Artist and puppeteer Mike Siculan calls his rented space at the Continent "Cirque de Vampire."
The name is derived from a rather lurid 1972 Hammer horror film, "Vampire Circus."
Siculan, who grew up in Upper Arlington, moved to the 6250 Busch Boulevard location in northeast Columbus from a smaller space on Sinclair Road about 2 1/2 years ago.
"I got over here and slowly it evolved into this," Siculan said recently, gesturing to, among other things, a seated and mustachioed marionette incongruously holding a "Tommy" gun and flanked by busts of comedy team Laurel and Hardy, old movie posters, circus sideshow banners, a big pink elephant and a gigantic, hideous clown head, candy dribbling from its mouth like so many maggots.
Is it a studio? Gallery? Collection? Museum?
The answer, probably, is yes.
"Basically, my thing is I'm an artist," Siculan said. "I kind of like the dying arts, and I consider puppetry to be a dying art. Sideshow banners I consider to be a dying art."
This from the president of the Columbus Puppetry Guild who performs puppet shows regularly at the Worthington Farmers Market.
"He's been collecting that stuff for 30-plus years," said friend and fellow artist Franco Ruffini of Delaware.
Angie Hay, a musician and belly dancer who lives in downtown Columbus, first met Siculan about a year ago during planning for an adult puppet show at a local venue.
"I loved Mike the moment that I met him," Hay sad. "We're in this meeting about a puppet show that everybody's going to put on. I don't know if you know puppeteers. It's an eclectic group. Out of that roomful of people, Mike was the most eclectic."
"I would say it's an extension of Mike's life," said Ruffini, who retired six years ago after 36 years as an archaeologist with what's now the Ohio History Connection. "Mike lives and breathes this stuff. This is authentic stuff. This is what he lives for.
"Mike's the kind of guy, he's always experimenting, he's always thinking about art. I don't think he considers it pushing the envelope, but that's what he does.
"He pulls from everything. He's now into embroidery. Last year, it was stained glass. A couple of months ago, it was silk-screening."
Ruffini, a metalsmith, said he met Siculan six years ago when both were taking classes at the Cultural Arts Center on West Main Street in Columbus.
"He seemed like an odd character," Ruffini said. "We hit it off and I got to be friends with him."
Siculan, who graduated from Bishop Ready High School in 1973, said he received a scholarship to the Columbus College of Art and Design, but dropped out after nine months.
"I couldn't hack CCAD," he said.
After working a "couple of crappy jobs," Siculan enrolled at Ohio State University and mostly studied sculpture.
"That was like a different world," he said. "The art was fun. We had hippie teachers."
Siculan said his interest in art was encouraged by his mother.
"Mom was artistic in her own way, as far as decorating and antique-picking," he said.
The fascination with puppets was the result of his mother taking him to marionette shows for children on the sixth floor of the old Lazarus department store downtown, he said.
"That was the place, man," Siculan said.
After Ohio State, Siculan moved to St. Louis where he participated in a long-term restoration project on an old Art Deco medical building. He came back to Ohio in 2008 after the woman with whom he had been living met and married a millionaire, he said.
"I still cringe when I think about '08," he said. "It was a bad year."
Cirque de Vampire is not a public space, according to the artist and curator and collector, but it's not entirely private.
"You've got to find me through the internet and make an appointment," Siculan said.
The best way to do that, he said, is through his Facebook page, which may be found by searching for "Cirque de Vampire."