Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Danielle James

From the months of December to August if you happen to drive south over the run down St. Georges bridge crossing into what some would call “slower lower” Delaware you might notice a strange looking site on the side of Route 13. A large white old style farm silo that looks like it crawled out of the depths of hell sits silent waiting for the last weekend in September to emerge. Through the years it has been the recipient of many a facelift, including most recently a set of  flashing red eyes, but since 1996 this regional road side anomaly Frightland Haunted Attractions has been scaring the daylights out of its customers every Halloween season.










This was also the place I called home every October of my formative years. I worked in the “make-up trailer” every weekend from (6pm to 1am) turning some 200 seasonal employees into witches, zombies, ghouls and clowns to haunt the 1,300 acres that made up the Frightland compound. One of my best jobs was one of my first jobs and I realize now that this job offered me something at 17 years old that some people never experience in their entire lifetime. The feeling of being in love with what you do everyday. I will never have a job like it again and never feel the pride of making a grown man run away screaming in terror at the simple sound of of my clown bicycle horn.

In the summer months I would volunteer to work on updating the existing buildings and help to build new places for the next attraction to live. Sometimes I would be asked to use hundreds of donated books to create a hidden door library in what we called “Idealia Manor” or using a cherry picker (for the first time) go up 20 ft in the air to paint the stripes on the “circus tent” on the clown set that was part of the hayride. This place gave me purpose in my dreary high school life. My first opportunity to work with a diverse creative team to create a visual experience that was unique to that place. I was extremely proud to be able to contribute to what I was convinced (at the time) was the only cool thing in Delaware. Nowhere in the world is like Frightland. It is now 10 years later and I feel like I can still say that with one hundred percent certainty.


Every time I take one of my road trips I prefer to drive on non-interstate highway systems to absorb a bit more regional culture of the location I am traveling through (and to see less Cracker Barrels). I see hundreds of places that were once like Frightland. Dinosaur World in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, The Land of Oz in North Carolina, or Bushkill Park in Philadelphia. All of them once thriving unique whimsical business’s now quiet, but still standing with a patina of chipped paint, rust and time. For me these are places of inspiration and act as monuments to the people who dare to go through with a crazy dream. 



Hand sculpted concrete and chicken wire dinosaurs. A highly curated garden wonderland inspired by the Land of Oz (complete with yellow brick road). This is not your soulless franchised Dave and Busters entertainment, this has love attached and can only be experienced at one place in the whole world. I love everything about these places, right down to the hand painted menu boards at the snack stand. These locations encapsulate a specific type of commercial art (before tech) that grabbed hold of our collective imagination and never let go. The type of Willy Wonka business sense and creative stubbornness necessary to pull off a drive through dinosaur park in the Ozark Mountains is something I admire and believe is very important to conserving our regional history and identity as Americans.

It’s the haunted houses, the diners, and the UFO museums that compose the DNA of my America. In my jewelry series “Mile Marker” I create miniatures to commemorate these fading locations and the interactions I have there. Every person at each BBQ shack, juke joint, diner, hotel, and roadside attraction can provide an opportunity for a valuable exchange of lessons and these exchanges serve for me as a catalyst to make more work. I am afraid my generation is losing their adventurous spirit. My work attempts to connect to the human part of us to inspire people to turn off their GPS and pickup a road atlas.

Danielle James will present her work at the 2019 Yuma Art Symposium

See more about Danielle's work HERE

See more about the 2019 Yuma Art Symposium HERE