It’s hard not to be completely intrigued by Janna Kennedy, a fairly new addition to the vibrant and quirky St. Petersburg art community. In 2018, the multi-faceted artist — a native of Melbourne, Florida who graduated from Florida State — relocated from New York City to the historic Kenwood district, and she’s happy to be back in the Sunshine State.
After moving into a Brooklyn brownstone in 1985, the lanky and effervescent designer, painter, and creator started getting recognized as an integral part of the Clinton Hill neighborhood where her reputation as the “Halloween Lady” started to take shape thanks to cracking white paint that made her building into an eyesore.
The talk around the block was that the home resembled a haunted house and, right there and then, the always imaginative and industrious Kennedy started to hatch an idea that was as far-fetched as it was captivating.
An unfortunate series of events (the death of her landlord, other tenants opting to move out of the building, etc.) eventually led to Kennedy becoming the sole resident and, ultimately, the owner, of the massive home in 2001. Her creative mind ran wild. Once a child terrified by the sight of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, Kennedy was a self-admitted scaredy-cat earlier in life, but she put her talents as a seamstress to work when the brownstone became hers.
Since her teenage years, Kennedy’s creativity spanned a number of mediums; home design and décor, jewelry-making, paint and, her forte, costume design. So it wasn’t long before her vision for the brownstone became an overwhelmingly elaborate and ornate reality. In an attempt to add some fun and intrigue to her dwelling on Clinton Avenue (not too far from the trendier Williamsburg section of Brooklyn), Kennedy began staging Halloween shows for the neighborhood children.
Diving headfirst into the project, she started hand-making costumes for the spectacle; she tapped local writers and actors to help concoct a full-fledged, over-the-top show right on her front lawn. Most attractive of all, Kennedy didn’t charge anyone a cent to attend; she did it out of sheer joy, exuberance and a chance to put her creative instincts to work. The originally-scripted and individually-themed shows got bigger and more extravagant over the years, and so did the crowds.
Soon, it wasn’t only children who waited patiently for another one of Kennedy’s programs — and it wasn’t just Brooklyn residents who started looking for the “Halloween Lady.” Devotees from all five New York boroughs started to make the trek to her corner of Brooklyn. Additional shows were added. In true Halloween fashion, candy was handed out, but the real treat was Kennedy’s spooky pageant.
With titles like “Vampire Opera,” “20,000 Screams Under the Sea” and the final installment, 2017’s “Curse of the Voodoo Queen,” Kennedy willingly and voluntarily entertained thousands of captive onlookers — who caught wind of the show by word of mouth or the myriad of NYC media appearances — for 23 years.
Now Kennedy is starting to spread her creative wings in Tampa Bay. On October 26, she’ll premiere her latest and most elaborate costume at the Dalí Museum’s Sueños de Dalí 2019. Named “Stormy Night in the Mansion,” the costume is more than a work of art; it’s a visually stunning and jaw-dropping phenomenon that is beyond description.
IF YOU GO
Sueños de Dalí
Sat. Oct. 26, 8:30 p.m. $115-$125.
Dalí Museum, 1 Dali Blvd. in St. Petersburg.
Incorporating various textures and materials in her work, Kennedy is as comfortable and at ease working with cutting edge items like thermal plastics as she is with more conventional, everyday materials. Her imagination runs wild after seeing everyday objects and items, and the inspiration never stops coming.
Now happily settled in her exquisite craftsman bungalow, Kennedy and her penchant for the obscure and inexplicable perfectly meshes with her impeccable taste and eye for style. But, to get a real feel for her deep, dark innovative and creative side, visit her workshop-studio, which is as alluring as it is downright creepy.
Easily doubling as a haunted house, Kennedy stages part of her work area as a museum of sorts. Containing everything from wooden coffins that double as closets, antiquated wheelchairs and her “cabinets of curios,” as she refers to them, Kennedy’s workspace is more chilling than any Hollywood horror movie set. Antique medicine bottles, spooky figurines, paintings, shrunken heads, a goat skull and a variety of other mysterious knickknacks might spook those who are faint of heart but, for Kennedy, a sense of accomplishment comes from her ability to collect so many unusual curiosities over the years.
Her ghoulish collection of collectibles and trinkets landed her a spot on an episode of the Science Channel’s twisted series “Oddities” when the show’s hosts sought a preserved and bottled trachea which, of course, Kennedy just happened to have sitting on her mantel.
As a new member to the already sparkling and gifted collective of artists that call Tampa Bay their home, Kennedy is undoubtedly a rich addition to the array of creative minds that make the artistic community so vast and varied. Her fascination with the dark and mysterious sets her apart from the conventional artist and she’s perfectly okay with that.