Photo of Dr. Sketchy’s Philly event courtesy of Candace Sporer. Photo by Maria Mack Photography.

Visitors to the Mutter Museum generally expect to be confronted with specimens of deformity, brain tissue samples, notebooks bound in leather made from human skin, and any other of an assortment of medical oddities that seem more at home in a Hammer Film than a museum of early American medical history. What they don’t expect to find is bodies decked out in early twentieth century fashions – draped over chairs, sprawled over floors, ranged along marble staircases.  What may be even more unexpected for the unwary visitor is that in five- and ten-minute intervals – these bodies moved – rather unlike the Soap Lady who lies safely encased in her glass coffin.

For just a few  hours on the evening of March 16, the Mutter Museum played host to live models from Dr. Sketchy’s Philadelphia, the local branch of the Anti-Art School that hosts sketching events in 150 locations around the world and provides artists with the opportunity to sketch burlesque, sideshow, and other underground performers in atypical atmospheres. Promoted as a pre-party to the 2012 Mutter Ball: The Cat’s Meow Dance Party, which took place just two weeks later, the evening event sold out to a crowd of professional and amateur artists, arts lovers, and curious observers, who took turns sketching the models or enjoying the rare chance to view the museum’s curiosities by night. While models D’Arcy D’Lux, Ginger Leigh,Tanya Dakin, Sophie Sucre, and Rob Paluso posed in 1920s-era costumes, providing vivid contrasts to their macabre backdrops, dozens of artists raced to interpret the evening’s theme of “X-ray.”

Candace Sporer, the fourth to inherit the position of Director for the Philly Branch, started out modeling for Dr. Sketchy’s events around the city. Once the former director decided it was time to move on, he bequeathed the position to Sporer, while discussing the future of the branch over beers. Her first challenge as Director was to find venues and themes that would appeal to a smaller crowd, allowing for a more intimate setting than the previous venue, Wold Cafe Live, while at the same time providing space and lighting adequate for the artists. After a brief span at Little Bar in South Philly (now closed), Blick played host to The Centerfold Academy, which “transformed the girl next door into glamorous pinups,” Sporer explained.

Her background in performance art and burlesque (seven years with Hell Cat Girls Burlesque and two with Olde City Sideshow) often helps her find models from a number of previously established contacts, like The Peek-a-Boo Revue. “It’s nice to have pretty burlesque girls in costumes, but it’s also nice for artists to have different body types,” Sporer said, while explaining the casting process that goes into a Sketchy’s event. “The thing that’s so great about Sketchy’s is the models get paid hourly and they get tips.”

Once an event wraps up, models vote for their favorite sketches. Artists who best interpret the evening’s theme can expect outre prizes from local sponsors, like Square Peg Artery & Salvage and Jinxed, and national and international sponsors, like Baby Tattoo Books and What Katie Did.

Aside from bragging rights and prizes, Sporer stressed that Dr. Sketchy’s events give artists and arts students the chance “to become better draftsmen. On the other side of the coin it’s fun and it’s also a great networking tool.”

The next Dr. Sketchy’s Philly event, The Age of Saints and Demons (A celebration of classical art), will take place at Fleisher Art Memorial on Friday, May 18, 7 – 10 pm.

Cassandra Petruchyk

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