Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: June 2022

A baby in an Ewok costume stares at a couple of robed Jawas, Spider-Man strolls by, and a senior officer of the Royal Manticoran Navy strides toward the camera, while Lone Starr and Barf hurry past on the other side of the hallway.

A Kaleidoscope of Cosplay

By Jan S. Gephardt

I had so much fun at SoonerCon 30 – not the least of which came from the kaleidoscope of cosplay that I encountered everywhere. I had many lovely moments at this science fiction convention. But the cosplay was in a class of its own. The sheer, rich, visual diversity of these costumes provided a weekend of riches, just by themselves.

Even more than most of the other “cons” I attend (short for the admittedly-unwieldy term “science fiction convention”), SoonerCon is part literary con, part media/comics con, and part Anime con. It’s the latter two aspects that really focus on cosplay, or “costume play.”

Left-to-right, the passers-by included a woman in pink lace, a Goth lady, a pair of Jawas with glowing eyes, and a wizard in a cloak.
The people-watching at SoonerCon 30 was awesome! (all photos by author).

Costumes and Science Fiction: a Natural Match

The first science fiction cons (dating back to at least the 1930s) were literary cons, old-style fan-run conventions focused on written books, then later also the artwork that illustrated those books and the “fanzines” that connected often-isolated sf fans. Media conventions celebrate science fiction TV shows and movies, plus podcasts, music, and all manner of streaming media. Comics? Give you one guess. And then there’s the amazing and beautiful world of Anime, which originated in Japan, but quickly took the rest of the world by storm.

Every con has at least some costumed attendees, even if it doesn’t offer SoonerCon’s richly-varied kaleidoscope of cosplay. Costumes have been a beloved aspect of them since the dawn of sf cons. Compared to what walks in the door at the average science fiction convention today, those early costumes look amateurish, but they were pretty much always there. It’s like Halloween for kids of all ages, any time of the year. Indeed, many fans love Halloween more than any other holiday, including Christmas!

A baby in an Ewok costume stares at a couple of robed Jawas, Spider-Man strolls by, and a senior officer of the Royal Manticoran Navy strides toward the camera, while Lone Starr and Barf hurry past on the other side of the hallway.
The passing parade never stopped, and the kaleidoscope of cosplay seemed endless. (all photos by author).

Taking Their Costumes Seriously

By this point in their evolution, there are some amazingly skilled costumers in our midst. More than you might think make a part-time or full-time living, creating costumes of all varieties. Some costumers specialize in Anime, some in American comic and superhero characters. Some focus on creatures, in the form of everything from a small puppet to carry on one’s arm or wear, to full-body suits. Furry fandom is a whole other, amazing category of its own.

Some costumers specialize in Star Wars, Star Trek, and other media characters, and some focus on Steampunk or other niche categories (I’ve found more Steampunk at DemiCon than SoonerCon, however). Some costumers specialize so narrowly that they mainly make hats, masks, or high-quality corsets. The professionals have serious skills, but there also are gifted amateurs or semi-pros who can give them a run for their money!

Led by R2D2 and a gonk droid, a parade of Imperial officers and citizens of the Star Wars universe pass by Jan’s table.
The “Star Wars” was strong with these cosplayers. (photos by author).

Solid Support for SoonerCon’s Kaleidoscope of Cosplay

One enduring feature of SoonerCon has been the presence of Bernina of Oklahoma City. This year they were a Patron Sponsor of the convention. They had a big space in the Exhibitors Hall, where they showcased their machines, helped mend “wounded” costumes, and if you had a long enough string of badge ribbons, they’d even stitch them together for you. They helped offer a high-dollar sewing machine for the Masquerade Contest prize, and a simpler model for the Children’s Costume Contest.

It probably won’t surprise you that the ingenious costumers of science fiction fandom also have branched into other allied fields. You can’t create convincing aliens from any of the “Star” universes, for example, without skillful use of makeup and often-sophisticated prosthetics. And accessories (including weapons) makes up one of the most exuberant sub-categories at the con.

Sewing machines and science-fiction-themed quilts line the back wall of the Bernina Center in the SoonerCon Exhibition Hall.
The Bernina Center in the Exhibition Hall. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt).

Accessories and Gizmos

There’s no match for a good blaster at your side (or other “ray gun,” complete with lights and sound effects). Unless maybe it’s your own light saber. Yes, we had light sabers for all ages at SoonerCon, too. A few weeks ago, you read about my friend Zac Zacarola, his dealers room table for Ziggy’s West, and his “Wall of Doom.” Weapons at conventions must be peace-bonded. But many fans cherish their swords, knives, battle-axes, throwing stars, Bat’leths, and other weapons. They often display them proudly in their homes.

Perhaps most astounding of all are the mechanized creations, be they animatronics or robots. One man at SoonerCon wore an astounding Iron Man suit with a faceplate that lifted up and a glowing “arc reactor” on the breastplate. There are R2D2 Builders Club members and chapters all over the world. We have one in Kansas City, and there’s another in Oklahoma City. Norman, where SoonerCon is held, is the third-largest city in Oklahoma, but it’s also in the Oklahoma City metro area. So of course, we had one at SoonerCon.

Left-to-Right, the Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom” in progress; Iron Man; R2D2 and a gonk droid.
The Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom went up Thursday night. The Iron Man suit had a glowing “arc reactor,” and a faceplate that went up and down. R2D2 and the gonk droid led the “Star Wars” parade. (See credits below).

Imagination and Playfulness are Key

Whatever they specialize in, the costumers who created the kaleidoscope of cosplay at SoonerCon have two things in common. They take crafting an eye-popping costume very seriously. And they don’t always take themselves seriously. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be so good at playing. And one running theme throughout the convention was having fun. Among the Gaming Events, one could choose Muggle Quidditch, LARPing (Live Action Role Playing), and Nerf Wars, among other things. Style points for playing in a (durable) costume.

Folks in hall costumes often didn’t hesitate to deliver a speech in character, perform a skit, or just ad lib through their encounters. They staged impromptu parades. Throughout the convention center cosplayers banded together for group photos or posed for photographers who wanted to capture their individual costumes. With a kaleidoscope of cosplay all around them, it’s easy to see why everyone had their cameras out.

