Friday, March 29, 2013

Image-ing Our Wee Faeries

Back in 2009, when we embarked on the first Wee Faerie Village project, we envisioned printing a map for visitors that would aid them in finding their way around the Museum's campus. Likewise, it seemed appropriate to have some wee faerie images of our very own that we could use to advertise the upcoming event. We commissioned Jeff Himmelman, a young illustrator with experience drawing fantastical creatures and beings, especially for the mystical world of online gaming.
The collaborative creation process was a great deal of fun. After some initial conversation about the map and what kinds of faeries would best represent the project, Jeff got to work. One night, an email arrived with the words "faerie sketch" in the subject line--these emails most often arrived in the middle of the night, so this gives you an idea of when these enchanted creatures are conjured. Deep breath time: it's always a little nerve-wracking to open the attached image; you have no idea what you're going to see. Double click. Ahhhhhh! The first demo faerie was truly beautiful, but not quite the tone the Museum was hoping to set with families. Back to the drawing board--or, to be more accurate, to the computer and keyboard.
Not to worry. Jeff took the feedback in stride: 
"Love the autumn leaves as wings." 
"The dress of natural elements is inspired." 
"She may be a bit too adult and perhaps a tad too stern for this project."
Days went by before the first sketch of Griswold appeared. He was a boy faerie who was just the right age with a playful and slightly devilish personality. Next came Florence. She was sweet and demur, but also a perfect muse for the Old Lyme artists. Yeah, we had our first pair of faeries. 
I personally loved his tattered leaf wings and artistic weaponry. The small pencil tucked into his belt like a sword. Griswold holds the ink pen like a spear, the sheafs of blank paper readied for creativity. Jeff Himmelman was masterful in the details: the acorn beret, maple seedling upper wings, and the pair of pointed shoes. For Florence, he gave her a tiara of purple flowers and work belt strung with jars of pigments. 
For the 2009 project, we planned to have both a girl and a boy faerie to represent the inhabitants of our Wee Faerie Village. However, as the process continued, it became apparent that a few more faeries were needed. Himmelman to the rescue!
He even created a wee faerie dog and wee faerie cat to welcome visitors to the Village--L. Frank Baum would have been thrilled since he believed in animal faeries.
Last year, we added to wee faerie family with a few more faerie characters. Another playful boy and impish girl, however, the creative process remained the same.
In 2013, however, our Wee Faerie Village in the Land of Oz characters will most likely look different from the ones above. Firstly, Jeff Himmelman has turned over the creative reins to a friend, Aaron Miller, so the illustrator's personal vision and style will be new--more on Aaron in the upcoming weeks. Secondly, this year's characters will be informed by L. Frank Baum's original text whereas earlier characters were not based on anything too specific. And lastly, it's our goal at the Museum to push beyond what we've done and to create something excitingly new for the audiences who love to visit the Wee Faerie Village, and for them, we will work hard not to disappoint.

David D.J. Rau
Director of Education and Outreach

David D.J. Rau coordinates as well as participates in the Museum’s October creative endeavors. You can contact him at

Upcoming Blog Entries:
  • Illustrating the Museum's Non-Faerie Village Events
  • Meet the Museum’s New Fantasy Illustrator Aaron Miller
  • Just C’Oz: Other Creative Endeavors Inspired by Oz

Friday, March 22, 2013

"To Oz?" "To Oz!" Oz Park That Is

Last week I spent a long weekend in the windy city of Chicago. It had been at least 20 years since my last visit, so I needed to study a map long and hard to get my bearings: big lake to the east, Frank Lloyd Wright architecture to the west, museums to the south, and what's that to the north? Oz Park. That's what my map said, so I started to walk, and walk, and walk, and then hailed a cab since it was so darn cold. I couldn't even bring myself to ask the cab driver to drop me at Oz Park, since I had no idea what we would find there, so I asked for an intersection a few blocks away and approached by foot.

It was charming. Opened in 1976, the small park was just over 13 acres and was built in a section of Lincoln Park to bring a bit of luster to a tarnishing part of the city. Turns out that L. Frank Baum lived just a few miles to the west in the 1890s, so the locals had an affinity for the man and his stories.

A statue of the Cowardly Lion (2001) by John Kearney (a Cranbrook-trained sculptor) greeted me as I approached from the south-east. Below the sculpture are yellow bricks marked with donor names. I decided to circumnavigate the park. My next stop was the Tin Man (1995), by the same artist, but this time created out of old car parts, the sculptor's signature medium.

