You might drive right past Stranger Factory and not see it. You may even park, get out to look for the new gallery and walk by it without noticing. If the mini sandwich board sign out front finally catches your eye and you spot the place, your brain could exclaim, Why, it’s so little! Do not be fooled: Stranger Factory is deceptively spacious. Upon entering, three distinct areas of well-laid-out eye candy unfold before you. Carefully placed paintings and prints decorate the white walls, and plenty of natural light washes over displays of toys and figurines. Brandt Peters, who co-owns Stranger Factory with his wife, Kathie Olivas, says they decorate the shop as they do their home. “We show how you can actually put your own collection together,” he says. They salvage furniture, shelves and other recyclable cool stuff to mix in with the art pieces.Designer vinyl toys are a major focus, but the inventory is more expansive. Olivas describes the theme of the art they seek and show as “contemporary narrative.” Stranger Factory is an offshoot project of Circus Posterus, a collective founded by Peters and Olivas that includes artists, illustrators and gallery curators. Both are artists themselves and some of their paintings hang inconspicuously in the gallery. The owners would like to involve more local artists, but for now most of the work is from elsewhere. Still, Olivas says they have strong personal connections to each person whose work they show. She and Peters have been active in the art and gallery world for decades and purposefully develop long-term relationships with artists. One example is Travis Louie, who has paintings and a book of his images in Stranger Factory and also collaborates with the owners on new designs for toys.Louie’s paintings resemble daguerreotypes. They portray stuffy Victorian characters with animal features and other funny and alarming abnormalities. This juxtaposition of fantasy and reality is everywhere you look at Stranger Factory. Much of the art also treads the oh-so trendy creepy/cute path, but usually with freshness. The creators really care about the fine details of a subject and the world it resides in. Olivas’ work is a good example of getting it right. She begins with morose, big-eyed children wearing animal hats, or brightly dressed creatures with skull faces—cousins to the style of Yoshitomo Nara—then lavishes on bizarre visual minutiae to be pondered. Another highlight hanging now is one of the signature “grotesque rotting creature” paintings of artist Elizabeth McGrath (who fronts the rock band Miss Derringer), which she created with her husband, Morgan Slade. Besides the wall art, there are racks of postcards, cases of otherworldly statues and upscale toys, rows of clothes, glassware, and even glossy, painted skateboards. Prices for all this beauty and fun are pleasantly surprising. Small bits and bobs can be had for less than $10, and many of the paintings and prints hover between $100 and $200. Instead of intimidating or boring, Stranger Factory makes the art gallery experience fun and inviting—a lot like being in a toy store.
Stranger Factory109 Carlisle NEHours vary: Call ahead508-3049, strangerfactory.com