Thursday, November 20, 2014

Two Beast or not to Beast

     Several new submissions grace our blog this week. Both are what we call "miniatures," measuring less than 5 by 7 inches.

     The first, an unsigned work by a visiting youngster,  re-imagines a well-known post card image. The skyline includes a prominent stand of conifers to the left, and the horizon could be either a sunset or golden mountains against a red sky. A lone mid ground pine looms directly above the head of what appears to be an Idyll-Beast proceeding across the frame, left to right. The animal's eyes peer out at us, and the left paw seems to be waving, the squiggles that surround it suggesting motion. The Beast is somewhat portly, or perhaps foreshortened. The use of the "continuous line" technique of sketching gives a virtuoso flair to the confirs and the "frame" around the work, striking a pleasing medium between calculation and spontaneity.

     The second is a quick-looking pencil sketch on a note pad, but was signed by Cameron Gage, 7 years old, and labeled, for the doubtful, "Idyll-Beast." The pad itself is a light orange outlined in darker orange, with a stark white "bone" in the middle of the page. Perhaps this refers to the identity of the depicted Beast as a "bone of contention." 
     The monochrome is varied by a range of intensity or weight of line. There is a light shading the provides a background, some more defined lines to suggest a forest, and then the forceful strokes that delineate the main subject. The Beast emerges from the background, and seems to be on the verge of stepping out of the background and even right off the page and into the viewers frame of reference. The left leg extends outward, like a shadow elongated by the setting sun. The position of the arms is unique, showing a twisted torso, as if the animal has paused in his motion, swiveled towards us at the waist, and then stepped towards us, truly "stepping out" (of the frame.) Or perhaps he (or she) is "testing the water" of our consciousness, gently stirring our imaginations with a toe to check us out before either coming forward to greet us or dashing back into the background. Very suggestive.

    I'd like to thank our young artists for their participation in this project. Critics and Cryptozoologists would be wise to keep their eyes peeled for future works from these little animals.  See you in Idyllwild!

Monday, October 13, 2014


This week's guest Researcher is Caleb, age 5, of Pomona. He first became interested in the Idyll-Beast during a visit to our community last year, and since then his home has been of a hot bed of theoretical speculation. He contributed this image of a bi-colored Beast this weekend, shortly before he had an encounter and conversation with a similar animal. I am not sure if this sighting did anything to quench Caleb's insatiable curiosity, but in my experience, the more you learn, the more questions you have.

Caleb was especially interested in the Animal's paws. The photograph he had seen seemed to highlight the man-like quality of its "hands." This lead to a discussion of the virtues of opposable thumbs, and the many other animals that use (and abuse) them.

The other Old World Apes of course have them. But some New World Monkeys  eschew the "Fancy Thumb" as an unnecessary and fadish modern inconvenience in favor of the good old-fashioned prehensile tail. The Panda has a sort of pseudo-thumb. If you ever shake hands with one check it out, but don't be too obvious about it.  They are a little sensitive about this. Some African Rats have them.

My personal favorite is the Polydactyl House Cat. These innovative creatures often have opposable thumbs and pinkies among their six or more digits on each paw, doing the monkeys one better and allowing them to perform a number of complex tasks. Cats are generally quiet about this, knowing that if the secret gets out humans will find more high-tech ways to secure household foodstuffs, or even begin asking cats to help them with complex tasks like word-processing. Yawn.

There are a number of Marsupials including Possums that make use of the opposable thumb. And don't forget the Dinosaurs; both flying and earthbound members of this group were early adopters of the opposable thumb.

So the Idyll-Beast may be related to Man, or even a kind of Man, but that's nothing to be ashamed of.  Many respectable animals are. The thumb, however, is no "great divide" between Humans and the other Beasts. In my experience, looking for such a divide is a bit of tail-chasing, and maybe just a wee bit vain, but not wholly without educational value.  And as any cat will tell you, chasing your own tail can be a perfectible healthy and delightful pass-time

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Provenance: This came to me directly from the artist, 9 year old Stella. Being director of a cryptozoological museum, people just give me masterpieces like this. Thank you Stella. The medium is restaurant child’s menu and crayon.

Analytical Notes: I believe Stella had some help, that her mother drew the brisk black outlines of the three children, which Stella then deftly colored in. The other children are her friends Olivia (left) and Ethan. Olivia’s hair isn’t really longer, she just wants it to be longer. And what are friends for?

The crayon has picked up some of the texture of the placemat under it, and this gives the work a ringed under-pattern, like a tree’s growth, like an indian basket, like energy radiating out from  the center right of the page.

The figure that occupies the right-most bottom corner you will all recognize. The stance, the fur, even perhaps a bit of Mona Lisa-like half smile, in profile. The Beast fortuitously occupies the space indicated by the eyes of the children, giving force and narrative to an otherwise casual, snapshot-like composition. A tree in the middle suggests the forest. It seems to be undecided as to wether it should be conical or round, pine or oak, but we do live in  a mixed forest.  The large red, energetically scrawled inverted v or dart shape could be Taquitz, a space craft of some type, or something unlikely, a leaping porpoise or seal.   The two horizontal lines that touch its upper tip could be a horizon, or clouds.

The hair of the Beast and that of two girls is the same color, a rich golden brown. Ethan’s is black, or rather the artist has not added any hair to the outline, perhaps she finds Ethan’s hair unremarkable. I certainly observed it to be closely cropped. But clearly the girls are completely covered by luxurious golden fur. It suggests kinship.

Context: About two hours after I acquired this work, the Children (and the adults with them) had a sighting, an encounter with an Idyll-Beast on North Circle Drive, just south of the Research Center Museum and Gift Shoppe. So the encounter was imagined before it happened. The family saw Idy when they were driving. The animal cooperated in a photo op and even allowed the children to comb it. 

