see it has gone way up. I’ve had people come from surrounding cities, even people out-of-state who come mostly by word of mouth. Neighbors and even the city utilities department contributed stacks of old wood to me for this project. Another neighbor donated an old pulley they bought off of Craigslist. Neighbors from all over would come over on a Saturday to help me out.One of the most gratifying responses I get is seeing people and kids get inspired by their interaction with these pieces. They can’t believe someone would do this every year, and it’s become a regular tradition for many.Any thoughts on what you’ll create next year?Nope. For now, I just need to rest until next year!You can see pictures and video of Duane’s former creations at www.duamo.com.