At left, Darth Vader stares up at the first floor balcony of the Embassy Suites and shakes his fist at Obi-Wan Kenobi, who shouts, “It’s over, Anakin! I have the high ground!” in a meme published by the SoonerCon Cosplay Facebook Group. At right, Kenneth Moore Jr. turned his mobility device into a dragon!
A “showdown” in the Atrium of the hotel, and a real-life dragonrider (Kenneth Moore, Jr.) offer examples of the creative fun with costumes at SoonerCon. (See credits below).


Jan took most of the photos in this post, and made all of the montages. She’s also deeply grateful to Tyrell E. Gephardt and his Canon camera for others. Ty spent a lot of his weekend taking individual shots of cosplayers, as well as candid hallway shots and general convention pictures.

One of Ty’s photos, the pic of the Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom” going up, anchors one end of the post’s 5th image. Next (L-R) comes the photo of the Iron Man costume, by Brian Hook, courtesy of the SoonerCon Cosplay Facebook Group. Jan took the photo at far right (R2D2 & the gonk droid).

For the sixth and final image of this post, we owe massive thanks to the SoonerCon Cosplay Group. They published the “high ground” meme, by Warguts, Inc. They also provided a forum for Ariel Mayumi Wolf’s photo of Kenneth Moore, Jr., riding his “dragon.”

Many thanks to all!

Seven photos illustrate Juneteenth celebrations in Texas during the period around 1900-1913.


By G. S. Norwood

This past weekend America celebrated a new federal holiday called Juneteenth. It has been a holiday—official and unofficial—in Texas for a long time, and those celebrations have slowly spread to other states across our nation, but June 19, 2022, was only the second time the whole country had the opportunity to celebrate the day when human enslavement was finally banished from our shores. Which seems like an excellent thing to celebrate, don’t you think?

A Bit of Juneteenth History

Juneteenth commemorates the day that United States Army General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston Bay with 4,000 mostly Black troops and an official declaration that slavery had been abolished. Black Americans were forever free. He arrived two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

Travel was slow in the United States back then. Communication even slower. The pinheaded white supremacist plantation owners of Texas knew about emancipation, but refused to share the news with the people they held in slavery. White Texans had sided with the Confederacy because they enjoyed great financial benefits from using enforced, unpaid labor. And—still licking their wounds from their defeat in the Civil War—they just simply didn’t wanna give Black people their freedom.

You think today’s Trumpist Republicans are sore losers? Post-Civil War Confederates could have taught them a thing or two about the adamant refusal to accept reality. But once General Granger brought the news to Texas, Black people didn’t look back.

A detail from the Galveston Daily News issue of June 21, 1865 published General Granger’s General Order Number 3, which opens with the line, “The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
When General Granger came to town, the cat was out of the bag. (KVUE).

Community Celebrations

Not that the White power elite of Texas allowed the Black community to celebrate publicly. At least not to begin with. The celebrations started small, within family groups and the small freedmen communities the popped up all across the Lone Star State.

People would gather in parks and churches, in their own back yards or neighborhoods, and do what every American does when celebrating significant events. They brought food and music and friends. They ate and danced and flirted with the people who took their fancy. Reconnected to families, shared stories, and ate some more.

By the mid-twentieth century the celebrations became more widespread and more open. In 1980, the White establishment in the Texas legislature bowed to the inevitable, and made Juneteenth an official state holiday. I first heard of Juneteenth when I moved to Texas in 1985. Within a few years I began to hear of Juneteenth celebrations in Kansas City, St. Louis, and other cities around the country with significant Black populations.

Seven photos illustrate Juneteenth celebrations in Texas during the period around 1900-1913. See the “Image Credits” section for details and identifications.
Seven historic photos from the 1900-1913 period in Texas reflect the variety of early Texas Juneteenth celebrations. (See credits below).

Opal Lee

But the slow spread of Juneteenth celebrations wasn’t enough for Opal Lee, a teacher, historian, philanthropist, and community activist from Fort Worth, Texas. Ms. Lee had already spent many years raising her family, founding a local food bank, and advocating for civil rights. But she felt she ought to do more. So she decided to take a walk.

Specifically, she decided to walk from Fort Worth to Washington, D. C.—a distance of about 1400 miles—to draw attention to the importance of Juneteenth not only to Black Americans, but to ALL Americans. She made that walk in 2.5 mile increments, symbolizing the two and half years between the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the day the news finally reached Texas. All along the way she gathered supporters, and signatures on a petition to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Five photos capture moments from Opal Lee’s multi-year campaign to get Juneteenth recognized as a Federal holiday. She succeeded in 2021, when the bill to create the holiday passed Congress and President Joe Biden signed it into law on June 17.
Years of effort for a moment of triumph – and a lasting legacy. (See credits below).

America’s Original Sin

Juneteenth is, after all, the day our nation redeemed the soul it sold in compromises over slavery when our Founding Fathers—all a bunch of White landowners—put together our nation’s Constitution.

Those Founding Fathers got an awful lot of stuff right when they wrote the Constitution. There’s a reason why it’s used as a template for other state and national constitutions all around the world. But they got the whole issue of human enslavement all wrong. Some of them, including George Washington, knew it at the time, although Washington only freed his slaves upon his death. The slaveholding landowners of the southern states and the slave traders of the north refused to budge, however.

Afraid they would lose the whole national experiment in democratic rule before it ever got off the ground, the founders caved. They sold the soul of our nation to form our nation. I guess they figured they’d be able to sort it all out at some later date.

A lithographic print based on a Junius Brutus Stearns painting shows a wheat harvest in progress at Mt. Vernon. Enslaved African-Americans labor in the background, while white children play in the lower left corner and George Washington is portrayed talking with another white man in the lower right.
This lithograph ca. 1853, The Life of George Washington: The Farmer is based on a painting by Junius Brutus Stearns. (See credits below).

Juneteenth Celebrates Freedom for All

Maybe 2022 is a bit later than even the founders figured on, but here we are, still sorting out our nation’s attitudes toward race, and determining for the next generation whether we really mean all those lofty promises about freedom and equality for all. Opal Lee, now 95, believes the adoption of Juneteenth as a national holiday is a step in the right direction. “Juneteenth is freedom, but we are not free until all of us are free,” Lee said this past Saturday, as she stepped out on yet another 2.5-mile walk. “There’s still work to be done.”

