Craftowne: a visual novel is a series of pieces that weds text and images/sculptures to create a narrative of a planned suburban community outside of Washington, DC during the ‘70s and ‘80s. The hamlet of Craftowne is symbolic of America as a whole and is based on the actual town in Maryland that I grew up in and the impact that the town had on me as a person and as an artist. The individual pieces that comprise the narrative of Craftowne explore such themes as the isolation and boredom of the suburbs, the horror under the surface of the “ideal” American community, the strangeness of normalcy, the absurdity of everyday life, the inability to ever truly know another person, and the synthetic nature of the American Dream.
proto-plate 18″ x 24″ 2015
A Planned Community
Craftowne, Maryland is a suburban subdivision outside of Washington, DC located inside the triangle created by three highways: Route 422, Route 84, and Route 49. Built on farmland in the late 1960s by the developer William S. Crafte, the Craftowne I knew no longer exists. It’s changed so much. But I have my memories of my Craftowne, and a some artifacts I’ve kept or bought on ebay.
proto-plate 24″ x 30″ 2015
William S. Crafte
The land Craftowne is built on was originally a slave-owning tobacco plantation run by the Crafte family and dating back to 1752. In 1952, William S. Crafte was the sole surviving member of the Crafte family; the other six remaining members of the Crafte clan were murdered at Christmas dinner that year. So William came into ownership of the 1,330-acre property. Shocked by the sudden, violent loss of his family, 19 year old William left the farm to travel the country to find meaning in his now decimated life. Two years later, a chance conversation at New York’s Tavern on the Green with real estate developer and father of the American suburb, William Levitt, presented Crafte with his destiny. He would create a new way for Americans to live–the Planned Community! Families would live in suburban bliss with people of the same race and opinions, and no one would ever have to leave or travel to the evil city. Adopting as a new family motto “Paradisus iste Facticius” (“Paradise is Man-Made”) Crafte embarked on his mission to turn his dream into reality.
ink and burned lime juice on paper 12″ x 16″ 2015
Everybody knows small towns in America are weird. From Twin Peaks to Winesburg, OH there’s weirdness everywhere. Americans love that about our small towns. But some are weird in unique ways. Craftowne wasn’t unique though it had its moments. There is usually some weird religious shit going on in small towns. Craftowne had a church outside of town that was supposed to be full of Satan worshippers but wasn’t. No one ever met a Satan worshipper or saw anything strange at the church. People would say they drove by the church and saw something but in truth they didn’t see shit. It’s like the UFO story. People claimed to have seen something but didn’t. People made it up because it sounded interesting to have seen something. We all wanted something to talk about even when we all knew it was bullshit.
woodblock relief print with hand coloring 12″ x 16″ 2015
t-shirt with human blood
Bobby the Butcher
One thing I learned from growing up in Craftowne is that you never truly know another person. You can get to know someone and think that you know them well, but you really don’t. I knew all of our neighbors, who seemed like decent people, but one of them was a pyromaniac. Then there was Bobby McNichols. I went to Craftowne Middle and High School with Bobby. We were in a lot of classes together. I thought he was a dick, for sure, but not evil, just your average dick. After high school Bobby joined the military and was stationed at nearby Fort Roach. He and another guy starting selling drugs. They had a falling out. Bobby killed him. Chopped him up into pieces. Buried the pieces on the grounds of Fort Roach. Then went to a party. Still covered in blood. There were forty people at the party, and it took two months for one of them, one of the fine citizens of Craftowne, to have the balls to step forward. Bobby is spending his life in military prison.
ink on paper 12″ x 16″ 2015
Like all American towns, Craftowne had its fair share of teenage pregnancies. The stories about them are unremarkable, except for one. This girl, who will remain nameless, was a sophomore at Craftowne High School, got pregnant, and steadfastly refused to name the father. Rumors flew. The most popular one blamed the senior with the football scholarship, the belief being that she didn’t want to ruin his chance at playing college ball. She put the baby up for adoption and the incident became something that people whispered about. Thinking about her now, I realize why she never named the father. It wasn’t some horny high school kid who fucked her. It was someone’s dad. She was trying to protect him. Yes, that must have been it.
