At The Rock & Art Shop, they go out of their way to stock unusual things.
Like monkey skeletons and zebra butts.
“We try to make weird accessible,” said Tony Sohns, one of three siblings behind the three-month-old Bangor storefront.
Indeed, weird peeps out from every corner. Or looms boldly in the middle of the room, as is the case of the old Perry’s Nut House beady-eyed ostrich. The shop is part art gallery, part gift shop, part cabinet of curiosities and all home base for Sohns and his traveling Bug Zoo.
When it’s not traveling, Sohns teaches science lessons to schoolkids on one side of the store, using live insects and mounted specimens. (A live Goliath bird eating spider was escorted off to an actual zoo after getting a little too uppity; it’s been replaced by another behind glass.)
Sohns’ zoo-life isn’t for sale, but just about everything else in the store is. A quick sweep of Rock & Art shelves: Real stingray stingers. Elephant poo notepaper. Laminated butterfly-wing earrings. Things that look like other things but most definitely aren’t.
“We sell a bunch of corpse flowers which mimic animals’ butts,” Sohns said. “They’re fuzzy, and if you were comparing it to a dead zebra’s butt, it would look like a dead zebra’s butt.”
Tony is into natural history. Sister Annette Dodd is into the arts. Sister Amanda Sohns is into plants.
“We just kind of melded all our passions into a store,” Amanda Sohns said.
The family has owned a seasonal shop in Ellsworth for five years. They opened this second, year-round location in the former Lippincott Books, with tall ceilings and caramel-colored wood floors, in late June.
A long front window is filled with carnivorous and other funky plants: Darwin’s orchid, ant plants, air plants. Many have handwritten names and descriptions.
Some customers spend more than an hour oohing and ahhing at every label, Tony Sohns said. Other times, “I think some people walk in and they don’t even notice the ostrich.”
She is a refurbished ostrich. The Sohns brought back a bag of feathers from an Arizona ostrich farm for repluming. An old jaguar from Perry’s lurks in the siblings’ Ellsworth store. Perry’s Nut House, a roadside attraction once filled with taxidermied everything, was on the route to their grandmother’s house. If they were good kids, they got to stop in, Amanda Sohns said.
Her big brother has been into bugs since childhood. Many a time she said she heard from him, “Don’t tell mom and dad but this thing got loose …”
In Maine, Tony Sohns’ traveling Bug Zoo gets around. Public libraries. The state museum. And sometimes, the kids come to him.
An entomology major with a theater background, his lessons mix learning and fun with hands-on demos. Before passing cockroaches out to be held by a recent group of home-schoolers, Sohns stood in front of the store’s Sohns Gallery and tucked one under an armpit. That is, he told them, the best way to warm them up for flight.
Weird, Wicked Weird is a monthly feature on the strange, intriguing and unexplained in Maine. Send ideas and things that need not be stuck under armpits to [email protected]
Go and Do
Catch Tony Sohns and his Bug Zoo at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 25, at the Auburn Public Library.