Lee recommends five ways to mark this new-to-White-folks holiday: reflection on our shared history; joyful celebration of the progress we’ve made; respect for the wisdom of our elders through the sharing of their stories; a “jamboree of feasting and fellowship”; and inclusion.

“No matter who you are,” Lee said, “Juneteenth is a unifier that represents freedom.”

A Black man in a red cap with black sunglasses, a pale yellow beard, and a T-shirt emblazoned, “free-ish, Juneteenth Since 1865,” takes the mic during a performance.
In one of a whole collection of wonderful photos from the 2022 Juneteenth celebrations by CNN, Carlton Anderson performs in a Spartanburg SC spoken word event, 6/17/2022. (See credits below).

Editor’s Note

If you enjoyed this post about Juneteenth, you might also enjoy some of G.’s other posts about Texas history and culture. In posts related to her stories Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues, you might enjoy her music-history posts The Legend of Robert Johnson and Deep Ellum Blues, the Song.

She and her sister Jan S. Gephardt co-wrote Whose History? But for G’s solo dives into Texas history and culture, see Layers of History and a Darn Good Dog, A Bowl of Red, and Lady Bird and the Wildflowers. For a look at unfolding “contemporary history” and culture in Texas, see Surviving a Not-So-Natural Disaster, What are They Thinking? And Is Texas Crazy? We think you’ll come away both enlightened and entertained.


We have a lot of people to thank and acknowledge for the imagery that illustrates this post. Many thanks, first of all, to KVUE in Austin, TX. They provided the detail from the Galveston Daily News issue of June 21, 1865. It published General Granger’s General Order Number Three. The other two single images have somewhat more complicated stories.

The Life of George Washington: The Farmer is a colored lithograph created around 1853 by a French lithographer named Régnier and printed by the Parisian printer Lemercier. Enslaved African-Americans labor in the background, while white children play in the lower left corner. George Washington is portrayed talking with another white man in the lower right. It is based on a painting, Washington as a Farmer at Mount Vernon. The painting is part of the“Washington Series,” (1847-1856) by the American painter Junius Brutus Stearns. The image is available via Wikimedia Commons.

One photo from a CNN gallery of wonderful pictures captured during the 2022 Juneteenth celebrations shows a man named Carlton Anderson as he participates in a spoken word event in Spartanburg, SC. CNN credited the photo to Alex Hicks Jr. of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, via the USA Today Network. This one especially caught our art director’s fancy, but the entire collection is well worth a look.

The Early Juneteenth Celebrations

Both montages were assembled and composed by Jan S. Gephardt. When it comes to the historical Juneteenth photos, there is a massive wealth of absolutely wonderful photos. Early Texas celebrations took a variety of expressions. There are especially delightful collections from Austin in 1900 and the Houston/Corpus Christi area in 1913. Public Domain Review is one source for far more wonderful images than we could portray here. You may remember Jan and the Homecoming Mums last February. She faced a similar temptation when it came to the decorated Juneteenth carriages and wagons.

The early Juneteenth photo montage centers on a Grace Murray Stephenson photo of a band that played in Eastwoods Park in Austin, TX, ca. 1900. Others by Stephenson, also apparently were taken at the same event. Clockwise from lower right: a group of Civil War re-enactors; children enjoying refreshments, a picnic table under a canopy, and elders who had formerly been enslaved.

The two sepia-tinged photos of decorated carriages come from two different libraries. At upper left, a photo by George McCuiston shows Daniel N. Leathers Sr. in Corpus Christi TX. The photo comes from the SMU Libraries. A note on the Public Domain Review page (scroll down) tells more about Leathers. “Born in North Carolina in 1855, [he] moved to Corpus Christi and became a successful merchant and was involved in state politics. A public housing development in Corpus Christi named in his honor was destroyed in 2017 to make way for the Harbor Bridge.”

In the lower right, a photo by Schlueter of Houston shows Martha Yates Jones and Pinkie Yates. “The Snow Balls of the Flower Parade, 1908,” posed in their decorated carriage. That one came from the Houston Public Library.

Opal Lee

Opal Lee’s montage opened a similar cornucopia of photo possibilities. Clockwise from lower left, Opal Lee speaks about Juneteenth at Ft. Worth City Hall in 2015. She leads a triumphant crowd on the first Federal holiday of Juneteenth, in Ft. Worth in 2021. Lee is the subject of a montage by MarketWatch in the upper right. Below at right, see part of a 2020 Juneteenth walk in Ft. Worth. Below at center, President Biden hands Lee a pen he used to sign the Juneteenth Federal Holiday into law, on 6/17/2021 in Washington DC. Vice President Kamala Harris stands beside her. Many thanks to all, and happy Juneteenth!

A panoramic view of the ConQuesT 53 Art Show tops photos of Mikah and Renji (Kat is camera-shy).

A Show full of GoHs

By Jan S. Gephardt

The ConQuesT 53 Art Show was certainly a “Show full of GoHs.” Perhaps I should unpack that a bit. In fannish circles the acronym “GoH” stands for “Guest of Honor,” and is pronounced “go.” Every science fiction convention invites several headline guests. They appear, generally all- or most-expenses-paid by the convention committee, to attract people to the convention.

In the early years, the GoHs (plural for “GoH,” pronounced “goes”) were nearly all authors. And still today the “Author GoH” usually gets listed first. As conventions and sub-fandoms proliferated, though, we also began to see Media GoHs, Fan GoHs, Special GoHs. And – most important for this post, Artist GoHs.

I arrived at this post’s title when I wandered from display panel to display panel and realized “this really is a show full of GoHs.” I counted five (I apologize if I missed any!), including this year’s Artist Guest, who’ve been Artist Guests of Honor at ConQuesT in recent decades. There were so many, I decided to dedicate a separate blog post to them.

On the 2022 convention’s themed sparkly background, the graphic reads “ConQuesT 53, Memorial Day Weekend 2022, Sheraton Crown Center, Kansas City, MO. Guest of Honor: Donato Giancola, Artist known for classical realist depictions of the worlds of George R. R. Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien, & more.” This message is flanked by a photo of the artist and the cover of his book “Middle Earth: Journeys in Myth & Legend.”
Donato Giancola was the Artist Guest of Honor at ConQuesT 53 (image courtesy of ConQuesT).