woodblock relief print with hand coloring 16″ x 16″ 2015
As a teenager, there was nothing to do in Craftowne. You could smoke weed with the stoners at Back Lake Park, get drunk with the preps on the Craftowne Country Club golf course, or go to the Craftowne Cinema with the nerds. You could hang with the jocks at The Craftowne Arcade, or chill with the freaks at the Craftowne Bowling Alley. But if you didn’t move in those crowds there was little to do on a Friday night in the summer. We would ride around in my friend Kevin’s VW Micro Bus, drink Hawaiian Punch (“Red” was the name of the flavor), and throw empty bottles out the windows at traffic signs. It’s surprisingly difficult to hit a traffic sign with a bottle while riding in a VW bus at 45 mph. If you don’t believe me, try it.
dry point 2″ x 8″ 2015
In olden days towns had village idiots. Craftowne didn’t have a village idiot but we had a crazy lady. She seemed normal at first, though nobody knew her name. One day her husband left her and she snapped. She began shuffling around town in mismatched shoes muttering to herself and asking for money. She knocked on the door at a lot of my friends’ houses. Their parents would tell her that they didn’t have money and then firmly shut the door. This went on for what seemed like forever as the “Crazy Lady” wasted away. No one helped her. Not one of the church-going-God-fearing-fucking people of Craftowne helped this poor woman. Then she disappeared.
lithograph 9″ x 15″ 2015
I used to deliver the Craftowne newspaper, The Craftowne News Crier. It was a free paper and everybody had it delivered to their house. It was full of ads, coupons, and local news. While delivering one Wednesday I sat on the steps in front of Craftowne Apartments and read the paper. The headline was about a fetus found in the Craftowne Water Treatment Facility. The police had investigated but had come up empty handed. The manager of the water treatment facility described it as something that happened “once in a blue moon.”
latch-hook rug 18″ x 30″ 2015
The Craftowne Cahunas sponsored a community art contest for the Bicentennial. Participants submitted designs and painted the fire hydrants of Craftowne in patriotic ways to commemorate our nation’s 200th birthday. There were fire hydrants painted for George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, a-I’m-not-sure-what-the-fuck-it-was suppose-to-be, Betsy Ross, and others. We did one too, my mother, my sister, and me. Mostly my mom did it. Ours was the Liberty Bell and we won a $10 prize. The two side-spokes and center were supposed to look like the barrels and wheel of a cannon, although I don’t think anybody realized this. In this way, along with her love a crafts that my mother influenced me to become artist. We won a $10 prize.
woodblock relief print 28″ x 28″ 2015
There were a lot of not very bright Craftonians. For examples, two guys were taking a mattress to the dump between Craftowne and the neighboring town, Dicton. They didn’t have rope to tie the mattress down, so one of them decided that he would lie on the mattress, thinking that his weight would be enough to secure the mattress while they drove down the highway at 65 mph. It didn’t take long for the wind to build and lift the mattress out of the bed of the pickup truck. The poor bastard rode that mattress 60 feet into the air, the sun laughing in his face, and crashed on the hot asphalt of Route 49.
lithograph 8.5 x 11″ 2015
In Craftowne, you never knew what your friends’ parents did for a living. If you asked, “What does your dad do?” you’d hear “I don’t know. He won’t tell us.” Craftowne was the community of choice for Cold War spies. A lot of Craftonians worked for the CIA or some other secret organization whose mission was to save the world from the evil communists. I remember a friend’s father returning from an overseas “business trip” to Berlin during which his luggage had been stolen. At the time, I thought that it sucked that his stuff got ripped off, but later I realized that there was more going on than petty theft. My friend’s dad wasn’t suave and debonair like James Bond, or even Maxwell Smart. He was more like one of the characters in Spy vs Spy from Mad Magazine.
color pencil and ink on paper 16″ x 6″ 2015
The Amphibious Carnivorous Fish of Craftowne
In 1990, a Craftowne resident got hold of a mating pair of amphibious carnivorous fish and set them loose in Front Lake, the man-made lake adjacent to the gates of Craftowne. The fish did what you would expect from a pair of mating amphibious carnivorous fish: they mated. The fish were amphibious and so left Front Lake for other bodies of water. They were also carnivorous and ate everything they could. Soon all the lakes in and around Craftowne were infested. People worried that the Chesapeake Bay and its famous Blue Crabs were at risk. The lakes were drained and the fish killed or captured. Nothing really came of it, though the story made national news and became the subject of a National Geographic documentary. It also inspired Syfy channel B movies. It might have made for a interesting horror movie if the ending had been more exciting.