From there I walked towards the center of the park and found the Scarecrow (2005) standing just inside a small fence that bordered The Emerald Garden. Next to nothing was in bloom, but I could imagine how pretty the small garden must be during the warmer months of the year. I walked past the children's play area, identified as Dorothy's Playlot to the north entrance to the park to find  Dorothy and Toto (2007) atop their pedestal. Although the sculpture was cast in bronze, the shoes were patinated a bright ruby red.

Satisfied with my find, I decided to walk back to downtown to find that the Chicago River had been dyed a bright Emerald City green--oh yeah, it was also the weekend of  St. Patrick's Day. Later that night, we met up with a real Chicagoan, Aaron Miller, a great artist who will be creating the artwork for our Wee Faerie Village in the Land of Oz, but that's for another blog entry.

David D.J. Rau
Director of Education and Outreach

David D.J. Rau coordinates as well as participates in the Museum’s October creative endeavors. You can contact him at

Upcoming Blog Entries:
  • Illustrating the Museum's October Events
  • Meet the Museum’s New Fantasy Illustrator Aaron Miller
  • Just C’Oz: Other Creative Endeavors Inspired by Oz

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Prequel Sheds a Little Light on Original 1900 Text

When I read "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" recently--admittedly for the first time--I was strangely bothered when it strayed from my version of the story, the one I knew from countless watchings of the 1939 over-the-rainbow version. I soon discovered that the MGM film omits whole chapters and characters. Indeed, one of the many reasons I was excited about the new movie "OZ, the Great and Powerful," was that it included aspects of L. Frank Baum's original 1900 text that did not make it onto my TV screen each spring.
This is important because the "Wee Faerie Village in the Land of Oz" is going to be based on the original 24 chapters, and thusly, many visitors who only know the story from the movie will be a bit lost when these seemingly new ideas show up in faerie-land. However, if visitors see the "new" movie, some of the "new" ideas won't seem too "new" come October.
One is China Girl, who in my humble opinion, stole the show. She is discovered by the Wizard and his flying monkey friend Finley in China Town. Yes, a whole town made out of china and porcelain, including the  inhabitants. Sadly, the flying monkeys were sent by the witch to rough up the town and they did a considerable amount of damage. China Girl is the only survivor.
In the book, L. Frank Baum gives us the odd Chapter 20, "The Dainty China Country." It is into this fragile world that Dorothy and her friends find themselves after climbing a wall via a ladder fashioned by the Tin Man. At the bottom of the ladder they discover that they've entered a strange new land.
Baum writes: "Before them was a great stretch of country having a floor as smooth and shining and white as the bottom of a big platter. Scattered around were many houses made entirely of china and painted in the brightest colors. These houses were quite small, the biggest of them reaching only as high as Dorothy's waist. There were also pretty little barns, with china fences around them; and many cows and sheep and horses and pigs and chickens, all made of china, were standing about in groups."
Disney does a nice job of using the forms of real china, coffee pots and tea cups, to fashion a fantastical city. And in the same way that the Scarecrow is scared of fire, for obvious reasons, the inhabitants of this porcelain province are terrified of being knocked into or worst, knocked over.
Another shifting of the Ozian paradigm involves the poppy field. In the MGM film, as soon as our travelers see the Emerald City for the first time in the distance, they begin to run with wild abandon through a field of poppies to get there. The Wicked Witch of the West, angered by their progress, casts a spell using her mortar and pestle (why does magic smoke not rise from mine when I crush my dried spices?), that, in her words, “And now, my beauties, something with poison in it, I think. With poison in it, but attractive to the eye, and soothing to the smell. Poppies... Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep. Sleeeeep. Now they'll sleeeeep!” The spell only works on Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion, and one by one they fall asleep amongst the beautiful blooms. The Tin Man begins to cry and the Scarecrow figures out (brainless though he is) that this is trick and they should call for help. Glinda to the rescue and a few waves of the wand bring on the spell-breaking snowflakes. 
In Baum's text, Chapter 8 is titled "The Deadly Poppy Field." According to Baum, "...and soon they found themselves in the midst of a great meadow of poppies. Now it is well known that when there are many of these flowers together their odor is so powerful that anyone who breathes it falls asleep, and if the sleeper is not carried away from the scent of the flowers, he sleeps on and on forever." 
The new movie uses the deadly scent of the flowers in a very clever way, and to the advantage of good, but in the spirit of not wanting to have to shout, "spoiler alert," I will leave it at that. 
There are still a few more aspects of the book that are not in the popular films.  The best way to discover them for yourself is to pick up a copy of the book or download it from Kindle or similar sites. Or, stop by The Shop at the Museum, where we have both the 100th Anniversary Edition with all the original artwork, or a new publication with stunning images by Michael Sieben. 

