Tilly & the fairies

Woodland 1

Woodland 2

The Dogs Tales are a series of posts in which Tilly has her say....

When I take my Person out walking in the woods it is my job to scout the path ahead, to lead us through the dark of the forest and bring us safely home again. With my good, furry ears and my keen, clever nose, I pick up on all the news of the forest: of foxes and badgers who have passed this way...squirrels rattling high above us in the trees...fine spiders' silk spun from leaf to leaf...coarse sheeps' wool caught in the bramble thorns...and the distinctive scent of the hillside's fairies: sweet, pungent, mushroomy and sour, all at once.

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But what kind of fairies? Friends or foes? I sniff more closely, but I can't quite tell.  Shy moss fairies, kindly root fairies, giggly fungi fairies: all these I do not mind. But the winged ones, buzzing through the air like overgrown bees, are tricksy, and they bite.

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I follow their spoor through oak and ash, all the way to the forest boundary wall. The stink of fairies is overwhelming, and yet my Person walks on without concern. She's a gentle, absent-minded creature, unaware of danger. I must guard her closely.

Woodland 5

Now fairies, as you know, love boundaries and borders; they love places that lie betwixt and between; and so the wall is riddled with fairy burrows and the evidence of fairy hands and fairy feet. I climb the wall, push my sensitive snout into the ivy, and find moss fairies curled in beds of lichen, green and plump and fast asleep. A root fairy, brown and wrinkled as a walnut, peers up with eyes the pale green of new leaves.

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But this is not the danger I've been scenting. My hackles rise and I don't know why. My Person is drifting up the path behind me when I hear the buzz of fairy wings....

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Suddenly a fairy swarm surrounds me, visible only as sparks of light, and I bark in warning: Stay back! Stay back! These are not the slow, soft creature of root and soil but the quick, sharp spirits of the forest canopy:  shifty, capricious, and volatile. They bear no love for the Canine Tribe, and their fondness for mortals cannot be trusted.

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My tail is pulled, my ears are tweaked, and sharp little fairy teeth nip my flanks. I growl and snap. I crunch. I swallow. I've eaten a fairy! I've eaten a fairy!

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Uh oh. I've eaten a fairy. And my Person will not be pleased.

Woodland 12

The swarm, taking fright, vanishes into the forest. The moss fairies snore. The root fairy smiles. My Person is safe now. She whistles and we walk on.

Woodland 13

She never needs to know.

Woodland 14This post originally appeared in April, 2015. The poem in the picture captions is from Poetry Magazine (December 2007); all rights reserved by the author.


The fairies are back....

Cottington fairies

Sometime in early 1990s, my friend and village neighbor Brian Froud unearthed the Victorian diary of Lady Angelica Cottington and made a startling discovery. Whereas other gentlewoman of her time pressed flowers between their diary pages, the young Lady Angelica pressed fairies. Or rather, she caught and pressed the psychic impressions of fairies, who delighted in leaping into her book, imprinting images of themselves (often rude in nature), and then leaping out again unharmed.

The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian and Wendy Froud

This diary was subsequently published as Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book, followed by two more volumes (Lady Cottington's Fairy Album and Lady Cottington's Fairy Letters), as well as the "fairy research" of Angelica's peculiar twin brother, Quentin, in Strange Staines and Mysterious Smells.

Brian, looking for fairies"It has often been my onerous task," writes Brian, "as the recipient of so much Cottingtonalia, to examine, scrutinize, and verify the often distasteful squashings and odiferous smears [of the pressed fairies], but I continue to do it with a noble sense of scientific inquiry, for I have long abandoned all hope of financial reward or knighthood (or an open sardine tin). All I can realistically hope for is a third-rate rest home near the gasworks in the less salubrious sector of Budleigh Salterton.

"The series of Cottington books may have provoked outrage or indifference from the discerning reader, however, some scholars of the esoteric -- notably a group in Oxford known as the 'Stinklings' -- gather weekly in the Dingly Arms, a rather down-at-the-heels public house. Here, over hot, buttered crumpets and pints of Bishop's Finger, they conduct fierce, philosophical debates about the various fairy phenomena appearing in my books."

Now we have a have a brand new piece of the puzzle: The Pressed Cottington Journal of Madeline Cottington, a volume that documents the strange history of Cottington Hall, the family's fairy-infested manor in Devon. Brian calls it the most astonishing book of them all, and I'm inclined to agree.