canvas with charcoal and dirt 16″ x 24″ 2015
Growing up in Craftowne I felt like I was always saying, “What’s wrong with people?” At the time, I just sort of shrugged off the behavior of people and didn’t think about how strange things really were. I understand now that it is bizarre to try to hurt people you don’t know, but in the perfectly planned American Community of Craftowne, this happened so much that I became desensitized to it. Once a kid I knew saw smoke coming up from the woods in Back Lake Park. Like most young boys he wanted to be a hero and put out the soon-to-be raging fire, so he ran to investigate. As he approached the fire, which was really just a bunch of charcoal briquettes spread across a path, he fell, not because of his clumsiness but because whoever set the fire had set up a tripwire to cause someone to fall face first into the fire. He landed in the coals in a pushup position. He severely burned his hands but, literally, saved face. He told our class about it when he came back to school. When he pushed himself out of the fire he wiped his hands on a wet rag that he found in the bushes by the path. That evening, I found the rag, my Mom own Shroud of Turin.
color photograph *.5″ x 11″ 2015
The citizens and businesspeople of all small American towns think their town is unique. This explains the most self-aggrandizing thing that I remember from Craftowne, the decision to create a brand of Craftowne booze. The brand had gold labels and featured the effigy of the founder of Craftowne, William S. Crafte. My father bought the Craftowne Vodka once. This bewildered my brother. My father told him that if there is a type of alcohol where quality doesn’t matter it’s vodka. In these days of designer vodkas like Kors, Diva, Belvedere, and Grey Goose people wouldn’t agree with him. Neither would any self-respecting Russian.
laser-cut woodblock relief print 16″ x 28″ 2016
The Craftowne Country Club
The heart and soul of Craftowne was to be The Craftowne Country Club and its golf course. William S. Crafte believed that a country club would be a social hub and breathe sophisticated life into the town. He was wrong. The country club was just too expensive. The people who moved to Craftowne were upwardly mobile baby boomers from modest backgrounds, and they were more comfortable at a backyard cookout than a swanky country club. Crafte assumed that everyone in the community would want to spend time together, failing to realize that one of the primary reasons that people move to the suburbs is to avoid their neighbors.
laser-cut woodblock relief print 6″ x 9″ 2016
I’ve done a lot of research on Craftowne, and I know a lot about it. But there are a few things that I just can’t figure out. There’s The Marker, for instance. The Marker is a person-sized stone set in the earth at the exact center of Craftowne. It’s ancient. Archaeologists say that it’s at least five thousand years old. But that’s all anybody knows about it. Nobody knows why it’s there, why it wasn’t removed when the town was built, who put it there, or what it means. Since nobody knows anything about it, nobody talks about it. To talk about it would be to acknowledge the limits of the their knowledge. The idea that there are limits is too much to bear in Craftowne.
acrylic on canvas
48″ x 56″ 2015
To entertain the town’s teenagers there were several youth groups. Most churches had one and both Craftowne Country Club and Craftetowne Swim and Tennis had one. Few kids were involved in these groups. They chose instead to pose as disaffected youth, as the loners they saw in the movies, resisting all forms of group affiliation. There even was a gang. Well, sort of. They were a bunch of white suburban kids who thought they were cool acting like The Fonze. They painted graffiti around the neighborhood. They talked about a “rumble” but never had one.
laser-cut woodblock relief print 18″ x 26″ 2016
Craftowne Swim and Tennis
The humble alternative to The Craftowne Country Club was Craftowne Swim and Tennis. This was a pool and four tennis courts, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The fees were affordable and the facilities nice, though not elegant. Most families wanted a membership. Most had to deal with a waiting list for ten years. The residents of Craftowne liked Swim and Tennis better than the country club because they could go there with their family and not have to interact with anyone. It was cheap, wholesome, and anonymous.
laser-cut woodblock relief with hand-cutting print 16″ x 28″ 2016
In July 1985 the adults of Craftowne threw in the towel. They realized that, not only couldn’t they control their children, they were outright afraid of them. The teens of Craftowne were feral. Their parents were hippies in the 1960s and conservative wackos in the 1980s. Unfortunately, their parenting skills did not change with their political views. They were permissive, weak-willed, and clueless. Teens ran amok in drugged up and drunken sex parties. The spineless parents of Craftowne did nothing about this for over a decade. Finally, Mayor Rowe took a stand and declared a curfew. Teens were not allowed outside after 9:30pm without an adult. The curfew was in effect for three months and then repealed, not because it wasn’t effective but because the parents of Crafetowne realized that their children were beginning to dislike them because of it.