David D.J. Rau
Director of Education and Outreach

David D.J. Rau coordinates as well as participates in the Museum’s October creative endeavors. You can contact him at

Upcoming Blog Entries:
  • Illustrating the Museum's October Events
  • Meet the Museum’s New Fantasy Illustrator Aaron Miller
  • Just C’Oz: Other Creative Endeavors Inspired by Oz

Friday, March 08, 2013

Enchanting Museum Education: The Wee Faerie Village at the Florence Griswold Museum

Museum Received an Honorable Mention (3rd Prize) in the American Alliance for Museum's 2010 Brooking Paper Competition on Creativity in Museums

This is an edited re-print of the white paper the Museum submitted to AAM after the success of the first Wee Faerie Village in 2009.
Outfitted with sparkling pink wings, a feathered tiara, and a glittering tutu, the little girl stands beneath a canopy of golden autumn leaves holding her faerie village map in one hand and her cell phone in the other. “Listen mommy,” she says, tilting the cell phone towards her mother while peering into the fallen log decorated with tiny furniture, miniature paintings, and a teeny easel.  “You have reached the studio of Luna, and I’m not here right now because it’s probably daylight and I prefer to work at night, by the light of the moon. But… if you stay on the line – I’ll let you in on a secret … Do you know the artist Childe Hassam? Well it was me – “moi” – who inspired his artistic talents and made him famous!”
While listening to Luna’s narrative, the girl and her mother scans the faerie dwelling made out of bark and shells and moss held together with beeswax in search of all the details Luna was describing, including the driftwood “spire” which echoed the steeple of Old Lyme’s Congregational Church that Hassam made famous in his paintings. After hearing Luna’s secret “magic” word, they begin their search for the next faerie dwelling.
This little girl and her mother were only two of a record-breaking 10,672 visitors (including an equal number of little boys and grown men) who toured the first-ever "Wee Faerie Village" at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, during its three-week run in October of 2009. Nestled in the nooks and crannies of the Museum’s nearly 12 acres of historic gardens and grounds were over two dozen faerie dwellings, miniature habitats made out of natural or found materials and scaled for a winged faerie three inches tall or less.
The "Wee Faerie Village" project was designed to encourage visitors to explore, literally, every inch of the intimate campus as part of the Museum’s "Year of the American Landscape." This thematic approach underscored the interconnections of several major projects being coordinated by different departments at the Museum. The theme encompassed art exhibitions, the transformation of a historic barn into a landscape center, and the commissioning of "The Rambles," an original “stickwork” sculpture by North Carolina artist Patrick Dougherty. The finished sculpture, made of woven saplings, resembles a large-scale faerie castle, and served as inspiration for the smaller creations.
The idea for the Museum’s faerie village came from the annual Fairy House Garden Tour held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and organized by children’s book author and faerie house aficionado, Tracy Kane. The Museum however, decided to link their faeries directly to the history of the Lyme Art Colony, indeed the core interpretive story of the institution. Instead of generic faeries per se, the Museum’s village would be inhabited by wee faerie muses who inspired the original painters of the art colony that stayed in the Griswold House when it operated as a boardinghouse for artists.
To create the faerie dwellings, the Museum contacted over forty individuals affiliated with the Museum to ask if they would be interested in donating their time and creativity for such a challenge. This list included several traditional artists, such as landscape painters and sculptors, but also featured people with diverse backgrounds, skills, and interests. The final roster included college professors, librarians, curators, architects, landscape designers, naturalists, children’s authors, interior decorators, docents, gardeners, and exhibition designers, each of whom would bring their own distinct twist to a faerie dwelling. The dwelling architects then selected one of the historic artists represented in the Museum’s collection before choosing a building site. For the most part, the faerie architects worked independently over the summer, constructing their houses and filling them with miniature furniture fashioned out of pebbles, acorns, and bark. They combed the nearby forest for moss, stumps, and fungi to create miniscule gardens, parapets, and pathways. Some created skinny ladders out of dried stalks and fences with pencils and twine. They arrived with loads of pinecones, shells, and stones, and installed their playful creations during the first week in October, only a few days before the village opened to the public. Indeed, several of the wayfinding signs were still being installed on the morning of the opening day when the first car arrived, followed by another, and another, and another.
To begin their enchanting adventure, visitors received a "Wee Faerie Village Map" and a ring-jingle – a simple bracelet of beads and bells. The bracelet served as a ticketing device, and its jingle was to warn the faeries of a visitor’s approach. Because the faerie event was geared towards families with children, many of whom the Museum anticipated being first-time visitors, this map provided a family-friendly introduction to the history of the site and the "Wee Faerie Village" in order to set the stage for their enchanted exploration.