Leaving aside arguments of causality vs Jungian synchronicity, to a primitive mind this might seem prophetic, and our minds are still in many ways primitive. If the “dart” shape is a space ship that could also be a symbol for transcendence, and the Beast one of our lost sense of wholeness, of connectedness, that shadow of individuation and the industrial world system, that seeks healing in the mountains, in nature. It isn’t of course necessary to choose an interpretation for the red dart, but its energy, its dynamism takes the place of the sun we would expect in this genre. So abstraction or Tahquitz? I vote Tahquitz.

I am a cryptozoologist, not an art critic, and a musician, not a semiologist or iconographer. But life imitates art, and imitation is certainly one sincere kind of compliment, if not always flattering. Keep up the good work, little animals. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Idyll-Beast

This extract from last week's Town Crier includes images taken by staff photographer Jay Pentrack, documenting the startling encounter between Town Hall recreation kids and a surprise guest. The top image depicts the Idyll-Beast distributing Beaster Eggs, those brightly colored fur covered harbingers of spring, to the the assembled children.

The second image has been identified as Hannah Johnson displaying her portrait of the "guest." A critical examination of the image shows parallels between the artist and the image; the coloration, the hair, the rosy cheeks and bright smile are all eerily similar. Whether this is a coincidence, conscious artistic device, or an expression of the beast's message of relatedness, it invites a re-examination of the portraits posted below. Perhaps they are all self portraits. In any case the artists and the Idyll-Beast represent the best of our local charismatic mega-fauna.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Children's Hour

Outreach is a crucial part of our mission at the Idyll-Beast Research Center. We are always pleased to present our work to the scientific community or to any one who will listen. It was my privilege to address the little researchers attending the Town Hall after-school recreation program last Monday. Spring break week was apparently full of excitement; Smokey the Bear, the Easter Bunny, a real Fire Truck, and a lecture from a cryptozoologist.

I gave a slide show presentation similar to the one I have given to a number of scientific groups. I also handed out a useful "Idyll-Beast Do's and Don't's" page, helping the children prepare for a safe encounter.

Young people are full of curiosity, and this crew was brimming with curiosity. My Q and A session was unfortunately interrupted by an urgent text message informing me that an Idyll-Beast had been spotted Down Town. I hurried out of the building leaving the children a little bewildered. The call turned out to a be a false alarm (Mike Pearson again.) 

During my absence it seems that the Idyll-Beast took up where I left off.  Within minutes of my departure Idy was passing out "Beaster Eggs," and, after asking permission from Wendy, offered the kids a snack. Presented with the choice of "crickets" or "ice-cream," most votes were for ice-cream, which was lucky as the bag full of crickets had a hole in it and was now empty.

Apparently photos from this episode have made their way into the Town Crier, and I will have to evaluate that evidence separately. Fortunately, children are natural artists, and this group really came through. The following portraits display not only the talent of our young people but the variety of ways in which we witness the incredible.

The hairless or "goateed" face of this Idy contrasts to his shaggy coat. Anthropomorphizing animals is a common artistic device.

This specimen exhibits attitude. The energy of the lines delineating his furry body, the determined half-smile or smirk,  the sense of weight distributed mostly on one leg work, all together to give the viewer a sense of dynamism. I'm not sure what the "thumbs down" thing is about. 

This next piece is gripping in its wildness. The outstretched arms, the loopiness of the outlines, the crossed eyes and out-stuck tongue suggest wild abandon. Concentrated spirit of fun.

This vision transfixes us in its electrifying furriness. Within the fur a spirit, at once alien and familiar, smiles broadly and calmly. This one gives me goosebumps.

This Ursine (Bear-like)  Idy seems content in his fur. The large feet are typical, but the ears are an unusual feature. The artist actually told me this was a bear. Maybe an anticipation of Smokey's appearance?

This last image in particular seems to capture the beast's soul. The artist was at first reluctant to allow it to be published. "It's not my best work," demurred the youngster. Given the limitation of the media available (two crayons and a paper place mat) and the elusive quality of the model ("he wouldn't stand still") I think you will agree it is both promising and provocative. The Beast seems to be thinking, or at least chewing on his paw. Extremely life-like.

Thank you Wendy, and thank you artists!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fair Report

The recent sightings of an Idyll-Beast at the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival were made possible by the reciprocal relationship between the Idyll-Beast Research Center and the Friends of the Idyllwild Nature Center. A bond has grown between our two organizations based on our shared mission of educating visitors about our animal friends and the forest we all live in. 

As every animal behaviorist knows, social grooming is an excellent way to strengthen bonds, the “social cement of the primate world.” Grooming keeps our fur or feathers in good condition, removing loose hair, uninvited guests, sticks, leaves, birds' nests, misplaced household items and other collectables.

The picture above shows a volunteer from the Friends of the Idyllwild Nature Center, “Sandy,” receiving a little attention from “Idy,” a volunteer with the Idyll-Beast Research Center. Social grooming helps build the trust essential to cooperative activities, like staffing Idyllwild’s booth at the Fair. 

What would a fair be without games of chance? In this case Idy seems to have hit the jackpot, winning a salon treatment from the helpful staff of the nearby Navy Federal Credit Union booth. Here the two intrepid ladies give him a good comb-out and plenty of hair spray. Very neighborly indeed. The Fair creates a wonderful sense of community among participants from all walks of life.
In our next piece of evidence, the neighbor on the left has been identified as fair-goer Javier Lara. Peace out, man.

In this final image, titled “Best part of the Fair,” Nancy Salvatierra is captured with Idy and an unidentified male. Make new friends but keep the old. See you in Idyllwild, Nancy!