30 October 2013

Inspired by Reading :: My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me

I love fairy tales.

So when my friend Andrew Thornton asked me to play along with the Inspired by Reading book club creative team this month - inspired by the book 'My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me' - I took on that challenge. However, due to all the traveling that I did this month, I knew that I wouldn't be able to order the book so I asked him to just select two at random for me to choose from. Andrew tried twice to mail me some stories, but they got lost along the way, with one parcel finally making its way to me last week. He also was kind enough to send me some last week that I think he may have taken pictures of with his phone - clever! And in the meantime, I did buy a copy of the book for my daughter's Kindle. So little by little I have been savoring the stories and will continue. They are marvelous and varied.

The book 'My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me' is a group of 40 or so fairy tales written by contemporary artists., compiled by Kate Bernheimer. Some are retellings in very clever ways of the stories that we know from our childhood; some are completely new. But the model they use and the motifs are instantly familiar even in their strangeness.

I love the rich symbolism, the vivid imagery, the circular telling, the anthropomorphic creatures, the cautionary warnings in fairy tales. I love the timeless quality and the strange cast of characters, that feel like old friends.

Have I told you that I used to be an English teacher? Perhaps I took up English as a major for all those fairy tales I read as a child. To pass along the knowledge and the rich tapestry of those stories to others. Although I only officially taught for five years, I still have a teacher's soul. And my favorite unit to do every year was the Storytelling unit. So I loved reading Kate's foreword about her life enmeshed with tales of all sorts.

In my class, we would deconstruct fairy tales down to their basics and pick out recurring themes. We would talk about how fairy tales were used as tools to teach and even explain natural phenomena. I used to use the story of Cinderella as my example in class. Did you know that there are over 300 documented Cinderella stories from around the world? No matter the language, they all have certain things in common. The students always found that fascinating, especially when we read the real tales, by Grimm and Andersen, not the saccharine Disney-fied brightly colored world they were fed as a child.

So reading this book is like taking a journey back into my past. You don't know where you are going, and you are not sure which path to take, but there is a delight around every corner and lots of sites to see.

The story that I selected is 'First Day of Snow' by Naoko Awa.
Naoko Awa (1943-1993) was an award-winning writer of modern fairy tales from Japan. As a child, Awa read fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Wilhelm Hauff, as well as The Arabian Nights, which later influenced her writings. She earned a bachelor's degree in Japanese literature from Japan Women's University.

This story follows a young girl who happens upon an ordinary chalk hopscotch and can't resist the urge to jump in the circles. What happens next is anything but ordinary.

It was a cold day in late autumn. On a path running straight through the village, a young girl crouched down, looking at the ground. She tilted her head and breathed deeply, "Who has hopscotching here?" she wondered aloud.

Hopscotch rings, drawn in chalk, continued endlessly on the path - across the bridge and toward the mountains. The girl stood up. "What a long hopscotch!" she cried, widening her eyes. When she hopped into  a ring, her body became as light as a bouncing ball.

I immediately doodled swirling circles on my copy. I envisioned links, every widening, like ripples on a pond. I could see the path that was leading the girl away from the village.

The hopscotching starts out as a game, but soon the girl realizes that she can't stop. With each hop she is getting further from her home. Then the snow starts to blow. It is then that she is aware of snow-white bunnies in front of and behind her chanting,

"We're snow rabbits white as snow
And snow falls everywhere we go
White as snow, we never stop
One foot, two feet, hop, hop, hop."

Of course, this chant reminds the young girl of what her wise grandmother told her about how the first day of snow is brought by rabbits that hop so fast that all that you can see is a white blur. Little children who get caught up in it will get whisked away to the end of the earth. It is then that she remembers that the way to break the spell is with a mugwort leaf.

Now, I had no idea what a mugwort leaf was, so of course, I did a little research.

According to the Happy Herb Company, mugwort was considered by ancient cultures as 'the universal herb for protection and prophecy.' It was used to ward off evil spirits and promoted lucid dreaming. This weedy plant has spiky leaves with a deep green top, but turning them over reveals a soft cotton underside.

The girl in the story tries to stop the bunny chant from taking over her mind so she can call out the words, "Mugwort, mugwort, mugwort in the spring!" to break the spell of eternal winter. It is only through asking the bunnies a riddle about the mugwort leaf that she breaks their rhythm and stops the snow, landing her in a village many thousands of miles away.

