Artist of the Week

Sam Hensley

September 15, 2021

Sam Hensley is a storyteller and sculptor from Kentucky. They mend together storybooks of endearing yet unsettling creatures of varying sentience. The telling of these stories is assisted by the beings themselves, in the form of animatronic puppets that she constructs as earthly vessels for them.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I’m Sam and I’m an artist from Kentucky :). I write, draw, do videos and make sculptures, all for the end goal of world-building. In my opinion, though, it is world accessing. Everything is already out there in the ether and creating is just a process of finding it. 

Any recent friends & critters you’d like to introduce us to?

Lately, I’ve been fixated on one little guy. His name is Creamthing. He’s sort of a lamb and sort of a dog, very much a lost and traumatized romantic. I’ve been drawing him compulsively. It’s like he’s here to see me and it’s not my call. I don’t yet know how long he’ll stick around.  

He’s the color of butter and he can sustain any physical injury without dying, so he tends to be in a state of injury at all times. He has a soft little mouth like a sock puppet’s, it’s mildly prehensile but he can’t eat or swallow food. He can just sort of inhale fluids though. Imagine sucking Dr.Pepper through a towel. That’s his life.

You have a podcast about museums and umm…dogs? 

Museum of the Vanishing Dog is a podcast I do with my friend and co-curator Lizz Hamilton. In each episode, we design a museum exhibit for the namesake institution. We choose things that rarely receive the museum treatment otherwise–furbies, unseemly medical anomalies, alien encounters, folk saints, and anything horrifically yucky. We are gross people. 

We’re also both compulsive hobbyist researchers with a background in installation art so “nightmare museum design” comes to us very naturally. It’s fun!



Your work consists of soft innards, fun balls, pompoms, and see-through opalescent fabrics, how would you describe the material and visual language you’ve constructed?

There’s an overt symbology to all the imagery I repeat, but it’s unintentional and secondary. I gravitate toward whatever is stimulating like a dumb bird. So bright colors and shimmery and velvety and soft things come to recur in my work naturally, as well as the violent and strange. Then I look at it months later and think “Oh this is like this because my favorite person died in the summer, this is this way because I felt scared and lumpy while I made it,” and so on. 

Tell us a bit about your material process of physicalizing your friends.

It’s intuitive and slippery. A single image or texture jumps to mind and I have to let the entity form. It’s like accessing a vague memory. A memory of another place, instead of another time. Instead of remembering backward, it’s remembering sideways. Or upward. 

In a more literal sense, I tinker with old toys and electronics by tearing them apart. All their skin, etc. is handsewn. I stop along the way to aid the design with sloppy little concept sketches that I throw away later. During this time while I’m holding the critter, I feel very close to it. It’s really intimate holding someone in your lap and sewing them together. There’s a patience to it like it’s nice that they’re hanging out in this little temporary body while I slowly and belabouredly create it. They’re interdimensional beings, there are all kinds of other stuff they could be doing. 

“Recurring Creamthing” | Drawing by Sam Hensely.

How did growing up in rural Kentucky impact your practice? 

Oh yes. When you grow up in the middle of nowhere with that heavily spiritual bible belt background it’s a lot easier to believe in (or see?) ghosts. Or anything else. I saw a lot of very odd stuff growing up in Kentucky. It’s hard to be skeptical after it all. 

Growing up on a farm you’re exposed to a lot of animal death and gore very young. It’s at once casual and sacred to me, so it shows up a lot in my work. 

There’s also a little Kentuckian redneck child still within me who enters most art spaces and can’t help but say, you are all full of shit. And you think I’m the stupid one because I don’t know John Dingleheimer, the new sculptor on the scene who makes erotic figures from balled-up newspapers and coathangers because he has opinions about accelerationism or something. 

No time for posturing in the boondocks.

Where does puppy go at night?

Puppy just wants you to look for them. 


“Where does puppy go at night?” | Drawing by Sam Hensley.

How has it been navigating your role as mediatrix—an interdimensional medium— lately?

Everything has been more difficult shut in my house like it has for everyone. I’ve only been able to draw cause filling my apartment up with sculpture projects makes me feel claustrophobic. 

Like many others, though, my dreams have been especially vivid and that has been exciting to explore.

 I had a (prophetic?) dream that I was benignly possessed by invisible entities who came to our plane to experience the human gaze on clouds. They have no bodies and are just a metaphysical cloud-shaped energy most of the time, so they have no sight and they’ve never known what they look like. But if they’re allowed into you for a moment, and you look at a beautiful cloud, they can see what they look like. The closest visual approximation of these beings is big fluffy sunlit clouds. It fills them with glee to finally see themselves, and since they’re using your body you get filled with pure joy too. It’s a fleeting symbiotic relationship. 

The instructions they gave me were to go to the top of a sunny hill and look at pretty clouds, and you open your arms wide, wave them a little, and take in the vista. When you begin to feel delighted at the sight of the clouds, that means they are with you.

What’s a light form? 

It’s a phrase you’ll see occasionally in online discussions of the paranormal. Its meaning is as wavering and vague as anything else on archived Angelfire websites about getting abducted or seeing into other dimensions. But to me it’s the inverse of the shadow people phenomenon that is very popular in those circles. (Search “shadow people” and see endless accounts of encounters with ominous silhouettes.) lightforms, on the other hand, would be things like orbs and rods and angels. Rods are these long pale luminescent sticks with lots of little appendages that appear frequently in nighttime flash photos. They’re essentially debunked but I won’t ruin it for you. I don’t think shadow entities and light forms represent evil and good entities, nor do they encompass all entities. They are just, on a literal level, phenomena comprised of either a lack or presence of light. Haha. 

I would say that a lot of the entities I search for are lightforms. “Little Like Yourself,” probably. “Blanket Oracle.” “The Sun Blessings.” I have been thinking more about my next phase of entities and that I might pull from the void for a change. The void is nice too, it’s not mean. And either category of thing can be terrifying.

Alternate take: I’m a crazy person making stuffed animals and comic books and they’re all nothing.  


“Blanket Oracle” spread in Sam Hensley’s, WELCOME TO OUR DIMENSION PARTY zine.

How is “Little Like Yourself” doing these days?

She’s luxuriating with me in the second printing of her comic. I got to read/perform it live for the first time at this summer (at Farwell House and Zine Not Dead) and I was really delighted with how people responded to her. She’s a strange little thing and it’s a confusing comic, but once people hear her story they almost always understand it to an uncanny degree. People will come to me afterward and say things that feel like they read my mind. Like they know her as well as I do.

Can you talk about the jump between the spiritual realm, the pictorial realm, and the physical world? 

I don’t know! It’s stuff I think about a lot though. I have a couple of barely comprehensible guesses. 

The spiritual world is on us at all times probably. It’s not another room, it’s the one you’re sitting in, but with a blacklight on that changes what was there and reveals the previously invisible. 

I’d define the pictorial world as everything we access through stories. Comics, books, tv, they are all windows other dimensions. There are infinite possibilities all equally real, and what we access is determined not by what exists (which is everything) but by what window we open. The pictures we make are a way to see anything that isn’t in our physical world, including the spiritual. Which is generally invisible, even though it isn’t in a whole nother dimension. Drawings are just little windows. Books are little windows, etc. 


The physical earth form of “Little Like Yourself” accompanies Sam Hensley to readings. She can breathe with the power of electricity. | Photo Courtesy of the artist.


Interview composed and edited by Joan Roach.