Donato Giancola, 2022

Every few years an illustrator becomes such a master of the craft, and so universally-respected, that he or she becomes generally acknowledged as a grandmaster. Frank Kelly Freas, Michael Whelan, and a handful of others have reached that status. They illustrate their period’s most important books. Their work regularly receives Hugo Awards, Chesley Awards, Spectrum Awards, and more. They eventually tend to branch out into fine art, gallery representation, and their works become the centerpieces of museum gallery shows.

I’d say it’s probable that in recent years Donato Giancola has joined those ranks. A rising talent in fantasy, science fiction, and speculative art since the mid-1990s, he’s currently best known for his J.R.R. Tolkien illustrations in Middle Earth: Journeys in Myth and Legend and his Empathetic Robots Series. Long revered for his wonderful Magic; The Gathering card designs, his work displays a stunning technical expertise, little wonder he’s also a popular online teacher.

This screen-grab from a rotating series of background images on Donato Giancola’s website uses a detail from one of his paintings t back navigational images for New Art, Magic: The Gathering prints, proofs, and artworks, the Online Store, Techniques in Drawing & Painting instructional materials, and Gallery.
Donato Giancola’s website offers a trove of art resources. (image courtesy of Donato Arts).

Elizabeth Leggett, 2018

The next-most-recent guest whose work I spotted in this “Show of GoHs” is Elizabeth Leggett. I remember the year ConQuesT honored her as a particularly interesting time. That’s partially because I had more chances than usual to catch her panel appearances as well as enjoy her work in the show. It’s also because that’s the year she and my friend Lynette M. Burrows did a “cover reveal” at the convention. She painted the original cover for Lynette’s debut novel, My Soul to Keep (It’s still my favorite of Lynette’s covers, but genre conventions forced her to change it later).

I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth’s work ever since. Her website says “Elizabeth Leggett is a Hugo award-winning illustrator whose work focuses on soulful, human moments-in-time that combine ambiguous interpretation and curiosity with realism. . . . In 2012, she ended a long fallow period by creating a full seventy-eight card tarot in a single year. From there, she transitioned into freelance illustration. Her clients represent a broad range of outlets, from multiple Hugo award winning Lightspeed Magazine to multiple Lambda Literary winner, Lethe Press. She was honored to be chosen to art direct both Women Destroy Fantasy and Queers Destroy Science Fiction, both under the Lightspeed banner.”

Rachael Mayo, 2017

The year before Elizabeth became the Artist GoH, hometown favorite Rachael Mayo received that honor. Rachael is a friend, but even if she wasn’t, I’d have a special place in my heart for her wonderful, often vibrantly-colorful creatures. She persistently self-identifies as an “amateur” artist at sf convention art shows because she has a “day job.” But that has never dented her serious focus on materials, craftsmanship and mastery of skills.

According to Rachael’s Noble Fusion bio, her artful adventures in the publication field include a period when she produced several covers for Hadley Rille Books (including for my friend M. C. Chambers’ Shapers’ Veil), interior illustrations for Tremorworks: Demongate High Monster Manual, and work for now-apparently-inactive (?) Hive, Queen and Country Victorian miniatures. More readily available are Rachael’s beautiful and challenging coloring books.

Four images from Elizabeth Leggett’s online gallery and three from that of Rachel Mayo offer a taste of their work.
Take a deeper dive into the online galleries of Elizabeth Leggett and Rachael Mayo for many more visual riches. (See credits below).

Peri Charlifu, 2010

Few artists have found better success focusing on science fiction conventions than Peri Charlifu. A master of his craft (he mixes his own glazes, for example), he has normally sent his wonderful pottery creations (in sturdy boxes, nestled in carefully-crafted cradles of pool noodles and bubble-wrap) to some 40-50 shows each year. His entries are the objects of delighted admiration and spirited bidding everywhere they go, as far as I can tell. I don’t recall having ever been to a convention where the art show staff had unsold Charlifu ceramics to send back to him. And as anyone who exhibits their work at sf cons can attest, that’s saying something!

Peri began offering detailed workshops on how to conduct a successful art career, both at conventions and in his home state of Colorado. He and his ever-expanding group of mentees and associates created the Convention Artists Guild. The group had formed before the Pandemic, but it became a port in the storm for working artists then. Its weekly Virtual Art Shows offered a needed outlet when all the normal ways of doing business went on lockdown.

Peri was the Artist GoH at ConQuesT in 2010, but in many ways he’s “Primus” (his Convention Artists Guild title) among artists who exhibit their work at sf conventions. He’s not extremely tall, but even in this “Show full of GoHs,” he’s a towering (though always gentle) figure.

Theresa Mather, 2005

Theresa Mather’s visually-luscious fantasy art is another regular fixture at many sf convention art shows. She normally exhibits her work at more than 70 shows each year. In this “Show full of GoHs” she seems to shine on timelessly.

Theresa earned her place in this post when she was the ConQuesT Artist GoH in 2005 (I still treasure her T-shirt, and I’m not alone). She appreciates the convention art show staffs that handle her work as few other mail-in artists seem to (she never fails to enclose some little gifts for the staff). And her generous spirit shines through her work.

Like Peri Charlifu, she has a large, devoted fan base. Also like him, Theresa never took the more usual sf and fantasy artists’ route of working for book publishers or gaming companies. Instead, she relates directly to her followers. Although paintings and prints on paper are her normal fare, she’s also known for her elaborate paintings on feathers and rocks. Active in the field of antique carousel restoration early in her career, her bio says she has painted “suites of large-scale paintings for the crestings of five antique carousels and decorative paintwork for a sixth” (three of those are currently on public display).

Photos from Theresa’s panels after setup on Thursday night of ConQuesT 53, and a screen-grab of Peri’s pottery from the Aegean Goods Website.
The ConQuesT 53 display of Theresa Mather, alongside a gallery of Peri Charlifu’s pottery. (See credits below).

The Force Behind this Show full of GoHs

Before I end this two-part series of posts on the ConQuesT 53 Art Show (see last week’s post for the first in this two-parter), one more salute. I think it’s important to note that none of these artists would have a forum to show their art in a visually stunning and widely- respected art show, were it not for the leadership of Art Show Director Mikah McCullough and his devoted team (most especially including his wife Katarina Gibb, and, yes, his Corgi Renji).

