Humberto Martinez had no idea what he’d be doing with several yards of green fabric he found in the Logansport Mall’s storage room.
You wouldn’t know it to look at the mall’s decor now.
“I see them all the time,” said Beverly Brown of the mall decorations. She’s a regular at the mall, where she walks loops around the central corridors for exercise. “They always look nice. People need to come out and see them. They don’t know what they’re missing.”
Although she’s not well acquainted with Martinez, who has lately been in charge of the mall’s decoration, she says he’s talented — and friendly.
“He knows everybody,” said Brown. “He’s a friendly guy.”
And at Christmas, she added, he did an excellent job.
Martinez, a custodial employee at the mall, was recently tasked with decorating the mall’s display cases and center hall for St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. It’s a duty that mall representative Teresa Short gave him last summer after he joined the mall staff.
“He was going through kind of a difficult time, so I thought it would keep his mind busy,” said Short, who’s worked at the mall for the last 11 years.
It did more than that. It gave Martinez an outlet for a long-developing decorating talent.
Martinez, who with his brother Cecilio Martinez moved to Logansport about five years ago, works about 25 hours a week at the mall, dust-mopping floors, taking out the garbage, shoveling snow and spreading salt in the winters.
He also works part time at D&R Fruit Market and decorates for various special occasions and at the bakery his brother Cecilio owns, Country Bakery on South Sixth Street.
Martinez, 45, started decorating when he worked as a gas
station attendant in Chicago several years ago. One slow night, he took several helium balloons that were for sale and started arranging them into balloon bouquets. At a time when such bouquets were popular, the gas station started selling several. Then as Valentine’s Day approached, Martinez began filling small decorative containers with gift items.
After some time, “we turned half of the gas station into a gift shop,” he said.
The station later won a soda brand’s decoration contest based on a window display Martinez had arranged “just for fun.” It’s how he got his first car, he said — the first prize for the contest.
After moving to Logansport, he began decorating for friends’ social celebrations.
“They always asked me, ‘Why don’t you start a business?’” he recounted. “It just comes naturally. I thank God for it.”
At the mall, Short said she lets Martinez have his own way with the decorations. He started with a pile of green tablecloths the mall has used in the past for special events.
“Whenever I get inspired, I just need to have something in front of me,” said Martinez.
Those tablecloths — and a little unseen rope — became a pair of cocktail dresses adorning dressmaker’s dummies in two windows on the west side of the mall.
“Probably it didn’t take me more than 5 minutes to start with that,” said Martinez, motioning to a “skirt” fashioned from a folded tablecloth and a piece of rope cinching the waist. “As soon as I put the first piece on the dress, I knew what I wanted to do.”
He used another piece of rope to cinch the makeshift dress bodice at the neckline, pulling the leftover fabric out to form an asymmetrical, ruffled collar.
Once Martinez is inspired, he works based on his “vision,” he explained. “I can see what I’m doing. It’s just like having a picture in your head.”
Sometimes an idea mushrooms, too. He occasionally makes several trips between a window display and storage areas, tracking down pieces he can use or repurpose for a display.
“Things don’t stop me
because I don’t have them,” Martinez said. He improvises
and tries to reuse as much
“I’m like, well, I can create things with what we have. We don’t need to spend the money.”
That’s how he created “Bunny Land,” the garden scene where the Easter Bunny is welcoming children this month. He began by hanging pieces of artificial snow batting from the ceiling as clouds. Some passers-by identified animal shapes in the clouds.
“When I was putting them up, I was remembering my childhood,” said Martinez, when he’d lay out in the grass and pick out animal shapes from among the clouds overhead.
Other elements of Bunny Land were repurposed, too.
A flower cart was formerly an information kiosk elsewhere in the mall. Martinez created a fountain using a mass of cellophane wrapping. Even the boulders lining the Easter Bunny’s garden were made using packing paper from one of the mall’s tenants and some brown paint.
All told, Short said Martinez spent less than $20 on materials for Bunny Land — including mulch that Martinez says he’s taking chances with, hoping children won’t make a mess of it.
“If you don’t risk it, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he shrugged.
Other mall walkers said they appreciate the decoration at the mall.
“We come up here and walk and I think that they’re innovative,” said Delores Binder, who walks regularly with her husband, Gregory Binder, and with Lisa Powell. “There’s so much space to cover and I think they do a fantastic job.”
“We always comment on the cleverness,” added Powell.
Martinez said he’s overheard comments of that sort before.
“I don’t want to turn around and say ‘thank you,’” he said. “I just can’t.”
But he appreciates hearing it just the same.
Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at email@example.com or 574-732-5151.
Want to go?
WHAT: Visit the Easter Bunny in Bunny Land
WHERE: Logansport Mall, 3900 E. Market St.
WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. today
MORE TIMES: The Easter Bunny will also be at the mall from 1 to 6 p.m. this Saturday, on Good Friday, March 29, and on March 30; and from noon to 4 p.m. March 24.