Pittsburgh history and monsters go together like, well, black and gold. The modern zombie was born here with “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968 and has eaten away at our imaginations ever since.
Matthew Buchholz knows people can’t get enough of the jumpsuit. His Alternate Histories designs often feature vintage historical prints subtly altered to a more monstrous fate – like massive, sprawling sea monsters rushing out of the Monongahela River or a Godzilla-like mega-Andrew Carnegie rampaging through his city.
For history geeks, sci-fi geeks, and geeks in general, the appeal is kind of obvious – zombies in particular.
Also a no-brainer is Buchholz’s decision to open the Alternate Histories Studio at 517 Greenfield Avenue in Greenfield this weekend. There will be a Studio Open House & Trunk Show at the old Staghorn Cafe from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 12. Masks are mandatory and will be provided.
“Since I started my business in 2010, I’ve been working outside my home, and I just outgrew it,” Buchholz says. “I also want to have products specifically for the neighborhood like Greenfield bumper stickers, t-shirts, greeting cards – stuff that speaks to the love and pride the people of Greenfield have for the neighborhood. .”
Buchholz’s work is not limited to the three rivers (although they are bestsellers). In the Alternate Histories universe, the Great Wall of China is built to ward off marauding dinosaurs. George Washington wins the Battle of Stony Point with great help from a detachment of Martians – and the death rays from their saucers. President Lincoln is at Gettysburg with Vinlar the Destroyer – a giant ape beast with a robotic head – relaxing in the background.
Buchholz is from Tucson, Arizona and attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. After 14 years in New York, he moved to Pittsburgh and found a job at Wild Card, a gift shop in Lawrenceville specializing in locally made arts, crafts, clothing and cards.
This is where he started selling his prints and Christmas cards featuring aliens, dinosaurs and flying saucers subtly worked into classic Currier and Ives style prints.
“I ended up staying because I really fell in love with the city,” says Buchholz. “And one of the things that I’ve always appreciated is this deep vein of history that’s just below the surface all over the city.”
Soon monsters started appearing everywhere he looked.
“One of my other loves has always been 1950s and 1960s monster movies, starting with George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and that story,” he says. “It kind of got me to start thinking about what would happen if there were these other creatures and monsters that you know, all over the area, and I kind of just kind of built a whole world out of of that.”
Finding the right historical poster or print and adding the right monster to the right place is harder than it looks.
“Typically when I create art, it starts with image research, looking at old pictures and finding things that inspire me. See old rooms that might have negative space, or things that somehow scream for a monster. But it always derives from an original historical source. When I’ve tried to go the other way around, like, “OK, I really want to do a play with a zombie that does this or a tentacle that does that,” it never works out so well.
Besides opening his storefront, Buchholz is busy writing books – about monsters, of course.
“I wrote a children’s book that I call a ‘Decide Your Destiny’ book, where you can make choices on every page. You have to decide what type of monster you want to fight, how you want to defeat zombies, that sort of thing. I have a new one of these books coming out later this year called “Monster Island Escape”.