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Finding inspiration in the 'broken'

Three years ago the Source interviewed artist Duane Aamot, who has a yearly tradition of turning his home into a Halloween attraction. This past Halloween, contributor Kerrie Gutierrez stopped by to get a closer look at what the art process is like. What materials does he use? What motivates him to take on these projects? Gutierrez talked with Aamot to find out. 
 
This is the second piece that Gutierrez has written for the Source that examines the creative process in Alhambra. In 2010 she interviewed local Chicano artist Yolanda Gonzalez. The Source has featured other Alhambra artists like Howard Swerdloff and the Hoodlums.
 
I first heard about the house from my daughter a few years back. She returned from work one day and asked me if I’d ever seen the home on Electric that has an elaborate Halloween decoration each year. Having lived in the city for nearly 18 years at the time, my curiosity was piqued and I went in search of "that house."
 
I found it.
 
At the time it had been transformed into a smoldering ruin of a house, and it was quite impressive. I started wondering what had made the homeowner go to such great lengths to decorate. I thought maybe something had been filmed there and I was seeing what remained. I also thought that, maybe, it was a block theme or tradition to go all out, as other houses were also decorated for Halloween.
 
This year I decided to stop by and ask a few questions to satisfy my curiosity. This is how I met Duane Aamot.
 
Aamot is an artist and set designer. For the past nineteen years, he has transformed the front yard of his Craftsman home on Electric Avenue into his art gallery, where thousands come to view his annual creation. His inspiration varies from year to year, but his choice medium is old wood. The use of organic material and “reclaiming something that was broken and bringing it back to life” is a key element of his design plan. Mr. Aamot uses everything from parts of old sets from his work as a set designer at The American Film Institute to “parts of chairs and other furniture that has been discarded and even old lattice found on the street.”  
 
Aamot explaining his project | Photo by Kerrie GutierrezEverything is recycled, repurposed, and reused. He is intentional about his creation, as he wants it to “read like an art piece from all ends.” What starts as a scale drawing of his house and a "sketch up model morphed from a different shape of the Black Swan" into what I saw before me.
 
For this year’s project he has built a ship that could match the vessels from the Pirates of the Caribbean. This isn’t the first pirate ship he’s built, but this year’s creation is bigger and better than the two he has created in the past. As with all his artworks, the scale is immense; it obscures the front of his house and looks complete from any view from the street. No detail is overlooked and he finishes the interior view as well so that, this year, the walk to the porch will be complete with a view of Captain’s quarters and pirate treasure.
 
He jovially mentioned that the reports of El Nino served as a bit of inspiration this year. When I asked him about naming his latest creation, he said he has not officially chosen a name to christen his ship, but the idea of “The SS Kimberly”—named after his wife—came to his mind.  
 
Aamot invests thousands of hours each year in the process of bringing his artistic vision to life. He says one reason that he creates his art is because he enjoys creating an experience for the kids who come trick-or treating at his house and who stop to take a picture as well. 
Aamot's haunted house in 2014 | Photo from www.duamo.com
The neighbors along Electric Avenue are well stocked with candy, but run out every year as word spreads, especially with social media. Aamot says that someone from Alhambra told him that they saw his house on the news in China while they were there, though he cannot verify if it is true.
 
Big scale structures like this may be frowned upon by local government and code enforcement. But Aamot says that the city is not only aware of his works, but is also welcoming of it. He says that each year the mayor drops in to see his work, as do many police officers, who often stop and take pictures. He keeps his structures up for up to two weeks after Halloween but says it must come down two weeks later because it’s his anniversary.
 
At the time of my visit, there was still much to be done to complete the vision Aamot is creating. With multiple masts, sails, cannons, lights, a gangplank, realistic visual and sound effects, pirate’s treasure, and much more, the project promised to be his best pirate ship yet. Blackbeard (his favorite pirate) would be pleased.
 

Thank you for reading our story! Alhambra Source is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Our newsroom reports fact-based quality journalism that educates, informs and engages our diverse communities - with no paywall. Support our mission and donate today!

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