By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published May 25, 2011 at 4:48 PM

I recently stopped in the Sky High Gallery, inside the Sky High Skateboard Shop, 2501 S. Howell Ave., to check out the much-hyped "What's Lost Is Safe" installation by California's Monica Canilao. It is Canilao's first solo exhibition in Milwaukee; she co-created a show at Paper Boat Gallery in 2007.

Milwaukee's Faythe Levine curated "What's Lost Is Safe," which has been described as featuring "modified antique parlor portraits enshrined in collections of human- and nature-made objects scavenged locally."

To me, the installation is a Southwestern / Victorian netherworld. It feels like stepping inside a three-dimensional collage that's a perfectly imperfect arrangement of attic treasures, vintage fabric store finds and items you might slip into your pocket after finding on a leafy or dusty or rocky path. It feels wedding hopeful and funeral nostalgic all at the same time. It's really, really beautiful.

You can look at the piece as a whole, and make note of the larger items like massive horns and a wicked "chandelier" made from branches and small found objects, or you can zoom in and discover details like wisps of hair, dried flowers, buttons and tiny teeth.

Strange, but for a second or two, I wished I had brought a sleeping bag. I wanted to unfurl it, right in the middle of it all, build a fire and sleep there for the night. Instead, we took photos and later, tracked down Levine to express how breathtaking this show is and to find out more about her future artistic plans. You said this show is your favorite show you've brought to Milwaukee to date. Why is that?

Faythe Levine: Since I had worked with Monica in the past, I was familiar with her ability to create a magical environment out of a pile of people-discarded garbage. Watching this process from start to finish was amazing and also exhausting. I think it's difficult to explain the layers of what's going on in the room, the photos don't do it full justice either. I am also enthralled with the seamlessness between the artwork she brought and the environment that was created.

OMC: How long did it take to create?

FL: Monica and her collaborator Harrison arrived at 6 a.m. on Sunday and the opening was the following Friday at 6 p.m. We figured over 100 hours were spent during those four days in the gallery. They didn't leave the property for three full days prior to the opening (the artists were housed upstairs).

OMC: Where do most of the items come from?

FL: Monica and Harrison brought a few boxes of vital supplies with them from Oakland. The rest of the materials were collected through an open-call process. Monica sent a wish list of materials and I sent it out via social networking sites and directly to artists who I knew would have extra stuff they were trying to get rid of. We had about 20 Milwaukee people make donations from one or two items to multiple truckloads of lumber and paint.

OMC: When does the show close?

FL: "What's Lost Is Safe" will run through July 31. The gallery is open six days a week – it's shut on Tuesdays – and is located in the back of Sky High Skateboard Shop.

OMC: How's it going in the Sky High space? Do you plan to stay there for a while?

FL: Sky High Gallery is going fantastic. Tucked into the back of the skate shop I have found a great space to work with artists from all over the country. We have a solid calendar of amazing exhibitions booked through 2011 – all listed on our website.

OMC: What else are you working on these days?

FL: I am continuing to do freelance curatorial work, educational lecturing surrounding contemporary craft and DIY ethics and am working on a new documentary about the trade of sign painters with my co-director, Sam Macon. I also have an edition of work coming out through Print Shop Forever in July and my first art show in five years is coming up in September at Astrix Gallery in Walker's Point.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.