Arts & Entertainment

Charles Phoenix's 5 days of Christmas: Making Jell-O at Blooming Gelatin Arts

Michelle Quilas, co-owner of Blooming Gelatin Arts, questions Phoenix's plan to use a traffic cone as a jello mold.
Michelle Quilas, co-owner of Blooming Gelatin Arts, questions Phoenix's plan to use a traffic cone as a jello mold.
KCET/LA County

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This year, kitsch aficionado Charles Phoenix decided to make a Christmas tree that would wiggle, jiggle and light up the night. He drummed up the plan five-months-ago, after posting this provocative Facebook status: "Collectively as a society, why have we all turned our backs on Jell-O?"

Phoenix knew he had something to look forward to during the holidays after a commenter described a Jell-O mold filled with Christmas lights that would light up when plugged in.

"That rocked my world," he says. "Sitting there on my computer reading [it] – I shook in my chair. It was one of those moments."

As you may know by now, Phoenix always strays from convention. And inspiration struck as he sat in bad traffic. Tired of brass snowmen and mistletoe molds, he opted for a traffic cone Christmas tree.

Armed with a cone and his idea, Phoenix went to East Los Angeles' Blooming Gelatin Arts to create his Jell-O dream. Michelle Quilas, Jell-O expert and co-owner of the specialty bakery, was there to help.

Quilas had been molding Jell-O and adding complicated gelatin creations to cakes for over 30 years, using a technique she learned in Mexico. Still, she seemed surprised when Phoenix revealed a bright orange traffic cone in place of a mold.

Four hundred Christmas lights, a lot of extra gelatin and six hours refrigeration time later, the green Jell-O tree took shape.

"We plugged it in, and you would not believe what a beautiful thing it is, to see Jell-O conduct light," Phoenix says.

The lights began to melt the gelatin, so Phoenix whisked his liquefying Jell-O tree home to his refrigerator, "where it lives to this day." He unveiled the tree again, live on stage at the RedCat on Dec. 18 during his holiday show.

This is the third in a series of alternative holiday observances Phoenix filmed as part of the L.A. County Arts Holiday Celebration. The videos are to be released Christmas Eve, but he decided to give KPCC a sneak preview this week. Check back each day for a new video and a behind-the-scenes interview with KPCC's Alex Cohen.