The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian and Wendy Froud

The story is told by Madeline Cottington, the most recent descendant of this odd British family. Traveling to the ruins of the Cottington estate, she finds an odd jumble of junk and treasures: letters, drawings, diagrams, photographs, books, clothes, peculiar contraptions. Compelled to uncover her family history, and unaware of the dangers the Hall still holds, Maddi finds that she too is part of the story. And that the fairies are very real...

The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian and Wendy Froud

Above, Madeline Cottington, fairy hunter in the making.

Below, Angelica and Quentin Cottington, photographed early in the 2oth century. (Poor Quentin was driven mad by the war...or perhaps by other mysterious things?)

If these three happen to resemble Lillian Todd-Jones, Virginia Lee, and my husband, Howard, well, surely that's just a trick of the fairies.

The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian and Wendy Froud

The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian and Wendy Froud

The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian and Wendy Froud

The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian & Wendy Froud contains a wonderful story, magical art, and is a pure delight from start to finish. It just came out from Abrams Publishers (New York). Please don't miss it.

The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian and Wendy Froud

The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian and Wendy Froud

The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian and Wendy Froud

The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian and Wendy Froud


Coming up on Saturday, August 6th:

Widdershins 2016

The artists taking part in the Widdershins 2016 exhibition of moorland mythic art:
Angharad Barlow, Danielle Barlow, Hazel Brown, Brian Froud, Wendy Froud, Paul Kidby, Alan Lee, Marja LeePauline Lee Virginia LeeRima Staines, Neil Wilkinson-Cave, me, and David Wyatt. Artists & artisans with work in the adjoining Green Hill shop include Suzi Crockford and Alexandra Dawe.

Wendy is away in America right now, and Rima is off on her Hedgespoken travels, but Alan, Brian, David, Virginia, Marja, Danielle & I have all confirmed that we'll be there, and probably a few others as well. If you're anywhere close to Devon, please come join us. Tickets can be booked online on the Green Hill website, or by phoning 01647 440775, or purchased at the door. All proceeds help to keep this community arts, heritage, and youth centre in operation.

For more information on the event, go here. For more information on the exhibition, go here.

The art above is by David Wyatt, from his fabulous "Imaginary Village" series.


Widdershins 2016: Pathways to the Faerie Realm

Rima Staines, Widdershins

Into the Path's Embrace by Virginia LeeThe second Widdershins exhibition of moorland mythic art has opened at Green Hill Arts in Moretonhampstead, running until August 27th. A sign by the gallery door explains the exhibition's premise:

"Dartmoor is a landscape rich in legend, full of ghostly white Whist Hounds, shapeshifting Witch Hares, trolls who lurk under clapper bridge and piskies who dance among standing stones. Ancient carvings of the Green Man can be found all over Devon, symbolizing the wild green mysteries of nature. Old country folk still put bowls of milk out for the faeries, to seek their blessing...and to ward off their mischief! 

"All of the artists in this show are local to Dartmoor (or have strong local connections), inspired by the timeless magic of the land. Their art explores myth, folklore, hedge-magic and faery tales in diverse ways -- ranging from earthy to ethereal, spiritual to whimsical, and dark to light. Walking widdershins (counter-clockwise) is a pathway into Faerie. Come with us. There are wonders ahead."

The photographs below come from the show's opening night (last Friday), accompanied by a transcript of Alan Lee's eloquent introductory speech. I haven't photographed every piece of art however, or transcribed all of the quotes written on the walls, as that would lessen the sense of discovery for those who are planning to come and see it. But here's a peek....

Alan LeeGeorgiana Lingard (of Green Hill Arts) and Alan Lee open the exhibition

An Introduction to Widdershins 2016

by Alan Lee

I don’t know if we are in a fairy hot-spot here in Devon, but we definitely seem to be in a fairy hot-spot. Dartmoor, and the South West in general, have generated a rich history of fairy-lore, folk tales, and mysterious legends, and have inspired writers, story-tellers, and artists for a long time. Perhaps it is something in the water (the salt waters of the shoreline, the murmuring streams, the mist, the rain, the moorland bogs), or something in the shifting, transitory quality of the weather (the slow seasonal changes, the long summer dusks) that lends itself to fey thoughts and to an immersion in stories.

Faery drawing and painting by Alan Lee

A wall of faeries by Alan Lee & Brian FroudA wall of faery drawings & paintings by Alan Lee & Brian Froud

And if you can edit out the cacophony of our road traffic and our post-industrial times, there is a soft soundscape that is every bit as alluring...

