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Documenting Raven Chanticleer's Haven
Museum founder who 'took wax to the max'
Located just down the hill from
, but in the very different social milieu of West 115th street, the museum was essentially the basement of a personal residence; in fact it operated as a
at the whim of its founder and owner, the impresario Raven Chanticleer.
Though the museum was his passion, there was plenty more to Raven than wax. He attended FIT and the Sorbonne, designed clothes for Bergdorf Goodman, and founded a dance troupe. He held a fashion show in a prison of mannequins in see-through garb, and was committed to designing clothing for “stout, voluptuous women”. Way before green was chic, he designed furniture and objects from found and reused materials, and promoted thrift and recycling with his 50 tips for “How to live well on a shoestring!”
It was the
flavour of Chanticleer and his persona that made a visit to his museum such a special occasion. Chanticleer had been inspired to create a waxwork display of
after a visit to Madame Tussaud's in London, where he noted the singular lack of black faces and according to shaky legend (for Marie Tussaud died in 1850) reprimanded "Madame" herself about this overt omission. Returning to New York from this revelatory European jaunt Chanticleer set about creating his own wax versions of African-American notables, including Malcolm X, Josephine Baker, Martin Luther King and even Raven Chanticleer.
From his New York Times obit in 2002:
One of the most convincing statues is that of the great African-American artist Raven Chanticleer. Mr. Chanticleer explained in a radio interview last year that he included his own likeness ''just in case something should happen to me, if they didn't carry out my wishes and my dreams of this wax museum I would come back and haunt the hell out of them.''
For all his bravado, Mr. Chanticleer was serious about teaching youngsters the importance of black history and economic self-sufficiency. He started a foundation called the Learning Tree that gave toys to needy children. And Mr. Chanticleer was passionate about fixing up Harlem, whether it meant chasing drug dealers off his doorstep or lobbying public officials.”
of these figures was a
which included the creation of all their clothes, props and effects, sewn and styled by the man himself. Each figure, not least Madonna in "blackface", took a full month, starting from the feet up with papier-maché and plaster. Chanticleer had even embarked on a book about his waxwork techniques to be entitled "
Taking Wax to the Max
". For the genius of Chanticleer was to stress not authenticity or likeness but rather a sort of approximate simulacra of these celebrities, conjured as much by his spirited explanations and comments as by any tangential facial resemblance.
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