KillDozer has been a tiki collecting monster kid for years. You can imagine his excitement after finding out these two passions were combined by a sculptor name Jeff Wehenkel, who also happened to be very local. Jeff is a regular at horror conventions in the bay area and southern California and was happy to answer some questions about about his craft, how it came to be, and where it's going in the future.
KillDozer: Lets start with an introduction. Who are you? What is BOO-TIKI?
Jeff: My Name is Jeff Wehenkel, Boo Tiki is my line of spooky tiki mugs that meld together my love of monsters and my love of tiki.
KillDozer: What is your background in art? Did you take classes in sculpting? Where did your interest in working with this medium begin ?
Jeff: I’m totally self taught; I started sculpting as the means to an end. I found when I was little that I wanted things that weren’t available or were too expensive in the late 60's and early 70's. If you wanted a Planet of the Apes mask in 1970 you couldn’t just go into a store and buy one. So I started learning how to make my own.
KillDozer: Beside the incredible monster themed Tiki mugs you create, what other monster creations do you do?
Jeff: I still sculpt masks and busts for myself and private collectors. From time to time I sculpt scale figures and busts for model kit companies.
KillDozer: How do you go about choosing a creature or theme for a mug? Do you work from original sketches or memory?
Jeff: I’m a terrible sketch artist so I tend to sketch in clay if I don’t have a clear vision of what I want to do. If I’m trying to make something that needs to look like a specific character, I use plenty of photo reference. I do my best to start with a classic Tiki theme and see if there is a monster that fits into the theme.
KillDozer: Your booth is always a big hit at Monsterpalooza. What do you think connects monster kids and Tiki culture?
Jeff: There seems to be a real resurgence in Tiki culture in the past several years. Collectors who are into the mid century era, or the car culture, probably grew up with the monster movies that influenced their likes and dislikes, especially in southern California where you’re surrounded by the movie business. I find also that FX artists are really drawn to the Tiki culture and it goes hand in hand with the love of movie monsters.
KillDozer: The horror community and the tiki culture community seem to be more popular then ever before, why do you think that is? Is it nostalgia? Or because both of these things seem to be in the pop culture spot light lately?
Jeff: In my mind these things have always been important, it’s nice to see the rest of the world catch up… No, really though, Tiki faded from popular culture in the 60's and 70's as the kids rebelled against what their parents liked. Now the kids are finding it cool again especially with the new generation of mixologists out there. I’m excited to see where it all goes this time around.
KillDozer: Have you ever teamed up with other artists on a project? If so what is that process like?
Jeff: I recently had the honor of teaming up with the Verne Langdon estate to create a new updated version of the Trader Verne Zombie Mug, based on his Zombie Mask from the 70’s. The challenge in working with other artists and clients is that you’re working to make them happy as opposed to just trying to make something that you like. I find it pushes me to a new level and the resulting product is better than it might have been otherwise.
KillDozer: Do you have any new designs that we can look forward to seeing on your page soon? Where can we go to order these amazing creations and add them to our collections?
Jeff: I have many new designs planned. It’s quite a process going from sculpture to finished mug. Also the process of casting and firing the mugs after the mold is made is a slow one. I’ve made the mistake of offering something too early before all the challenges are worked out of it and it just ends in long waits for customers and frustration for me. I’m just a one man crew in my shop down in the garage. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that there are many collectors that get every new design I make. Much more in the works, just don’t want to release info before its time. I can tell you that the Rumbunga will be getting a new sculpt and be re-released this year. My Boo-tiki Facebook page is a good place to see what's new or follow me on Instagram @bootikijeff. My website for orders is Bootiki.bigcartel.com
KillDozer: Your mugs come with tropical drink recipes. Did you create these on your own? Would you rather your work be displayed or used?
Jeff: I don’t make up the recipes myself. My good friend Steve Smith (Former publisher of Monster Scene magazine) creates most of our recipes. The recipe for our Teeny Wahine mug was created by Marcovaldo Dionysus, bartender at Smugglers Cove in San Francisco. I picture that my mugs would be used once and then displayed. Since they are a “Low Fire” ceramic they won’t stand up to repeated washing.
KillDozer: What other artists inspire you?
Jeff: I have a laundry list. Incredible sculptors like Mark Newman, Mike Hill, and Russ Lukich. Painters like Daniel Horne, Tiki Tony Murphy, Big Toe, Shag and Neil Winn.
KillDozer: Have you always been a monster kid? What got you into the horror community?
Jeff: Yeah, ever since I saw Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein I’ve been hooked. Planet of the Apes was right on its heels and of course Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Living in suburban Detroit in the 70’s there was only one costume shop that carried Don Post masks. My Mom was so great for taking me to go LOOK at the masks (they were $35.00 after all, a fortune back then). One Christmas I even got one. The short answer is yes, as long as I can remember I was in the house on Saturday afternoons watching Sir Graves Ghastly on local channel 2 as opposed to playing outside.
KillDozer: Okay, now for a few fun quick questions: What's your favorite tropical drink recipe?
Jeff: Trader Vic's Mai Tai.
KillDozer: Best tiki bar in the country?
Jeff: Smugglers Cove, San Francisco. (TraderSam’s at the Disneyland Hotel is a close second)
KillDozer: Favorite classic monster and why?
Jeff: Frankenstein’s monster (but specifically Glenn Strange as the Monster), my first and favorite.
KillDozer: What is your favorite tiki monster creation?
Jeff: Skully, I just love the way his eyes look at you.
KillDozer: What is your favorite piece of horror memorabilia that you own?
Jeff: My only real prop is a Dwarf from Phantasm 2. It’s difficult to pick one. It would have to be my Italian 2 sheet poster from the Herzog Nosferatu. We finally got it framed and it’s displayed in our library.
KillDozer: If you did a "scorpion bowl" sculpture what would be the theme?
Jeff: I would love to do a bowl based on Big Trouble in Little China, with the 3 storms around the rim and an indentation in their hats to add a fire element.
If you want to add some handcrafted, monster themed tiki mugs to your collection, check out the Boo-Tiki Facebook or the Boo-Tiki Big Cartel store. And you can also look Jeff up in Instagram.