Monster Maker: UNC Asheville Graduate Ian Dennis Brings His Artistic Ambitions to Life

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Stuffed creatures created by Ian Dennis '06
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by Matt Dershowitz '20

UNC Asheville alumnus Ian Dennis '06 has affectionately been deemed the “Dr. Frankenstein of stuffed creatures.” His hand-crafted designer plush toys walk the line between weird and adorable.

Dennis’ “creatures” are certainly unique. With charming names like Registered Pharmacist and retro yet post-apocalyptic aesthetics, it’s hard not to be infatuated with these bizarre-looking monsters. 

Graduating with a BFA concentration in ceramics, Dennis made the jump to toy design as a part of an undergraduate research project. In connection with his research, Dennis interviewed Asheville-based plush toy designer John Murphy, who offered Dennis an apprenticeship after seeing his BFA exhibit.

According to Dennis, he had already been making “big monsters out of clay,” so the switch to soft-sculpture wasn’t so far-fetched. “My BFA work was all about nostalgic—and sometimes kind of silly—pop/sci-fi imagery, that’s been really closely linked to toy design all along,” said Dennis. “It was a pretty easy leap to making actual toys.”

After working independently for a while, Dennis made the decision to start his own toy company under the name Denizen’s Plush. The company sells “weird designer plush toys” handmade by Dennis himself.

“The decision to try and start and actual business was inspired by my craftsperson and entrepreneur peers from the UNCA ceramic community, and the people who saw a glass ceiling on ‘fine art’ recognition for their discipline and sought other ways to move forward,” Dennis said.

Alongside creating his monsters, Dennis has contributed to several books including Return of the Stupid Sock Creatures: Evolutions, Mutations, and Other Creations, and Dot Dot Dash!: Designer Toys, Action Figures and Characters.

To learn more about Dennis’ creatures, visit: http://www.denizensplush.com/