Let’s get one thing out of the way: Rusty DeWees, the writer-actor otherwise known as the Logger, did not get naked under the fluorescent lights of the White River Junction American Legion during his recent stint as a life-drawing model for Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School.
It was the only disappointment of the night.
Given the urban bar-scene origins of this art get-together, which has branches all over the world, a newcomer might expect a dimly lit cabaret vibe. Instead, imagine this scene: an enormous meeting room and bar with about as much ambiance as a school cafeteria. The lights buzz at full blast. Brown-and-yellow, diamond-patterned carpeting climbs all the way up the side of the bar.
In the center of the room, a makeshift stage draped in black fabric is adorned with pumpkins; a wooden stump (the theme of the night is “Fall Fantasy”); and a perfectly still DeWees, all done up in his logger gear: ripped jeans, a shredded flannel shirt, scuffed boots, a black baseball cap and an ax. He takes turns with Caitlin Christiana, aka the Pixie, posing in 15-minute installments in front of about 15 sketchers of all ages. Meanwhile, an emcee blasts tunes, including “She’s a Beauty” and “The Final Countdown,” both of which elicit cheers.
The scene is slightly ridiculous, but that’s what makes it so fun.
Phoebe Buskey — or Miss Phoebe, as she is known in this crowd — is responsible for the WRJ gatherings, which she’s hosted every six weeks since February. The 40-year-old mother of four is a huge fan of author Neil Gaiman (he wrote Coraline, which became a 2009 stop-motion film). When she found out he was into Dr. Sketchy’s, she decided to start her own branch.
Currently operating in more than 100 cities worldwide, Dr. Sketchy’s began in a Brooklyn dive bar in 2006, the brainchild of a 22-year-old art school dropout who wanted to create an unstuffy, cabaret-style environment where anybody could try a hand at drawing models, who are often in burlesque outfits and poses. Each branch is autonomous, but they all share a common vision. “The seedier the location, the better,” says Buskey.
Her first WRJ event drew five people. These days, she says, as many as 18 are likely to show. Students come from the nearby Center for Cartoon Studies. Monica Lamoureux, an art-school grad now working for Norwich’s Stave Puzzles, attended the most recent event (her drawing of DeWees is pictured). So did Buskey’s parents, Tom and Judy Hunt, who’ve never missed it.
Buskey grew up in White River Junction, as did the evening’s emcee, Leigh Whitten, and the branch’s resident photographer, Jon Smith, who documents the events. Buskey finds some models through Craigslist and reaches out to others directly. As for DeWees, she says, “I kind of emailed him on a whim.” She was surprised when he said yes.
“I thought it would be fun,” says DeWees. Besides, he was already in the area setting up a booth for the Tunbridge World’s Fair. “I don’t care how many people are here,” he adds. For DeWees, each new gig is an opportunity to connect with his existing, and potential, fan base — and to sell his brand. “That is why my business works,” he says. “It’s not because I’m funnier than that guy, or you … I’m 50. I could be doing this when I’m 80.”
DeWees has done a lot in front of an audience — including posing naked for the cover of this publication — but he’s never sat frozen for an extended period of time. “It was almost relaxing,” he says later.
When his second 15 minutes under the fluorescent lights are up, DeWees treats his WRJ onlookers to more typical Logger action: singing, strumming the guitar and flirting expertly with one of the prettier artists. “You ever see a muscle burp?” he asks her, before letting out a belch the instant he flexes his chiseled biceps. He compliments her red toenails, and she blushes.
The Pixie spends most of the evening prancing around in bare feet, a black tank top festooned with fake autumn leaves and a red lace skirt, through which her black underwear is visible. She doesn’t talk much, but giggles incessantly, especially when sitting on DeWees’ lap for one pose.
On a break from the mic, Whitten heads to the bar, which has apple-pie and toasted-almond cocktails on special. He muses on his hometown’s unique character. “When you walk into a haunted house, you know there are ghosts there because you can feel it,” he says. “That’s how I feel about White River Junction. There’s been so much travel here. You aren’t the first spirit to walk these streets.”
A song ends, and Whitten dashes back to his post. Plugging October’s Dr. Sketchy session (theme: “Zombie Attack!”), as well as the branch’s first-ever short-story-writing contest, he poses a hypothetical scenario to DeWees over the mic: You’re about to be eaten by zombies. How would you prefer to die?
DeWees gives the nonsensical question some thought and finally offers, “A bunch of M-80s up my butt.” Chuckles ripple through the room. Later, DeWees gives in to Whitten’s on-mic pleading and shows a little skin, rolling up his shirt to expose a rock-hard six-pack.
But there’s no hootin’ and hollerin’ from this crowd; the sketchers get right to the task at hand, transforming the Logger into a work of art.