During their tenure Mikah and Kat have modernized the show, improved its efficiency, and promoted it (most notably through the show’s Facebook Page) energetically. They care deeply about fantasy and science fiction art. They make sure the art placed in their care is handled gently, and completely accounted for from receipt through sale or return and payment to artists.

They’re the reason so many artists, including so many past and present Artist Guests of Honor, have found it worthwhile to send or bring their work year after year. They laid the solid groundwork for this “show full of GoHs.” And everyone who saw the show is the richer for their work.

A panoramic view of the ConQuesT 53 Art Show tops photos of Mikah and Renji (Kat is camera-shy).
Mikah (L) and his intrepid art show staff (to represent them, that’s Renji at right with stacks of mailed-in art in boxes) put on an awesome show Full of GoHs. (See credits below).


Fair use of copyrighted artwork is always a fraught question with artists profiled in blog posts. For this post, I’ve used only publicly-shared photos and screen-grabs of galleries on the artists’ websites. I hope that they’ll give you a taste of what each artist has to offer. For better, larger views of these wonderful pieces, please click on the URL links. Take some time to enjoy browsing the artists’ websites. Each one offers unique rewards and visual delights.

As noted above, the “Artist Guest of Honor” graphic for Donato Giancola is courtesy of ConQuesT 53. The peek at his website’s range is courtesy of Donato himself, via his website. The gallery-views representing Elizabeth Leggett and Rachael Mayo offer only small glimpses of what you’ll find on their websites.

Mikah McCullough took the photos of Theresa Mather’s ConQuesT 53 display panels. He posted them publicly on the ConQuesT Art Show’s Facebook for sharing, with her blessing. The detail from Peri Charlifu’s Aegean Goods gallery of pottery offers a partial view of his work’s range and sophistication. See much more of both artists’ work via the links.

Mikah also took (and posted) the photos of the ConQuesT 53 Art Show panorama. Ditto with his dog Renji with the mailed-in art boxes. The photo of Mikah himself is from his Twitter profile (photographer uncredited). Many thanks to all! The montages are Jan S. Gephardt’s doing.

The ConQuesT 53 Art Show in a panoramic photo that shows the entire display.

A Sampler of Excellent Artists at ConQuesT 53

By Jan S. Gephardt

ConQuesT 53 offered quite a sampler excellent artists. It really was a beautiful show, a credit to both the artists and the Art Show director, Mikah McCullough (ably assisted by his wife Katarina Gibb, and his Corgi Renji). I don’t have time or room to feature them all, but several of them impressed me with the range, beauty, and inventiveness of their work. Most had new things that I haven’t seen at ConQuesT before.

For the short profiles offered below, I have borrowed liberally from the artists’ self-posted biographies. Please note that I did need to edit most for length and to fit the needs of this blog post. However, it is not my intention to misrepresent the facts stated in them.

As for the artwork shown, “fair use” standards are always tricky when one hasn’t had the “bandwidth” (because of illness and family urgencies to attend to) to contact all of these artists ahead of time. Lacking their expressed wishes, I have only used photos that they themselves authorized to be publicly posted – either on their own websites or on the ConQuesT Art Show Facebook page. I strongly encourage you to explore their work at more depth on their websites.

The ConQuesT 53 Art Show in a panoramic photo that shows the entire display.
A panorama of the ConQuesT 53 Art Show, just prior to the end of the silent auction. (Mikah McCullough/ConQuesT Art Show).

Lucy A. Synk

Yes, I’m biased. And please note that this post’s sampler of excellent artists isn’t all ranked according to “who Jan knows best” order. But I just had to start here. As frequent readers of this blog know, Lucy A. Synk and I are close friends. She painted the cover art for my novella The Other Side of Fear. She is a member of my first-to-be-consulted Brain Trust (along with my sister G. S. Norwood and Dora Furlong), whenever I have new XK9 stories that need feedback. And readers of both this blog and my Newsletter know her as the artist who frequently creates developmental and promotional images of characters from Rana Station.

Lucy has exhibited her art at science fiction conventions, Renaissance Festivals, and art fairs.  She illustrated magazines and books in both the U.S. and Europe, most notably the cover for Andre Norton’s book Wizard’s Worlds. She also continued to hone her various skills in painting and portraiture. Through more than a decade of work in the natural history exhibit industry, Lucy painted murals and illustrations. She considers her Cretaceous mural, installed at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, IL, the high point of that career (scroll down on this page to see the mural).

Lucy is now exploring new directions for her artwork. Experiments with “Dirty Pour” and Mixed Media techniques resulted in her Planets series and the fantasy sea/ship paintings. She also has created some wonderful new still-life and Plein Aire paintings, and has embarked on an ambitious series of paintings called the “Rejoicing in Our Differences” series.

Arden Ellen Nixon

No sampler of excellent artists at ConQuesT 53’s Art Show would be complete without Arden Ellen Nixon’s work. Especially not, since she’s recently returned to full-time “artist-ing” and had some new-to-me work in this show.

I first encountered Arden’s work when I was the Art Show Director at ConQuesT myself, back in the dark times before Mikah McCullough took the helm. Since then we’ve become friendly acquaintances (I once had fun giving her a tour of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art). Here’s what she has to say about herself and her art.

“Hello! I am Arden Ellen Nixon, and I will be your charmingly awkward artist this evening. It is my sincerest wish for my paintings to find the beauty in the dark–as with my extensive “Make-Shift Angel” series–the silly in the sublime, and the humanity shared by the creatures and the world around us. Legend has it that I could draw before I could walk. While I don’t know about that, I do know that I bought my first set of acrylics at thirteen. I found my starter set at a hardware store, of all places, on clearance for $13.75. “Why not?” I thought–little did I know! When not painting, you’ll find me pursuing my love of ancient history, watching soccer–Come On You Spurs!–with my husband, and visiting whatever zoo or museum is available at the time.”

The ConQuesT 53 displays of L-R: Lucy A. Synk and Arden Ellen Nixon.
L-R: Displays by Lucy A. Synk and Arden Ellen Nixon. (See credits below).

Jeff Porter

I worked with Jeff Porter on a few early XK9 developmental images, after I discovered his artwork at ConQuesT. Back then, he was deeply involved in creating the game “Xenofera,” which opened the door to a whole new avenue of illustration work for him. I’ve watched it unfold with great interest. I collected bits from his online bio for the introduction below.