Many families read this aloud to their children as they headed outside in search of the first faerie dwelling, while the children (as well as mom and dad!) shook their ring-jingles to warn the faeries that they were on their way. As part of the introduction, families learned about the availability of a cell phone tour in which the faeries would explain about their house and the artist they inspire.
The map listed the faerie dwellings along the route using faerie-sounding place names such as "Far Far Far Away" (located in the far corner of the property), "Marshymellows" (located on the banks of the salt marsh), and "Water Fall Downs" (located at a drop in the small babbling brook). It also listed the wee muses by their faerie names, such as Whisp, N, Rusty, or Tweed, witty monikers that were often wordplays on some aspect of the historic artist or their art. The faerie Hazel, for instance, was linked with Bruce Crane, a painter whose ethereal images were often veiled in a light mist or haze, and the faerie Moo worked for the artist William Henry Howe, who was famous for painting cows. Lastly, the map included the numbers for the Guide by Cell phone tour.
The range of artistic expression in the faerie dwellings was truly astounding. For instance, the faerie Harpa’s dwelling was conceived as a painter’s studio complete with easel and miniature canvases built in a cigar box outfitted with a trap door and a ladder made from harp strings. This was attached to the top of one of the columns of the Griswold House and best viewed through the upstairs gallery window looking out. This faerie’s artist had painted the portrait of Miss Florence playing her harp that hangs in the main hallway of the boardinghouse.
The dwelling built for the Moo used a cow’s skull attached to a large tree with baling twine. The eyes sockets were transformed into windows glazed with twigs and the translucent petals from a money plant. The mouth became the front door, complete with a small gateway and porch reached via a rope and stick ladder (Moo claimed to be big-boned and not always capable of flight). Because this faerie helped an artist known for his hundreds of paintings of cows, this domicile made a great deal of sense.
Indeed, the only thing missing in each of the magical creations were the actual faeries. It was believed that invisible faeries would best spark the imaginations of the visitors. Instead, the missing faeries could be experienced through their recorded faerie narrative via the cell phone tour. Most of these narratives began with why the faerie was away from their home and invited the listener to look more closely. The faeries enthusiastically explained the connections between their houses and the artists they inspired. They also suggested where in the Museum the listener could see the real works of art by the artists during their visit. For instance, when visitors found themselves at the small farmhouse shingled with pumpkin seeds in "Vegetable Valley," they could call the faerie and hear the following:
"Hello! My name is Iris, like the beautiful flowers in Miss Florence’s garden. Sorry I am not home right now. I’m out harvesting seeds. Please feel free to look around my house. You’ll notice my house is made of a box of artist’s pastels that I found on the bank of the Lieutenant River..."
The spirited narratives were written to give each faerie their own personality. Students a the Lyme-Old Lyme high school who were enrolled in a musical performance class recorded them. Indeed, the students' involvement in the faerie project became a point of pride for them as well as for their teachers, families, and friends. Interestingly, the combination of drama and technology made the faerie village "cool," even for a high school-aged audience.
By the end of the first frantic week, the Museum recalculated and quickly ordered 5,000 additional maps. By the second weekend, it was clear that faerie-mania had struck! Indeed, the faerie dust never settled for three weeks and the crowds kept growing. Cases of jingle bells were over-nighted to the Museum to meet demand. The ticket line filled the lobby and snaked out the door. Other town organizations offered up their parking lots to accommodate the overflow. Museum members worked tirelessly to direct traffic, explained cell phone tours, and assisted in popular hands-on craft projects. Staff and volunteers spent their evenings making hundreds of ring-jingle bracelets. The Museum’s shop reordered faerie-related magnets, puzzles, wings, dust (glitter in glass bottles), and books. The faerie magic was infectious: a professional photographer documented the dwellings gratis, a local chanteuse lead the Halloween parade, and the ice cream parlor in town offered cones of Huckle-Faerie ice cream.
The general attendance for the "Wee Faerie Village" was up 662% over the same three-week period of the prior year. For the entire event, including the special evening tours and school group visits, the Museum tracked a total of 10,672 ticketed visitors to the village, just under 20% of the total Museum attendance for the whole year. Moreover, many of the faerie village visitors returned to the Museum after it closed to enjoy late-fall programming and holiday activities, exceeding all year-end attendance projections.
Despite the surge in attendance numbers, however, the real indicator for the success was the overwhelming positive feedback from our visitors, young and old alike, during the experience, all of who seemed to hover several inches off the ground with faerie-induced enthusiasm. Many stayed for hours and even made their own faerie house out of found pinecones and sticks in "Beyond the Beyond," a special woodsy area designated for this activity. Indeed, each day scores of new houses appeared, playful evidence of the impact the faeries were having on the families. One young visitor named Miranda echoed the reaction of many when she wrote in the comment book: “The fairy houses were amazing!” To that her friend Sarah added: “They make me want to build one when I go home.”

