Hanging on the wall of the shop, Rupert Murdoch looks into a room filled with all kinds of wonder. Giant green, red and yellow muscles and pancreases rest on a long wooden table, 6 feet in length and grotesquely fat. By the wall there’s a neat line of about 50 oversized black shoes. In the back of the shop, a half-finished rhinoceros head stands by itself.
AvantGarb's Jennifer Q. Smith's favorite mascot? "It's always the most recent one we've worked on."
The soft song of a Singer sewing machine fills the room. In the middle of the shop, amidst mannequins and piles of cloth, Kathy Williams is sewing together bits of torn muscle. Hundreds of colorful photographs, in small wooden frames, cover the wall. The mind behind all this is here, too, Jennifer Q. Smith, the costume and mascot maker of AvantGarb. Smith has a background in fine arts and theater. Life has been an education of different habitats and climates; she’s lived in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Mexico City and now Indianapolis. Now her career involves bringing ideas to life in the form of life-size mascots or even larger puppets. AvantGarb, Smith’s creation, was born in 1987 in a garage in Berkley, Calif. Today it has its home in Indianapolis. Smith believes her success rests on the fact that mascots are a very unique means of advertising: “Mascots are the most personal form of advertising, people won’t take photos of children in front of stores or billboards, but they will with a mascot.” Smith believes her clientele are the most interesting in Indianapolis. “We are one of a very few who do specific custom work. It is very unusual for a company like AvantGarb to be based here in Indianapolis. The clients we deal with make the NFL look like a little family business.” The mix of imagination and innovation make AvantGarb a colorful place to work. Smith envisions Indianapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee being dressed with her ideas. She wants to decorate the city’s lampposts with huge summer dresses and hats. She also wants to make a television show based on costume and mascot design. Her description is a “Monster Garage for tots, or a how to Sesame Street.” Presently, the shop is working with the Grand Rapids Rampage and Abbott Laboratories Inc. Hence the pancreases, muscles and rhinoceros head. Mr. Murdoch was an oversized puppet used in a play years ago before retiring to his wall. With her mascots and diverse clientele for company, Smith’s 18-year run has not dimmed her enthusiasm for her work. When asked what is her all-time favorite mascot she laughs. “It’s always the most recent one we’ve worked on. TiVo was my favorite, then we did the duck for Dawn. I thought to myself, I will never love a mascot more than I love this duck. But then the rhinoceros came along, and you know what? There’s not much you can dislike about a rhinoceros.” For more on AvantGarb: www.avantgarb.com.