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Fiz - 5.31.06 

Candy coated

About a year and a half ago, Henrietta artist Keith Avery set his artistic talents on an unlikely canvas: Pez dispensers. You know Pez --- it's the tablet candy sold in supermarket checkouts that pops out of cheap plastic sticks, typically topped with the heads of cartoon characters like Donald Duck or movie monsters like Chewbacca. Avery, a former illustration major at RIT, started collecting Pez memorabilia in high school and realized that the dispensers offered a great intersection for his creative urges and love of collecting. Since then he's redone roughly 1,200 dispensers in 120 different designs, transforming, for example, soldier Pez into Harley bikers, re-painting the Simpsons family into African-Americans, and creating several original designs.

Avery says that his redecorating work is hotly debated within what he refers to as the "Pez community." He understands the concerns surrounding his "fantasy Pez" (in Pez-collector parlance), which admittedly skirt a legal gray area due to copyright issues.

In the world of fantasy Pez creators, Avery's painstaking exactitude sets him apart. When he, say, re-paints the face of a Road Runner dispenser in green then re-seals the plastic packaging, only a trained eye can tell that his work wasn't made at the Pez factory.

Don't laugh --- people are willing to pay, and handsomely at that. Redecorated dispensers go for about $20, but can fetch more than twice as much, and some collectors are willing to spend thousands ordering sets in large quantities. Averyuses the sales to supplement his income --- he works for a firm that specializes in aerial mapping technology --- although much of his profit goes toward purchasing official Pezmerch anyway.

While dropping thousands of dollars on Pez dispensers seems a little extravagant in the face of world hunger and declining education, Avery jokes that at least his habit keeps him off the streets. He has also found less legally barbed outlets for his efforts: he has designed dispensers that bear logos for his hair-dresser, Fusion Salon, and his favorite local band, the Isotopes, and recently got the green light to do the same for popular nightspot Lux.

"I never realized when I made the African-American Simpsons that it would sell," Avery says. (It did, interestingly enough, to the manager of Kool & the Gang.) He appreciates the personal component of his work as well: "If you're a Heineken lover, I can make you a Heineken Pez. That conveys personality and charm."

Still, as we conclude our visit, Avery pauses nervously before asking, "Pez didn't hire you to come out here, did they? Some collectors, if they don't like what you're doing, will try to report you."

For more information about Avery's Pez art visit ww.art1080.com or contact him at keithmavery@gmail.com.

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