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The Fantasy World of Oleander and Mint -- And Its Real-World Support For Appalachian Poor

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A fantasy world awaits those heading to Cafeina this Friday evening. It's one that takes place between the peaks of the lush Appalachian Mountains. It's the tale of Oleander and Mint, characters created by Keith Welsh, Ben Cecil, and Kevin Bandy, three creative guys who've formed a whimsical multimedia universe in which they can live. The main character of this tale is Oleander Von Peldt, through whom a story is conveyed through images, words, and music.

This holiday season, the three don't only have creation on their minds, but also giving. In order to raise money for Appalachian Voices, a charity that protects the environment and folks of central and southern Appalachia, they're selling their works at Cafeina this season. The exhibition will be up just past the New Year, so, you'll have time to both check out this majestic world they've created through art and literature, and also help them create a more livable world for humans in this one. We got in touch with the men behind the mysterious Oleander and Mint to find out more about their work and why these Florida residents care so much about the Blue Ridge Mountains.

New Times: Who are Oleander and Mint exactly?
Kevin: Oleander and Mint is the working title for the multimedia world of characters that find themselves orbiting the central story of a man and woman fleeing what some might call a murder scene. The authors and artist that collaborated to shape this narrative knew that there was no way to contain the pieces. The characters play parts in a series of graphic novels, find a voice in the musical compositions of Oleander Von Peldt, appear on prints, canvases, as sculptures, clothing, and any other means of existence that they can find.

You seem to have created a real world for your characters. How did you get inspired to create this universe?
Keith conceived the cast of characters on the drawing table. He could see their stories fumbling around somewhere close by, but could not define the space. Keith called Kevin to see if he could tell the stories. Kevin called Ben because it was clear that he was part of the telling. Together we found the voices of each character as their journey got loose of the pictures, and since then all of us have been racing to keep up with the tale.

Are you all animators or writers?
We try to keep the lines simple over here. Keith does all the art, Ben and I do all the words.We don't like being painted into corners, but this is pretty close to the truth.

Two of you live in West Palm Beach and one in Gainesville, so how did you get so involved with Appalachian Voices?
This is really complicated. Some part of it has to do with the fact that all of us originated in the shadow of those mountains. Another part of the answer has to do with us wanting to give back to the places that inspired the landscape of the narrative. All three of us, without knowing it about the other, love to get lost on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ben pointed out that it is hard to get lost on a Parkway. Ultimately, the people involved with Appalachian Voices are serving a population that are not publicized. The poor in the Appalachian struggle with systemic poverty that gets overlooked. We would love to get others interested in helping people that have been trying to help themselves for generations.

How will you be raising money for the organization?
Just outside the doors of the gallery there is a gorgeous courtyard. In that courtyard there is a huge tree, We hung pieces of Oleander and Mint art from the boughs. All art hanging from the tree is for sale, all sales will go directly to Appalachian Voices. We are pretty excited about it.

What products do you sell and where?
At this moment we have our graphic novel Oleander and Mint: The Elements available in our Etsy store. The book, and many prints, are currently available for sale at Cafeina Wynwood Lounge. Prior to the Etsy store and Cafeina, all of our work was available at ArtHeart events where we sold prints, stories, and apparel. We will be at the next ArtHeart event on January 21, 2012. For more information check out their facebook page.

Oleander and Mint, Cafeina and the Wynwood Exhibition Center are hosting the event. The opening will take place Friday, December 23 from 8 to 11 p.m. at Cafeina's Wynwood Exhibition Center (297 Northwest 23rd Street Miami). The exhibition will be up through January 4, 2012.

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