Jeff, he is a freelance Illustrator from the Midwestern United States. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and very early in life realized the passion he had for creating art. He graduated from Raytown South High School, and then joined the United States Marine Corps for a four-year tour of service as an artillery cannoneer. After the service, Jeff started attending art classes at Longview Community College and later the University of Central Missouri, graduating in 2009 with a degree in Commercial Illustration. In 2013, he received his MFA from the University of Hartford’s limited residency program under the guidance of Murray Tinkelman. He now spends his time staying busy working on projects and learning as much as he can about the field of art and illustration.

Mike Cole

I have no idea when I first met Mike Cole. He’s been a (very funny and enjoyable) fixture at midwestern science fiction conventions for a long time. Since he lives in the St. Louis area, there’s a good chance our first encounter happened at an Archon! But whenever we met, he definitely belongs in this sampler of excellent artists.

Mike has been drawing since he was three years old. He has been displaying his artwork at science fiction conventions across the country for the last 25 years. Currently he lives in St. Charles, MO in a multi-level comic book storage facility. A science fiction fan since the early 70’s, Mike has attended, volunteered, run, and doomed, (don’t ask) something on the order of 300 conventions. He is a working artist as well as creating award winning digital artwork, and covers for Yard Dog Press.

Screen-grabs from the website homepages of Jeff Porter and Mike Cole.
From the websites of Jeff Porter and Mike Cole. (See credits below).

Sarah Clemens

I first encountered the artwork of Sarah Clemens the same way I did Arden’s, the first year I was the ConQuesT Art Show Director. I’ve been delightedly following her work ever since. My daughter Signy is among her devoted fans (she’s collected several of Sarah’s prints). Sarah works primarily in oils, but has also tried her hand at rock-painting and sculpture. She’s probably best known for her “Magnus and Loki” series, about a cat and a small dragon who are partners in hijinks.

“Working in oils brings everything into focus,” Clemens writes in her online bio. “I have had to work in all types of media to make a living as an artist and I pride myself on doing well in all of them, but oils…they’re special. Perhaps it’s the sense of history and tradition that makes them unique. There is also something extraordinary about they way you can push the pigments around a canvas. Oil has a luminosity, a gem-like glow. Moving the to Southwest has given me new ideas for painting, and for the first time, I am doing landscapes and flowers, along with the figure studies I love so much.”

Sara Felix

I met Sara Felix through ASFA, the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy artists. It seems to me that she’s been the President of ASFA for at least 2-3 terms (it’s a job that has burned out many people over the decades, so I’m in awe of her stamina!). And with no fewer than six Hugo Awards in her CV, she surely deserves to be included in my sampler of excellent artists!

Sara describes herself as a mixed media artist. Her works are typically done in alcohol ink, acrylics and resin. She also creates a weekly tiara for Tiara Tuesday and has created over 100 unique tiaras in the project. Whenever she can, she teaches online and in-person classes. They typically sell out quickly because she has a large following with her creations.

She has been guest of honor at multiple conventions across the states and shows at science fiction art shows when she can. Her design work includes two Hugo bases, the 2016 base and the 2018 Hugo base co-designed with Vincent Villafranca. She also has designed three WSFS Young Adult Award/Lodestar awards as well as the nominee pins.

Screen-grabs from, L-R, the “Magnus and Loki” online gallery of Sarah Clemens and the “Tiara Gallery” of Sara Felix.
At left, Sarah Clemens’ Magnus and Loki are always up to something. At right, catch a glimpse of the stunning beauty and variety of Sara Felix’s fantasy tiaras. Her “Tiara Tuesdays” are a regular social media feature. (See credits below).

The Convention Artists Guild

The Convention Artists Guild was strong with us, this ConQuesT, so naturally several of them belong in my sampler of excellent artists at ConQuesT 53. What is the Convention Artists Guild? Here’s how they describe themselves:

“We are a group of professional & semi-professional Colorado artists who participate in Convention art shows and events. Our work is exhibited in Art Shows and Vendor Rooms alike throughout the country . . . It is our intention as a group to provide: support, trust, collaboration, aid, resources, information, motivation, community, education and inclusiveness both within our core group and with the community in general.”

In addition to Founding Member Peri Charlifu, and Remote Member Elizabeth Leggett, both of whose work I’ll examine in greater detail next week, several other CAG members showed their work here. Three in particular caught my eye.

This header says: Convention Artists Guild, Colorado Chapter.
The Facebook Page header for the Convention Artists Guild. (Convention Artists Guild).

Mike Kloepfer

Mike is a Founding Member of the Convention Artists Guild. I think I first met him at a SoonerCon, but it was a while back. I immediately fell in love his luscious, painterly technique. His art looks a lot like it was painted in oils to me, but he actually uses acrylics. I especially love his sense of humor and his anthropomorphized animals. Check out his “Dogs of War,” as well as his “Flyboys” and “Animals of Adventure.” They all look like such interesting characters!

Here’s how he introduces himself on his website: “Hi! My name is Mike Kloepfer. My friends call me Mikey. I call my art mikeyzart. I create unique imaginative characters, creatures, and places – Fantasy, SciFi, and Whimsical art, as well as Portraits, Figures, and wildlife. As a professional artist for over 3 decades, my art and myself have appeared in many places: books and magazines, including The Artists Magazine, and Classical Drawing Atelier by Juliette Aristides; as well as galleries, art shows and conventions. I have been a technical illustrator for Microsoft, Boeing and COBE Laboratories, a map-maker for USGS, graphic designer, cartoonist, fine artist, and many other artistic occupations.”

Jim Humble

I first noticed Jim Humble’s artwork about a decade or more ago, at a science fiction convention – possibly at a DemiCon. He, too, offers wonderful, humorous paintings and prints of anthropomorphized animals. His Steampunk Kittens and Star Wars cats are especially fun. But this man has range. He also creates amazing resin and mixed-media sculptures (I particularly enjoy his amazingly intricate dragon sculptures). Give yourself some time to peruse his whole website. It won’t take long to see why he belongs in my sampler of excellent artists.