David D.J. Rau is the Director of Education and Outreach at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Faeries and Wizards and Art, Oh My! The Not-So-Crazy Logic Behind this Creative Mashup

When I came up with the notion to blend the classic “Wizard of Oz” with our own beloved "Wee Faerie Village" it just seemed like a good idea. Since then, however, I’ve read the original book (I think for the very first time) and spent some quality time with a wonderful publication, “The Annotated Wizard of Oz” (2000) by Baum scholar Michael Patrick Hearn. Turns out that there are many more connections between the classic story and faeries in general.

First off, in his April of 1900 “Introduction” to the book, L. Frank Baum writes: “The winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen have brought more happiness to childish hearts that all other human creations. Yet the old-time fairy tale having served for generations, may now be classed as ‘historical’ in the children’s library… [The book] aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.”

In Chapter XI, “The Wonderful Emerald City of Oz,” Dorothy and her comrades are called before the great and terrible Oz individually, and he appears to each in a different guise. To Dorothy on the first day, he appears as a giant head. On the second day, it is the scarecrow’s turn to experience a one-on-one with the Wizard. The story goes like this: “So the Scarecrow followed him and was admitted into the great Throne Room, where he saw, sitting in the emerald throne, a most lovely lady. She was dressed in green silk gauze and wore upon her flowing green locks a crown of jewels. Growing from her shoulders were wings, gorgeous in color and so light that they fluttered if the slightest breath of air reach them.” The Wizard appears to the Scarecrow as a faerie! Although the faerie wings are in the text, Hearn points out in his notes that illustrator of the original book, the very talented W. W. Denslow, chooses to omit the wings in his illustration of the beautiful woman.

Another interesting allusion to faeries in the book are the Winged Monkeys. In the book, the band of Winged Monkeys are to grant three commands of whoever is the current owner of the Golden Cap. This cap passes in the story from the Wicked Witch of the West, to Dorothy, and lastly to Glinda, the Good Witch. According to Hearn, Baum writes other stories that feature animals as faeries. Baum states: “Why should not the animals have their Fairies, as well as mortals?” in his “Animal Fairy Tales” (1905). “Why should their tales not interest us as those concerning the Fairies of our own race?” Hmmm? So are the winged monkeys meant to be animal faeries?

In 1911, Baum publishes The Sea Faeries. This story concerns another female lead character who is magically transformed into a mermaid and enjoys an underwater adventure with the sea faeries before returning home, safe and on dry land. Again, “no place like home.” Although these watery fairies are very different from the winged ones above water, it is interesting that Baum continues to write stories that concern the larger notion of “fairies.”

As we move forward with this exciting project, I’m sure even more interesting coincidences between the wee faeries and Oz will emerge.

David D.J. Rau
Director of Education & Outreach

David D.J. Rau coordinates as well as participates in the Museum’s October creative endeavors. You can contact him at

Upcoming Blog Entries:

  • Sharing the Booking Prize White Paper "Wee Faerie Village"
  • Illustrating the Museum's October Events
  • Meet the Museum’s New Fantasy Illustrator Aaron Miller
  • Just C’Oz: Other Creative Endeavors Inspired by Oz