Meeting tommequins and other insanity

There are many rules on web etiquette. Don’t use your real name. Don’t give out personal details.  Don’t meet up with anyone you meet on the web.  And definitely don’t travel over-seas to  meet up with anyone. Well I was about to travel to meet somebody I didn’t know, who came  across as being just a little odd on the web. I was going to meet tommequins.

A couple of years ago I joined the Flickr community. At the beginning I didn’t really know how it worked and how you made contacts. There was no rhyme or reason in the material I  put up. Professional work and happy snaps; everything went up.


For years I have been shooting reflections in shop windows and I put some of these online. Finally I started getting comments. A group of fashion professionals and mannequin collectors  started to tell me the names and manufacturers of the mannequins that I had been shooting. I was inducted into the arcane world of mannequin collectors.


Of particular interest were the photographs of mannequins by a company called Rootstein. Adel Rootstein started in the 1960’s in swinging London. She was the first to use real people as a reference for her mannequins and her designs have a bit of a cult following.


One of the Flickrites who contacted me was tommequins. I noticed on his stream that he had  been to the Rootstein Showroom in New York to see their new season’s mannequins. I was  going to New York and mailed him to see if he could give me a contact so that I could go there to  take photographs. Tommequins came up with a better idea. He would meet me at the showroom and drive me back to his place in Upper New York State to see his mannequin collection as well. Tommequins collects, restores and repairs mannequins as well as a thousand other things.


My husband was concerned and asked for all the details. Where was I going, who was I seeing  and what were their contact details. My information was pretty sketchy.


I dutifully arrived at the showroom and the staff  were fantastic. They put on the light  and sound show that had accompanied the seasons launch and just left me to take whatever  shots I wanted. The theme was Native American Indians and the costuming was sensational.





Tommequins  arrived dressed appropriately in an Indian themed jacket. Introductions were made and everything seemed alright. But then he decided to become part of the window display.  He lay down and put his ponytail in the hands of an Indian. It looked as if he was being dragged off for a scalping. OK it was going to be an interesting day.



As we drove into his town I looked around and realised that it would be a perfect setting
for The Stepford Wives. Everything was perfect. The shops were all the same with very discreet signage; neon signs are forbidden and colours are prescribed. It was all so neat. As we drove  through the equally neat back streets of trimmed hedges and raked lawns tommequins asked if I could guess which property was his. It was really easy. I guessed that the property with the giant mannequins  and junk everywhere was his. The yard even had a wire enclosure that was full of unloved naked mannequins. The neighbours must love the family next door.





There are several homes on the property and I was to discover that every basement was full of mannequins in various stages of repair and disrepair. Tommequins introduced me to his brother who is also a collector; they both had the same maniacal twinkle in their eyes. What had I got myself into?


The first basement we visited was reached through a side entrance. As the doors were thrown back all I could see were the spider webs stretching into the long, dark distance. I’m an arachnophobe so made tommequins go first to break the webs. It was very dark and that hid the spiders. But once I was down  there I forgot about them as I saw the amazing sight before me. Talk about Kodak moments.




Tommequins’s brother came with us and as I edged through a door to capture more delights I heard him say “no-one knows where she is.....we could lock the door and leave her”. Hmm.



They told me a story of when the boiler in one of the basements needed repair. They arranged for the repairman to attend. Within a few minutes of his arrival he rang them saying that he was  too freaked out to stay and they needed to get someone else. All those bodies looking at him was just  too much. Fabulous setting for a teen horror flick.





The next basement looked as if a mannequin massacre had occurred. Body pieces strewn everywhere. More cobwebs. More spiders.



We visited the studio which is where all the repairs are carried out. Every room including a toilet and every surface was crowded with heads.




The variety is extraordinary ranging from very old wax heads from France to a wonderful array of Art Deco displays.     




We went through his home which has another wonderful collection. Every room in  the house  is peopled with mannequins. If a burglar ever made the mistake of breaking in, you’d hear them screaming as they ran away to hand themselves in. A place of nightmares.




His daughter has a couple of full-sized Rootstein Barbie Dolls, they are very precious to her. On being introduced to her tommequins told her that" the nice lady had come to take the Barbies on a plane back to Australia”. To her credit there was a little twitch of the lip and a wince but then  she said very quietly “OK”.

I was introduced to his wife and breathed a sigh of relief at a modicum of normality. The first thing she asked me was if I believed in burial or cremation. Well so much for small talk.


It was a day of amazing visual over-load. Starting at the exquisite Rootstein Showroom and ending in a few creepy basements. Back in New York I rang my husband and let him know that I had survived the day.



He didn’t believe my description of the things I had seen until he saw the photographs. Back in New York I celebrated a great day.


Visiting tommequins and his basements are now highlights of my annual trip to New York.


PS.  Thanks to all the mannequin set for your encouragement and advice. I hope to eventually meet you all.


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