For Melanie Johnson-Moxley, “playing monkey” is an everyday thing.
A doctoral student in philosophy at MU, Johnson-Moxley makes sock monkeys for fun. Her passion began when friends introduced her to the Red Heel Message Board, devoted to sock monkeys.
These same friends, Whitney Shroyer and Letitia Walker, founders of the board, were making a book at the time about sock monkeys, and that’s when Johnson-Moxley made her first one, Daisy Marie.
“We started the message board to illustrate the basic idea that all sock monkeys are different, and to work on their ‘voices,’” Shroyer said. Shroyer and Walker have never made a monkey but are the proud owners of more than 200 of them, dating from the 1950s to the 1980s.
“It felt very organic,” Johnson-Moxley said of making her first sock monkey. Daisy Marie was born in 2003 to “play” with the other sock monkeys in Shroyer and Walker’s book, “Sock Monkey Dreams.” Most of the playing took place in elaborately staged photographs, such as one of an art studio in which a sock monkey paints on a canvas while blue paint falls from the rafters. Perfect timing caught the paint at just the right moment — in mid air.
“It’s incredibly fun to play monkey with creative people,” Johnson-Moxley said.
The subculture attracts an eclectic mix. Joel Lang, a lawyer, sock monkey maker and collector on the message board, summed it up: “There’s nothing normal about the animal textile subculture. It’s this fantastically crazy mix of retro-culture kids, with a healthy dose of ink and piercings, Midwest housewives, older folks who remember the monkeys from their childhood and other quirky folks who see the subversively comfortable nature of sock monkeys.”
Just like their owners, these monkeys have individual personalities. “Despite the fact that they are toys, sock monkeys are somehow alive,” Shroyer said, “and are infused at ‘birth’ with something of the humanity that created them in the first place.”
If you sit down and talk to Daisy Marie, you’ll notice a difference in the way she speaks, as her language is specialized, Johnson-Moxley said. For instance, Daisy Marie spells Missouri “Missouree.”
“It was a way to try to reflect voice and dialect on the message board, which is where this all started,” Johnson-Moxley said.
Part of Daisy Marie’s persona includes the name of her home, Sunnyflower Farm, where she lives with 25 other permanent residents Johnson-Moxley has acquired or been given.
Daisy Marie’s voice — really her creator’s, but for purposes of playing monkey, we’ll leave that be — is high-pitched and dainty, and she wears Southern-inspired attire: a blue polka-dot dress with a red cardigan and sun hat. It must be known that Daisy Marie doesn’t like shoes, and you’ll never catch her wearing them. Some monkeys don’t even like to wear clothes, Johnson-Moxley said.
You might miss a small crown atop Daisy Marie’s hat, as it’s slightly hidden, but not the bright red sash across her chest that reads, “Sockford 07.” Daisy Marie won the Miss Sockford competition at the third annual Sock Monkey Madness Festival in Rockford, Ill., this past March.
Rockford is home of the Red Heeled Sock used to make the monkeys, and thus the home of the sock monkey. The festival was started in memory of John Nelson, who invented the seamless sock-knitting machine in 1874.
The red heel of a sock is used for the monkey’s mouth; the other red heel is used for the monkey’s rump. The rest of the brown and white sock is cut, sewn and stuffed to form the arms, legs and tail of the monkey. A number of items are used for its eyes and nose such as felt, buttons and embroidery, which makes each monkey have a unique look.
“There’s nothing more soothing,” Johnson-Moxley assured, “than having your hands in monkey fluff.”