By Michael Aaron Gallagher • Additional photography courtesy of Tracy Kane
I have been told many things about fairies. Perhaps they are the mischievous creatures who find amusement in our search for “misplaced” objects around the house. Or maybe fairy dust is responsible for that magical moment when your eyes meet someone else’s for the first time and it is as if the two of you have been brought together by serendipity.
But whether they are the subject of fairytale or the magic we miss in the mundane busyness of our everyday lives, some artists and hobbyists have found ways to bring that lost sense of childhood wonder back to life, by building a simple little house for their fairy friends.
When I discovered fairy houses at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York this past summer, I knew I needed to find an expert on the subject, someone who could explain more about this growing hobby.
Author and illustrator Tracy Kane, has shared the magic of fairy houses with readers in her award-winning The Fairy Houses Series® of books and video, in hands-on workshops across the country and on her website at www.fairyhouses.com. She recently shared her love for the whimsically imaginative craft with Women of Upstate New York Magazine and told us more about her popular series.
Q: What is a fairy house?
A: A fairy house is a small structure made from natural materials to attract fairy visitors and nature’s friends, like butterflies, toads, etc. These whimsical habitats are built by children and adults and range from rustic to intricate in style.
Q: What’s the best way to describe a fairy to children?
A: Two of my children’s books softly suggest that butterflies may be fairies in disguise. It’s easy for children to believe that nature is magical after learning that a seed grows into a carrot, an egg hatches a bird and a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
Q: What inspired you to write your children’s book series on the subject?
A: I studied illustration in college, and always wanted to create children’s books. When I saw my first fairy house on Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine several years ago, I discovered fairy houses nestled around a woodland path. I was completely enchanted and began to collect natural materials to build one myself. While working on my house, I reflected on my childhood and wondered why no-one had exposed me to this fascinating concept. That’s when the breeze (or fairy) seemed to whisper in my ear … “Create a picture book and tell a story that will inspire children everywhere to build fairy houses in their own backyards!” The stories seemed to evolve as I started drawing.
Q: Is there an overarching message behind the books?
A: Constructing small natural dwellings, families get outdoors and discover the wonders of our natural world. Hopefully, they will become caring stewards of our sensitive and threatened environment. Building fairy houses offers hands-on learning through my books. It’s a fun, cost-free, Eco-friendly activity, using natural materials – the ultimate in recycling!
Q: How many fairy houses have you built over the years?
A: I don’t keep track, but I started with simple rustic ones. When the first Fairy House Tour was held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I encouraged fairy houses to evolve into works of art, since we had both adults and children making them. The rules were to use all-natural materials with the addition of hot glue to hold them together for transporting and longevity for the tours. The result was a full spectrum of styles ranging from rustic to elaborate houses for people to enjoy viewing.
Q: What are some common materials people can use to build their own fairy house?
A: Sticks, bark, and stones are important for structure. I always encourage children to create a roof to protect the fairies. It’s not long before acorn caps are used for dishes and a large clam shell becomes a bathtub. Milkweed pods make soft fluffy beds and pinecones can become fairy-sized trees. A pebble path to the front entrance offers a warm welcome.
Q: How long does the average fairy house take to complete?
A: From 30 minutes to days or even weeks, depending to what level you want to take it.
Q: How have you seen the hobby of building fairy houses grow over the years as a result of your work?
A: My first book “Fairy Houses” came out in 2000. Since then, I helped start the Portsmouth Fairy House Tour in 2004 which inspired similar events around the country. To date, The Portsmouth Tour has generated over $200,000 which is distributed back to local community non-profits and schools. On our website www.fairyhouses.com are pictures that help schools, libraries and communities get ideas for holding their own fairy house event. Our website has inspired many fairy house building birthday parties too!
Q: Are you ever amazed by the enthusiasm children show for the craft? Do you find adults with the same sense of creativity and adventure who enjoy making them?
A: I love hearing stories children tell me about their fairy houses. Many build them wherever they go or collect materials to bring back and make home improvements to their fairy houses in their backyard. One boy brushed his dog for a week to create a soft furry floor for the fairies. Adults love how this activity rekindles their inner child and imagination. It allows them to take a break from their hectic schedules and enjoy the quiet serenity in nature.
Q: What are some of the places you’ve traveled to share the Fairy Houses book series?
A: Artpark in Lewiston, New York holds a Fairy House Tour in June that I have participated in. The Corn Hill Arts Festival in Rochester has hosted a display of fairy houses that I’ve been involved with. The winners’ houses go on to be displayed at the Strong Museum. I’ve been involved with events as far south as Charlotte, North Carolina and west to Colorado.
Q: What inspires you the most about fairy houses and what do you hope people take away from the process of building one?
A: Rediscovering their creative spirit and connecting with Nature’s beauty and enchantment!
The fun, excitement and pride of designing a fairy house – whether you are a five year old child or a grandparent – can be experienced by all.
Whether it is a gift for a child, or a creative way to express your artistic side, fairy houses can provide joy and bring a smile to someone’s face.
Each month, Sweet Salvage Gift Shoppe at 6483 E, Seneca Turnpike in Jamesville, holds monthly Miniature Fairy Garden Workshops for $25. Materials are provided. For more information call 315-492-1266.