AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
Four Octobers ago, wee faeries descended on the Florence Griswold Museum. They constructed whimsical dwellings there and transformed the grounds and gardens into an enchanted village to the delight of the humans who visited the venue.
This month the faeries have returned to Old Lyme for the first time since 2009, as evidenced by 35 brand new homes all throughout the 11-acre property.
The original Wee Faerie Village-the brainchild of David Rau, the museum's director of education-represented the faerie muses of the original Lyme Art Colony painters. This year's village, "In the Land of Picture Making," represents subjects of landscape paintings-trees, flowers, gardens, marshes and forests-the various aspects of nature that artists at the turn of the century painted at Miss Florence's boarding house.
The village, which is on view through Nov. 5, gives kids and adults a playful break to unplug from the cyber world and connect with the world of imagination, where visitors can peer into a tree knot hand-painted as a magical miniature scene or a tiny wishing well where a water faerie resides.
To further focus viewers on the dozens of tiny details in these carefully constructed creations, they're asked to find a hidden surprise in each: a tree frog, a faerie light, an antique button, a mystical bird.
Some of the artists who channeled their faerie spirits (since it's very hard to catch a wee faerie in the flesh) to create these hand-crafted, original works are returning champions of the art form. Others are first timers.
Among the newcomers are Sandra Bender Fromson of Stonington and Madeline Kwasniewski of Niantic.
At Fromson's "River Valley Farm," Warren, a wee faerie of farming, lives in a stone house with his wife and children built by his grandfather 100 years earlier.
Crafted in modular sections, Fromson, a gardener, created a garden out of miniature plants in which she placed a tiny farm stand where Brussels sprouts stand in for cabbages. She accented the hand-built stone house with aged copper flashing on the roof and a front porch complete with itty bitty chairs.
Although Fromson doesn't describe herself as a visual artist, she says she started making crafts as a child and loves doing projects like this.
"I was mesmerized when (the museum) did this three years ago," she says. "And then I went to the Philadelphia flower show last winter and there were miniature gardens throughout. I was really inspired and knew I wanted mine to be a garden."
Kwasniewski of Niantic has been a hairdresser for 25 years, and saw participation in the faerie village project as her first opportunity to get back into artwork, a passion she'd put on hold.
Titled "Shoots and Ladders," her creation is the garden dwelling of flower faerie Flo Rist. Like Miss Florence herself, Flo Rist manages a boardinghouse for painters, and her rooms resemble the various flowers that grow in the garden.
Under a life-size wheelbarrow turned on its side, draped with flowering mandevilla, Kwasniewski fashioned a mini Florence Griswold House, using 100-year-old shingles she painted yellow. Colorful cottages accented with flower shoots and little ladders represent the rooms in house.
Being a hairdresser came in handy-Kwasniewski used hairpins to keep small pieces of moss in place.
Kwasniewski says she's never worked this small but thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating her faerie dwelling.
"I keep thinking of new ideas," she says. "It's so much fun."
"Magnifica's Mushroom Market" is a collaboration of John Sargent of Quaker Hill, Zoe Yeoh of Salem and Matt Ferrer, a museum educator.
This is the first foray into faerie housing for all three, although Sargent, a painter and retired art educator in New London schools, participated in the museum's artist-designed scarecrows display in 2010 and Enchanted Birdhouses in 2011.
"We all like mushrooms for some reason," says Yeoh, a high school student. She describes herself as a faerie artist, who enjoys rendering the wee folk in colored pencil, watercolors and pastels.
Inspired by the first Wee Faerie Village, she says, "I was really interested in participating in this project."
Nestled in a maple tree is the house of Magnifica Mycelium, the original Old Lyme mushroom faerie, complete with a stone fireplace and fungi furniture, and a market shaped like a mushroom cap, covered in birchwood shingles. Artist Conk mushrooms adorn the branches, which "were named that because when they're fresh, you can engrave them," Yeoh explains.
Kathy Young-Murphy also situated her "Frutopia" faerie house in a tree-a crab apple tree, which inspired her to make it the scene for Crabbe, the faerie for flowering fruit trees.
A 2005 graduate of Lyme Academy College of Art, this is Young-Murphy's first faerie house-like Sargent, she took part in the museum's scarecrow and birdhouse projects.
Young-Murphy says her project kept growing. It began with a butterfly house hanging from a tree branch in which crab apple flowers are stored for next year, along with crab apple jelly made by the faerie. She then created a canopy-covered picnic area, and added a little garden with a wishing well at the base of the tree, surrounded by a picket fence.
Commenting on the tremendous scope of the artists' creations, Young-Murphy says, "A village like this has room for all sorts of delight for all ages."