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‘Balloon Fiesta it is not’

Danielle Orr looks at the skeletons of small animals on display in cloches at Saturday’s Oddities and Curiosities Expo in Albuquerque.
(Jim Thompson/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As suspension artist Manda Rexx swung through the air by hooks dug into the flesh of her knees, Paul Barr started to feel like something was off.

“I felt fine at first but then I started feeling like I was going to throw up or something,” he said from the concrete floor of an Expo New Mexico exhibit hall after fainting a few minutes earlier.

After a few minutes of recovery, Barr was able to stand up again and appeared to be back to normal.

Saturday’s Oddities and Curiosities Expo was certainly not for the faint of heart.

Still, event coordinator Michelle Cozzaglio, who organizes the traveling show out of Tulsa, Okla., said upward of 6,000 people came out to see the “strange and unusual” on display.

Chantelle Yazzie-Martin and her husband, McKenzie Martin, pose in a cutout at the Oddities and Curiosities Expo on Saturday. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

Albuquerque was the first stop on the show’s 16-city run this year.

Saturday’s event included 110 booths – about half of them local – featuring everything from a taxidermied and bespectacled squirrel and a gumball machine full of cow eyeballs to paintings made using human blood and jewelry made with animal bones.

Visitors seemed to span the gamut in age, including a few frightened and sobbing children.

But 6-year-old Dashiell Stuart was totally into it. He even used his allowance money to buy a tiny mink skull, which he proudly displayed in the palm of his hand.

“I think I’m going to put it in my special treasure place,” he explained.

His mother, Kathryn Stuart, said her son has a habit of keeping dried beetles, specially-shaped woodchips, stones and other outdoor finds.

Bones were certainly a common theme among vendors.

Stephanie Magby of Okemah, Okla., and her husband, Brian, have been making art out of skeletons for around seven years.

It all started when Brian found a tiny, intact mouse skeleton in an Airstream trailer they had just bought.

“He put it on a base and made a little tiny top hat for it and then got a porcupine quill cane,” Stephanie said. “We took it to a shop in Oklahoma City. They loved it and we started making more. It just kind of took off from there.”

Chad and Manda Rexx,owners of Rexx Body Modification, take a break between live suspension shows. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

The Magbys process animals themselves: skinning them, allowing flesh-eating dermestid beetles to strip the flesh from the bones then whitening them before transforming them into works of art.

Jane Lilly of Rio Rancho was at the show with a friend. They both fittingly described the driver behind their attendance as “curiosity.”

“People who didn’t come missed something,” said Lilly, who herself was wearing a vintage stole made of four martens and mismatched earrings of a dog tooth and rattlesnake rattler. “Balloon Fiesta it is not.”