Here’s his self-introduction: “Some people think I was born with a pencil in one hand and some clay in the other. It’s pretty much true. I lucked out since my parents supported my art habit. In fact early on my mother and I baked one of my first clay pieces in the old oven. Of course it was crayola clay and it just melted and stunk up the house! Whoops! Live and learn.

“I’ve progressed since those days and still strive to improve. My life experiences have shaped my art in particular a 3 year stay in Germany and Europe. There my love of art (in particular the human form, gargoyles, grotesques and mythology) was really intensified. I’ve been pursuing my vision and passion to create now for more than 20 years.”

Brenna Deutchmann / Whimsical Whiskers

Brenna is another Convention Artists Guild Founding Member, and while she’s also a sculptor, she’s chosen the medium of fiber art. The result is unique, sometimes articulated, stuffed fantasy creatures that range from rather large to keychain-sized. She produces them under the name of Whimsical Whiskers LLC. As she explains on her website:

“All of our products are made with love and care. All of our products are original designs, and all production, sewing and construction are overseen by Brenna, who is the designer and artist.

Accessories and jointed dragons are handmade in Denver, Colorado and the USA by Brenna and local artisans. Each and every dragon is jointed, stuffed and finished by Brenna.

“Some of our products are my original designs but are produced off site in a factory. I work closely with my suppliers to ensure quality, softness of fabric, and ethical production. All are safety tested for age 0 (baby safe). These products include keychain animals, foxes, bunnies, silver and rainbow stripe dragons.”

Whimsical Whiskers’ “Dice Dragons,” a header from Humble Studios featuring a Steampunk Kitten and a mischievous-looking dragon, and a gallery of images representing Mike Kloepfer’s print series represent the three artists.
Clockwise from lower left, “Dice Dragons,” the Humble Studios header, and a “gallery of galleries” offers a representative sample of Mike Kloepfer’s artwork.” (See credits below).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sampler of excellent artists whose work I enjoyed at ConQuesT 53!


As noted in the introduction, out of concern over fair use, I have only used photos that the artists themselves authorized to be publicly posted – either on their own websites or on the ConQuesT Art Show Facebook page. All montages were made by Jan S. Gephardt.

Art Show Director Mikah McCullough took the panoramic shot of the ConQuesT 53 Art Show on Saturday, May 28, just before the silent auction ended. He posted it on Facebook. Jan took the photo of Lucy A. Synk’s 2-panel art show display during Art Show setup on Thursday, May 26, 2022. Mikah McCullough took the photo of Arden Ellen Nixon’s display at about the same time – both with the motive of showing the two mail-in artists how their displays looked. Lucy gave me permission to share hers, while Arden and Mikah shared hers on Facebook.

Jan captured screen-grabs from the website homepages of Jeff Porter and Mike Cole. Likewise, the imagery representing Sarah Clemens is a screen-grab of part of her “Magnus and Loki” online gallery, showing six images, complete with itty-bitty watermarks. The one representing Sara Felix screen-captured nine of the wildly imaginative tiaras for which she is well known. To see more, please visit their websites!

The header image for the Convention Artists Guild came from the organization’s Facebook Page. Three of their members are represented by images in the montage below it. Whimsical Whiskers‘ “Dice Dragons” came from a Facebook image. Images representing Jim Humble and Mike Kloepfer are screen-grabs from their respective homepages. Many thanks to all, for helping me share this sampler of excellent artists!

L-R: Karin R. Gastreich at her end of our table; M. C. Chambers and Jan S. Gephardt, also at our table.

Try Something New

By Jan S. Gephardt

When faced with the fact that an old tactic doesn’t work, it’s time to try something new. That was the choice that confronted me when I started this “sf convention season.” My son Tyrell E. Gephardt and I typically attend 6-8 sf conventions in a normal year.

Because I don’t have a lot of different books available to sell in paperback format, I haven’t seriously considered setting up at a dealers table. I also don’t “do mornings” gracefully, because of my habitual “Graveyard Shift” work schedule (fewer interruptions then). Before the Pandemic, I normally could find a general bookseller with a table full of traditionally- and Indie-published authors’ work. They often were willing to set up an “on-commission” deal.

But that was then. Now it seems that the only people selling books in dealers rooms are Indies and author groups selling their own work. A changing market landscape meant it was time to try something new.

Tables of displays from artists, crafters, Indie authors, and gaming suppliers in the DemiCon33 Dealers Room.
The Dealers Room at DemiCon 33 offered a good overview of the kind of tables you’ll find in contemporary Dealers Rooms. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt).

A Pair of Friends in Need

Especially since ConQuesT is my “home con,” I was able to ask around and soon found a friend, M. C. Chambers, who was planning to have a dealers table there. She and another friend, Karin Rita Gastreich, had already agreed to share a couple of tables. When I asked, they graciously invited me to join them. Time to try something new!

You already met my table-mates if you read last week’s blog post, but a brief re-cap is in order in case you didn’t.

M. C. Chambers

I first met Mary through KaCSFFS, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. She just looked like an interesting person from the get-go, and we hit it off right away. We have many things in common (including our birthday). I invited her to join my then-current writers’ group, and we’ve been friends ever since. Her work includes a bunch of wonderful short stories, several of which have won awards, and the fantasy novel Shapers’ Veil. She’s also the mother of five boys (“Mother of Heroes”), a flutist, and a variable print programmer. She sold copies of several anthologies that contain her stories, as well as the novel.

Karin Rita Gastreich

Dr. Karin Gastreich, ecologist and author, serves as Chair of the School of Natural and Applied Sciences at Avila University in south Kansas City. But I met her in a different place entirely: at another writers’ group. I’ve recently had the privilege of beta-reading her latest (really wonderful) novel, which I don’t believe is available yet. She’s also written multiple short stories and won several awards. But she’s best known for her woman-centered fantasy Silver Web Trilogy, which she bundled and also sold individually at the table.

M. C. Chambers’ Author photo and the cover for her novel “Shapers’ Veil,” with the three-cover collection of the “Silver Web Trilogy” and Karin Rita Gastreich’s Author photo.
My table-mates have written some cool stuff! (See credits below).

Welcome to the Itinerant Village!

I’ve previously remarked that the “sf con circuit” is like a small, traveling community. This weekend I discovered that folks in the dealers room are even more of a close-knit “village.” When I showed up at a table for the first time, a number of longtime friends made a point of welcoming me to a whole new level of the community.