In the Word Wood by David WyattBe not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

Ok, it’s a bit escapist; but when you think about it, many (if not most) of the landmarks in our cultural history were small steps forward while looking back over our shoulder at an ancient and often illusory past: a golden age, an age of wonders and lost civilizations. Of learning. Of giants.

Examing art by Alan LeeArtist Alexandra Dawe & her partner examining JRR Tolkien illustrations by Alan Lee

Medieval monks collected and transcribed legends set in the mythological past. Mallory and Chaucer wove romances and folk-tales into great works of art. Shakespeare, Spenser and Michael Drayon drew deeply from the British fairy tradition.

Works by David Wyatt, Marja Lee & Virginia Lee

Paintings and prints by Danielle BarlowMythic art by David Wyatt, Marja Lee, Virginia Lee, & Danielle Barlow

Then there are the Gothic and Romantic movements, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Neo Romantics, all reviving past modes of thought, techniques, and aesthetics. It’s in the poetry of Shelley, Keats, Christina Rossetti, and W.B. Yeats. It’s in children’s literature, and in the cinema, right from the beginning.

Painting by Virginia Lee

Works by Virginia Lee and David Wyatt

Faery boxes by Hazel Brown

Faery books written and hand-bound by Hazel BrownMythic paintings, sculptures, & objects by Virginia Lee, David Wyatt, Hazel Brown, & Wendy Froud

A number of the artists in this exhibition work as illustrators, putting their skills at the service of writers who have brought a new vigour to this type of storytelling, such as Terry Prachet, Geraldine McCaughrean and Phillip Reeve. Others make objects which bring that magic, and those stories, into a fascinating physical form. Forget Brexit for an hour or two, and enjoy exploring them.

Faery sculpture by Wendy FroudOver hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon's sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I'll be gone:
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.

Faery Godmothers by Wendy FroudFaery sculptures by Wendy Froud

Faery paintings by Hazel BrownFaery paintings by Hazel Brown

"The job of a storyteller is to speak the truth; but what we feel most deeply cannot be spoken in words. At this level only images connect. And so story becomes symbol; and symbol is myth."   - Alan Garner

Brian & MarjaMarja Lee & Brian Froud in front of Marja's paintings

Baba Yaga by Rima Staines and Imbolc by Marja LeeMythic paintings by Rima Staines and Marja Lee

"Humans are storytelling creatures. We need story, we need deep mythic happenings, as much as we need food and sun: to set us in our place in the family of things, in a world that lives and breathes and throws us wild tests, to show us the wildernesses and the lakes, the transforming swans, of our own minds."  - Sylvia Linsteadt

Artists Suzi Crockford, Rima Staines, and Hazel BrownArtists Suzi Crockford, Rima Staines, & Hazel Brown

Virginia Lee, Pauline Lee, and Angharad BarlowMythic arts by Virginia Lee, Pauline Lee, & Angharad Barlow

"Dealing with the impossible, fantasy can show us what may really be possible. If there is grief, there is the possibility of consolation; if hurt, the possibility of healing; and above all, the curative power of hope. If fantasy speaks to us as we are, it also speaks to us as we might be."   - Lloyd Alexander

Angharad, Virginia & DavidArtists Angharad Barlow, Virginia Lee, & David Wyatt

Hares by Paul Kidby and Danielle BarlowMythic hares by Paul Kidby & Danielle Barlow

Victoria & meVictoria Windling-Gayton (our daughter) and me in front of my fairy tale collages

Two of my hand-stitched collagesTwo of my six hand-stitched collages: "A Luminosity of Birds" & "Once Upon a Time"

"Magic lies in between things, between the day and the night, between yellow and blue, between any two things."  - Charles de Lint

HowardDramatist & puppeteer Howard Gayton (my husband), with faery art by Brian Froud & Alan Lee

"Storytellers ought not to be too tame. They ought to be wild creatures who function adequately in society.  They are best in disguise.  If they lose all their wildness, they cannot give us the truest joys." - Ben Okri

JennyTheatrical costume designer Jenny Gayton (my mother-in-law)

Tom Poet  and Storyteller Tom Hirons

Rima & WendyArtists Rima Staines & Wendy Froud

"What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quitessence, pure spirit, resolving into no contituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary.”  - Jay Griffiths

Painting on wood by Rima StainesMythic art by Rima Staines

For more information on the show, go here. For a schedule of related events (workshops, talks, films, etc.), visit the calendar section of the Green Hill Arts website. For pictures from the first Widdershins exhibition in 2013, go here or here.

"Touch magic, pass it on."  - Jane Yolen

Green Hill Arts