Wee Faeries convene with kings and queens

The Wee Faeries’ dwellings have gone up a few notches to palaces and castles in this year’s village on the grounds of the Florence Griswold Museum.

More than 60 artists — working alone and collaboratively — have created more than 30 imaginative and inventive interpretations of this year’s theme: “Whimsical Kingdoms” celebrating the greatest fairytales in fiction.

This year’s artists were encouraged to use natural materials for their handcrafted constructions and scenes that range from “Sand Castle Extraordifaerie” and “Poseidon’s Undersea Kingdom,” to “The Wizard of Oz” and “King Midas and the Golden Touch.” 

New to the village

Nancy MacBride is among the artists participating in the exhibit for the first time. Her creation is titled “Thumbelina’s Kingdom.”

MacBride says friends had encouraged her to contribute a piece in the show for many years, and last year she finally saw the exhibit and knew she wanted to participate.

“After (museum director of education) David Rau viewed my website, he invited me to be a part of this wonderful experience,” she says.

MacBride had never done anything quite like this before, although her art often includes natural, as well as antique, objects.

“I have site-specific work at South Kingston Land Trust’s Art Trail and a 7-foot tree figure — a fae — at Voluntown Peace Trust,” she says. “But ‘Thumbelina’s Kingdom’ is a much more delicate and detailed piece.

“Also, each year my junior high art students create ceramic woodland houses.”

The reason MacBride chose “Thumbelina” is that “her journey is about finding out where you belong,” she says.

“It’s a story full of escape from creatures wanting to own her,” she continues. “The swallow that helps her escape is alive only because Thumbelina saved his life. So, she really is saved by her own kindness and perseverance. When she finally finds the faeries, they not only accept her, they name her their queen and make her a pair of wings so she can fly with them.”

MacBride adds, “I also wanted to portray a queen who hasn’t been ‘Disney-ized!’”

Her favorite part of Thumbelina’s palace is that viewers can look into the dining room and bedroom to see the handmade furniture.

“I used remote controlled tea lights and a magnifying glass as the bedroom skylight so people can see inside,” she explains.

Also new this year is Katie Scarlett Faile, an artist and published illustrator who lives in New London with her husband Erik Faile, an officer on the USS Virginia. The couple is stationed here for two years.

“I saw last year’s show and wished I did 3-D art because I wanted to do this,” Faille says.

It turns out that being a 2-D artist isn’t a deterrent. Faile donates paintings to charity fundraisers, including one for Mystic’s Sails Up 4 Cancer, coordinated by Julie Riggs, who is also the museum educator. After seeing Faile’s paintings, Riggs invited her to be in the exhibit.

“I’m the first 2-D artist ever in the show,” Faile notes. “I love doing fairytale art. I’ve always loved traditional illustrated fairytale books.”

Most of the traditional fairytale kingdoms were taken when Faile came onboard, and so David Rau invited her to come up with her own.

She wrote the story and created the artwork for “The Gnome King’s Kingdom,” telling the tale in four pen-and-ink and watercolor paintings that hang on a wall in the Hartman Education Center.

“I love frumpy trolls and gnomes,” Faile says. “The Gnome King is a dastardly little (guy) who after drugging the faeries with red mushrooms, cuts off their wings and hair and makes it into houses in his kingdom.”

But the faeries prevail. To defend themselves, they rise at sunrise and follow the trail of snail slime to the mushroom gardens and pull them up by their roots.

Faile added a 3-D element by creating an installation over her paintings. Because the kingdom is housed in twinkly tree branches, she mirrored the drawings by spraying magnolia branches gold and gluing on real butterfly wings to mimic faerie wings.

“It was nice to get to do my own story (for a change) instead of illustrating someone else’s,” she says.

Faile is giving a master class for adults on Oct. 20, during which she will work with her students to draw, ink and paint their own faerie characters, while discussing her creative process for character development. More information and registration details are available on the museum website. 

Ring in the old and the new

Muralist and teaching artist Kristen Thornton of Old Lyme is a Faerie Village veteran, having participated in six out of the seven exhibitions.

“The first year I heard about it, I called David (Rau) to get in on it,” she says. “I’ve always been into faeries.”

But this is the first year that in addition to her own project she participated in a collaborative piece.

Last spring Thornton, along with other Mystic Art Center (MAC) teaching artists Lisa Adams of Mystic and Mary Addison of Ledyard, worked with Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School third graders to create “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

This is MAC and New London schools’ first installation in the Wee Faerie Village.

The artists and students created the mysterious Land of Narnia where animals talk and it’s always winter.

Thornton’s students watched the movie “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and she showed them slides of past faerie houses.

“They had wonderful ideas and really got into it,” she says. “They were involved in all aspects of (the project). They did their own preliminary drawings and collected stuff outside.”

To represent winter, plaster snowballs hang from a tree, covered in white spires. (Spring waits on the other side.) The students did their own interpretations of the door of the wardrobe in a border around the tree. Clothes they made are hung between each door.

“It’s challenging to collaborate, but it gets you thinking differently,” Thornton comments. “And it worked.”

“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is the name of Thornton’s solo faerie house.

“I’m a huge fan of the books,” she says. “I hated reading as a kid, but as an adult Harry Potter got me into reading. I have a bit of ADD and it’s so visual, it kept my interest. I love all the details.”

Thornton based her faerie house mainly on the first three books, geared to younger readers. To research it she brainstormed with her students in an after-school program and went to see “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Studios in Orlando.

She chose the weeping willow tree on the river for her dwelling, to emulate the Whomping Willow, planted on the grounds of Hogwarts.

“It worked out perfectly,” Thornton says. “It was fun using natural materials, hunting to find the more odd things in nature to (represent) the more magical, whimsical things in the books.”

The Details

“Whimsical Kingdoms in the Wee Faerie Village” is on view on the grounds of the Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme St., Old Lyme, through Nov.1.

Admissions is $15 adults, $14 seniors (62-plus), $13 students, $5 members, age 12 and younger free. Admission price includes entrance into “The Artist in the Connecticut Landscape” exhibition in the Krieble Gallery, the historic Florence Griswold House, and all other museum facilities.

Upon arrival visitors will receive a Treasure Map to guide them through the kingdom.

On Columbus Day, Sunday, Oct. 12, the museum will be open all day with activities for families including faerie dance lessons, a parade, sand-sculpting demonstrations at the sand castle, hands-on crafts and a special one-day pop-up local artisan fair.

Wee Faerie Village events are scheduled throughout the month and many are included in museum admission. For a complete list visit http://florencegriswoldmuseum.org/programs-events/wee-faerie-village.

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