September 30, 2020

BY WHITNEY SOUTH

Darkness falls over the quiet village of Elora this month, with grim-grinning ghouls and goblins standing ready to delight and astound visitors at their Melville Street home, The Twilight Zoo.

Lurking about the grounds of The Elora Centre for the Arts, the zoo is home to dozens of wire and paper sculptures representing everything from menacing monsters to scary spiders.

The creative mind behind these creatures belongs to none other than artist Tim Murton, whom the local children have affectionately dubbed “The Monster Guy.”

It all began 16 years ago when Murton’s doctor suggested he create something with his hands in order to help him relax. After working as a scenic artist on over 40 feature films, including The Piano, the movie business had taken its toll and had left him in need of a creative outlet.

“I made four little ghouls and hung them around my house down by the river, and the neighbours went bonkers over them,” said Murton.  “So the next year I made a few more and it just kept getting bigger and bigger.”

To create the sculptures, Murton makes a wire frame and then covers it with cheesecloth. Once the cloth is stretched and the form begins to take shape, it is glued onto the frame. The sculpture is then built up with layers of paper and more glue, creating a compound skin over the wire, which Murton said has very good lighting properties. After adding more layers of cheesecloth, normal tissue paper and even more glue, the piece is ready to be lit and take on a life of its own.

“Working with wire is like drawing in air,” he said. “It’s very immediate and expressive and when you stretch the paper over the wire, it shrinks so it stretches between high points so it hides a multitude of sins.”

People came from all over the area just to catch a glimpse of the artist’s backyard menagerie. After taking a year off and actually receiving complaints, Murton said he realized he had a kind of responsibility to the community.

Murton’s partner, Julie Denneny, helped find, organize and manage volunteers and workshops for the Twilight Zoo and Monster March Parade.

When the two met about six years ago, Murton had already created quite a collection of critters.

“He was having folks come into his yard for a small fee in hopes of recovering the cost of putting it together,” she said. “He wasn’t making enough to even pay for his material, never mind the hydro.”

A natural problem-solver, Denneny suggested they move the zoo to The Elora Centre for the Arts.

“Since I had been doing the Monster March Parade for the previous two years,” she said, “I combined the two into a new event called the Scare Fair, with all that it offers on one weekend.”

The Scare Fair is a weekend-long Halloween event organized by Denneny each year, and includes a Monster March Parade down Metcalfe Street and along Mill, leading guests to the arts centre and its Twilight Zoo. This year’s fair was held from Oct. 19-21. Special guests included ventriloquist Tim Holland, the Puppet Tamer and magician Zoltan the Adequate.

Denneny said the zoo is not only an incredible sculpture exhibit during the day, but an outstanding lantern show at night.

“Tim is a very creative and talented artist,” she said. “He is very charming, funny and even a little mad. He can focus on a creative project and produce things that are truly amazing.”

Murton said his monsters are designed to be silly and unpolished so people are inspired to go home and create their own.

In fact, the centre offered three lantern-making classes this year, with the Monster Guy as instructor.

“This year we did spiders and skulls and rats,” said Murton. “People work hard and at the end of it they take something home that has been challenging and rewarding at the same time.”

Inspiration for the exhibit came from Murton’s love of the area he called home and its need for an economic boost in the autumn months.

From the end of summer until Christmas, the village would experience a significant decline in visitors. Murton said he figured Halloween was the perfect time to bridge the gap.

“I’m a great believer in economic development through the arts and making the arts work,” he said. “People who come to Elora expect something kind of weird and wacky. They come for eccentric kind of experiences, so we just give them what they want.”

Murton said he sees the work as a little window in the cultural calendar where everybody gets to be creative and makes sure he keeps the ticket price down so families can afford it.

“Kids get to see art in a very intimate environment, it’s not like going into a gallery and looking at a painting on the wall,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to support the arts and to see something that’s kind of weird, but it’s embracing the dark side and having a giggle.”

For more information on Tim Murton’s Twilight Zoo, including ticket prices and directions to The Elora Centre for the Arts, visit www.twilightzoo.ca.