laser-cut woodblock relief print 16″ x 28″ 2016
The Back Lake Park
Craftowne Country Club and Craftowne Swim and Tennis were official clubs complete with swimming pools, but there was also an unofficial club in town more popular than both– Back Lake Park. Back Lake Park had sliding boards, a jungle gym, and a lake (really just a large pond). Fishing and swimming were forbidden by town ordinance, which stopped nobody. Kids, adults, and entire families would swim in the lake, careful to avoid fishing lines, snapping turtles, and the Crafetowne Police patrol. If you are wondering why the lake was more popular than the upscale country club and its modest Swim and Tennis counterpart, you have to understand that most Craftonians came from humble backgrounds. They preferred a dip in the mucky water to laps in the chlorinated pool.
The Village Commons
laser-cut woodblock relief print 8″ x 12″ 2016
Most planned communities have centralized common areas for shopping and social gatherings. This was one of the founding principles of Dicton, Craftowne’s rival, which had six boroughs each with its own grocery, bank, coffee shop, bar, and restaurant. Craftowne had only a lame excuse for a centralized commons area. The strange thing about “The Commons” is that its buildings were designed to look like the buildings in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. No one understands this bizarre design. “The Commons” housed Craftowne Liquors and The Craftowne News Crier, and ten other spaces in a constant state of flux. Everything from a bar and a deli to a law office and youth center came and went, just like Colonial Williamsburg.
laser-cut woodblock print on steel plate with magnets 18″ x 24″ 2016
Running around naked was big 1970s. Craftowne had its deviant nudists (The Streaker and The Flasher) but there were also a lot of “normal” people who were nudists. The Craftone Nudist Colony was located at an old farm off Route 82 heading towards Annapolis. We all knew about it, and that a lot of adults went there on Saturday nights. But we never talked about it. We were afraid that our own parents went there.
woodblock print with hand-coloring, folding paper, and candy app. 8″ x 20″ 2016
They never caught The Craftowne Flasher. He was nothing special, just some jerk-off that pulled his coat open and showed his birthday suit to pretty girls. He belongs among the people in Craftowne who liked to be naked (the others being the Crafetowne Nudist Colonists and the Streaker). The Nudist Colonists suggested the mature but independent mind of Craftowne, the Streaker its carefree spirit. The Flasher was its twisted, ugly soul.
ink on paper 10″ x 14″ 2016
Thirteen Dead in a Wreck
Our favorite thing to do while eluding the Craftowne Police Curfew Patrol was throwing bottles of Hawaiian Punch at road signs. We also liked to drive down Church Road (rumored to have a Satanic Church) with our headlights off. Church Road features a hairpin turn that in 1955 was the scene of what is still the country’s third worst accident in terms of fatalities. Some drunk loser piled thirteen teens into the back of his pickup truck and tried to take the turn at 65mph. The scene was described as like a battlefield. But we loved the thrill of driving that road in the dark, our pulses thumping to an AC/DC song. Anything to break the boredom and remind us that we were alive.
woodblock relief print app. 18″ x 20″ 2016
FBI on Cholera Street
We had our 21 JumpStreet-like situation with the high school drug bust in ‘82 and we also had a The Wire-like situation with police surveillance. Actually, it was the FBI who spied on a house on Cholera Street Way for six months and finally busted the academically gifted teenage twins, brother and sister, who were running a major drug operation from their house and had over fifty automatic weapons stashed in their bedrooms. The parents, spies who worked for The National Security Agency, were oblivious. They were typical Craftowne parents, nested in their “safe” suburban cocoon and completely uninterested in the activities of their children so long as they got good grades.
woodblock relief print on felt 60″ x 60″
They say that parting should be painless but I think it seldom is. Leaving is both a sunrise and a sunset. When you leave you tell yourself that things will stay the same, but it isn’t true for several reasons. For one thing, people don’t like it when you leave so relationship change or die. Another thing is that you can never go home because the people and the place you have left changed. Finally, you have changed. All you have in common with what you have left is the past, a few memories, and any artifacts that you might have.