In most apartment buildings, the recycling rituals are the same. Separate your plastics from your papers from your food mush, then bring the lot down to the giant bins in the basement when your own receptacles are full.
In Meaghan Kennedy’s building, things work a little differently. Residents store their paper and toilet rolls in separate containers. Once they have amassed an impressive pile, they deliver the rolls to Kennedy’s doorstep. “My landlord thinks I’m famous since he saw my stuff on Ellen. A lot of the people who collect recycling for me came to my last show at Hot Art Wet City.”
The landlord, residents and Ellen have all been focused on Kennedy’s unique art form: piñatas. “I make custom order piñatas and caricatures of people.” Kennedy has made piñatas of the Vampire Diaries team, Tom Cruise, David Suzuki, Steve Martin, Taylor Swift, Jonah Hill, Ellen DeGeneres, DJ Tony, She-Devil.
Kennedy is also commissioned to create custom piñatas for all manner of private occasions. She has made spouse replicas for wedding anniversaries, beloved co-workers for retirement parties and bodies with two faces to represent different stages of life. “One person asked me if I could make one for their friend who was super beautiful but had tiny hands. I made her look like a T-Rex. It was funny and awful and the friend loved it.”
A construction company asked her to create four, six-foot tall construction workers in harnesses. They were going to drop them off cranes as part of their safety training. “With those four in my room, I had to sleep with my lights on.”
Kennedy does not like to take on too many vengeful piñata orders. There is the odd divorce party piñata, the brutal boss bashing. But, most of her orders are affectionately placed and few partygoers are superstitious about smashing their loved ones to smithereens.
Once the piñatas are decimated and the candies – or toys, smoked salmon, plastic liquor bottles, x-rated party favours – have been released, regrets can set in. When people want their little piñata people back, Kennedy is brought in for reconstructive surgery. “These days, if someone buys a custom piñata for $300, they might buy a slightly less-detailed one for $100, so they can smash the cheaper one and keep the original.”
Kennedy started on her piñatas five years ago. “I wanted a really specific pink poodle piñata for my birthday, but couldn’t find one. I went down to the library – the crafting section is awesome in the Vancouver Public Library – and followed everything the books said. I started with a pattern of a donkey and modeled it after one of my favourite vintage ceramic poodles.”
As so often happens, friends saw her work, started placing orders and the business was born. Kennedy still works out of her one-bedroom apartment in the West End. “My bedroom is my place for work. I have piñatas hanging from clotheslines, crafting supplies. I’ll never get my damage deposit back.”
“My main ingredients are newspaper, flour, water, paper recycling. I look like a hoarder. I have bags of fun fur, hair extensions, eyelashes, fabric scraps. My father works in made-to-measure at Harry Rosen in Toronto. At the end of the season, they send me amazing cashmere bits from Bespoke.”
“My Dad was the first full person I made. It was for his 60th birthday. He is super skinny and super tall. I made his ring of hair with a feather boa. I took it on the plane and his feet fell off between New York and Toronto. I put them back on backwards and it is still hanging in my parents’ room. They love it; they never broke it.”
Kennedy doesn’t sketch out her piñata faces before she makes them. She shapes the faces as she builds. “I stare at people a lot. I love looking at them and figuring out what their quirks are. I’ll start with the chin and work my way through the face. I’ll ask people for one full face photo and one full body shot.”
She does all of this work with the extraordinarily long nails she has had for almost ten years. “I see them as an extension of my fingers.”
Over time, Kennedy has learned what does and does not work for piñata innards. One client was looking for shock factor, so Kennedy suggested red glitter and licorice. “It looked like guts. They loved it.”
As she looks forward, there are piñata people whom she would like to create: Bette Midler, more John Waters and some of the characters from Kennedy’s favourite daytime soaps. “Like Victor Newman from Young and the Restless. He’s so iconic. I’m intimidated by it.”
Kennedy has also started running piñata-crafting workshops. “Working from home is fantastic, but it can be isolating. I want to be around people and teaching is so much fun.”
She does full piñata workshops, where participants build over the course of the weekend. Right now, for instance, she is hard at work with a wonderful crew in a garage in San Leandro. Kennedy also does two hour workshops where she comes with pre-made shapes and party-goers have messy fun and build onto her piñata bases. “I tend to do a lot of prep work, cooking show style. I’ll set everything up, make all the bodies.”
Kennedy is excited about her future in piñatas and happy to know that most of her creations will be bashed into bits. “I like the semi-permanence of it. I like that we don’t need to keep things.”
Written by Elizabeth Newton