Two of the longtime friends who deserve special notice for a warm welcome are author Dennis Young and Zac Zacarola, whose “Wall of Doom” has been a popular fixture of Midwestern dealers rooms for years.

Dennis Young

I met the prolific writer Dennis Young (a Kansas-City-area “local”) at ConQuesT a few years ago. The first time I remember talking with him about writing was when he was a fellow panelist on one of the first writing panels I ever dared to join. Known for decades in fandom as an artist, I had not yet published What’s Bred in the Bone. It still felt audacious to call myself a writer. A teacher and mentor by nature, Dennis warmly encouraged me. To this day, he still does. Most recently he’s offered encouragement to become a dealers room “regular.”

As I recall, when we were on that early panel he was about 3 books into his fantasy Ardwellian Chronicles Series (it now numbers six books and has a new set of covers). Since then, he’s branched out in many other directions and offers collections set in several universes. They include his Mercenary Trilogy, the Bloodlines duo, and the three-book Earthfleet Saga. With an ever fertile imagination, he also has a whole array of other new ideas in varied stages of progress.

L-R: Dennis Young, and his ConQuesT 53 Table display.
Dennis Young knows how to use his banners for an eye-catching display. (See credits below).

Zac Zacarola

I’ve known Zac long enough that this actually is not the first time I’ve written a blog post that includes a feature about him. Trained as an analytical chemist, he’s worked in in Nuclear Power (Commercial & Naval Reactors) since January, 1980. Indeed, he worked at Cooper Nuclear Station in Chemistry for almost 22 years. Since 2008, he has strictly worked in the Environmental Group, with Chemistry. But he’s best known in fandom as the proprietor of Ziggy’s West.

For years his “Wall of Doom,” a stunning array of bladed weapons, has acted as an irresistible magnet for kids of all ages and genders. Ziggy’s also offers an array of sf & f collectible figurines, sculptures, and other cool art objects, ranging from eclectic salt-and-pepper shakers and sword canes to handcrafted leather journals. He also has acted as the agent for the artist Jeliza.

Here’s a typical glimpse of Zac, with his table and his Wall of Doom full of weapons.
The display on the table has changed some since 2017, but Zac and his Wall of Doom look much the same. (See credits below).

Try Something New and Meet New Friends!

I had not regularly frequented dealers rooms for a while. My last few conventions, both before the Pandemic and in recent months, have kept me hopping between programming items. About the time I’d get a break, the Art Show and Dealers Room were either about to close or had closed. If either was still open, I usually opted for the Art Show, to see if I or friends had gotten any bids.

Thus, when I decided to try something new by spending more time in the Dealers Room, it stands to reason I’d meet new people. The first table I really paid attention to, after those I already knew, was the one directly across from me. One of the banners over there featured a striking image of what looked like a Roman centurion wielding a bloody sword and carrying . . . a baby? Yes. Definitely a baby. It’s the cover of Richard E. Friesen’s book An Uncivil War.

But more than that: the artwork has a very distinctive signature-style that I recognized immediately as that of Chaz Kemp. He’s the Colorado artist who created wonderful covers for my sister G. S. Norwood’s two short urban fantasy novelettes, Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues. He also has created cover paintings for the Weird Sisters Publishing reissue of my late brother-in-law Warren C. Norwood’s Windhover Tetralogy, which we’ll unveil this summer. As I write this, he’s also helping me with the cover of a Newsletter-exclusive short story, Anywhere but Sixth Level, about my characters Pam and Balchu (only available to Newsletter subscribers).

This was my view for a chunk of the weekend: my neighbors’ tables and display.
Richard E. Friesen takes a turn at his table, beside the banner that first caught my eye, while Peter Sartucci takes a break. (Photo by Jan S. Gephardt).

Meet Peter and Richard

Richard E. Friesen’s banner and cover art may have been the thing that drew me across the aisle, but the guy manning that table at the time was his friend Peter Sartucci, whose covers were done by a different, but also very accomplished artist, Claire Peacey.

We struck up a conversation. Both Peter and Richard are from Colorado. Like Mary, Karin, and me, they had decided to team up and share a dealers table. If you’d like to try something new, you might want to check out some of their work. Here’s Peter’s Amazon author page, and here’s Richard’s.

After the Dealers Room officially closed Friday night, the Art Show stayed open a little longer so dealers could get a chance to see it (Thank you, Mikah McCullough!). Peter and I toured the show together. I was able to show him my paper sculpture and tell him a little about the background of nearly every artist in the show (most of whom are my friends). Check back in next week for my Art Show post!

L-R: Karin R. Gastreich at her end of our table; M. C. Chambers and Jan S. Gephardt, also at our table.
We weren’t far from the Art Show – you can see it behind Karin (L). At another time, M. C. Chambers and I posed for a photo. (See credits below).

Did it Pay to Try Something New?

Since this was my first dealers table, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Did I sell well? Depends on how you define “well.” I know I sold almost all the books I had, and that’s a heck of a lot better than I normally do selling books out of my rolling luggage “traveling show” after a reading or panel.

Likewise, while Karin and Mary weren’t so rushed they couldn’t keep up, both sold many books, and Mary sold out of one title. She said she’d never sold this well as a “solo” act. We hypothesized that with three of us we had more variety to offer, and perhaps that appealed to people.

We also probably benefitted from the fact that people have been on lockdown for the past two-and-counting years. They’ve been unable to go to sf cons all that time, unable to buy art or books or anything from our speculative genres in person – so some of it might be “making up for lost time.” But whatever caused us to do well, I’m glad I decided to try something new!


I (Jan S. Gephardt) took all of the photos in this post that aren’t specifically credited. I also created all montages. Ty took the wide shot of the DemiCon 33 Dealers Room. Many thanks to M.C. Chambers and Karin Rita Gastreich for their author photos, as well as Amazon for the photos of Shapers’ Veil and the Silver Web Trilogy.

Dennis Young publicly posted his author photo and the photo of his ConQuesT 53 table on Facebook. Zac Zacarola posted the photo of himself with his Ziggy’s West table (including the Wall of Doom) as they appeared at TopCon in 2017. And Deb Branson, my intrepid proofreader, took the photo of Mary and me at our table.

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