This story deals with themes of disappearance, wisdom and cleverness, and resourcefulness. While fluffy bunnies are hardly the most sinister of characters, the fact that they are something so sweet that can do something as insidious as whisking away a child gives you pause. The girl was resourceful and listened to the words of her elder to find a way out of the trap. And there is even a happy ending to this tale.

For my piece, I envisioned a necklace, with swirling hopscotch circles and soft colors blending from icy winter tones to hopeful spring ones.

  • In my stash, I happened to have the cutest little bunny from Rebekah Payne of Tree Wings Studio. I just adore her little sleepy animals. I can imagine the bunnies hopping along in their rhythm could be very sleepy and caught up in their repetitive action. I think that I might make a few more rings around this bunny to give more visual weight to this focal.
  • I made the rings from steel wire with seeds in snowy shades and transitioned to greens once the spell was broken.
  • Using a technique that I learned from Heather Powers at the Inspired by Nature retreat, I created my own mugwort leaf that shimmers with a luminescent sheen
  • And I finished with a mix of silk, wirelace, and fluffy cotton fibers to weave the path of the girl and the unraveling she must have felt when she knew that she couldn't stop. 

Ultimately, the mugwort proves to be a powerful herb of protection and sets the girl free.

"We're the color of spring
of the hairs on a mugwort leaf
One foot, two feet, hop, hop, hop."

Thank you, Andrew for inviting me to play along! Please go over to Andrew's blog to see a full list of participants and the stories that inspired them.


Monique (A Half-Baked Notion) said...

What an elegant design with just the right touch of whimsy! It is lovely to see Heather's retreat already sparking further experimentation.

Sarajo Wentling said...

I'm impressed by all the interesting techniques you pulled together for this design. Really lovely!

I also like how you added all of your detailed notes to your photo... what did you use to do that?

Dawn Doucette said...

So we all news a little mugwort in our lives! I love your necklace, it has rich texture and is totally versatile!

Diana P. said...

That's a stunning necklace. I'm going to have to read that story next.

Kim Stevens said...

I love the way your mind thinks, and how creativity befalls you...this is gorgeous!!

LisaS said...

This is lovely! -All my favorite colors.

Sharon said...

Really pretty techniques, love all the textures!

maryharding said...

Erin, your necklace is so elegant, graceful, and evocative. I just love your retelling of this story which I had not read before. I especially like your steel rings of seed beads that morph into Spring and the two textures of the silks and your handwritten notes beneath the necklace. I am so happy you joined in this month!!

Andrew Thornton said...

Powerfully beautiful! You've really done a wonderful job and put so much thought and work into the (blog) hop. I am glad that the stories finally found their way to you and that you got a Kindle edition. The stories are so rich and I know that I'll keep coming back to the book, revisiting stories for a very long time!

I love all the minty greens matched with the cool silvers. The textures of this piece provide a balancing harmony of soft and hard. Again... wonderful job!

And thank you so much for participating! I know that you're extremely busy and I feel blessed that you were able to take a little time out for us!

Perri www.ShaktipajDesigns.etsy.com said...

Wonderful interpretation of the story. I adore the 'snow whirlwinds'.
It is funny how the small pleasures in our lives can wax and wane with the seasons. I enjoy exploring plant lore. Your post reminded me that the Artemisia family of plants are among my favorites. Like the archetypal characters in fairy stories, the different species of this genus are used in so many different cultures, with similar effects. I grew up where the aptly named sweet southernwood is used in pillows to promote sweet dreams. But interestingly enough, the infamous absinthe, or Green Fairy as it is known, is made from a type of artemisia - wormwood. Atemisia was considered a 'deep magic' plant - highly aromatic and a 'mild' hallucinogen when ingested - it is no wonder that it inspired these stories - and many others.
Thank you so much for this journey into memory - it is true - inspiration *is* everywhere!

Heather Powers said...

This is amazing! I love to see a little bit of my inspiration peeking through your design, but of course as always, you go so far and above what I could ever imagine. This is a beautiful necklace that perfectly captures the story.

Rebekah said...

How cleverly and beautifully designed Erin! I love to see jewelry with such depth and a story intertwined in its design—it makes it so much more than just the elements and skill it's made up of—like you get to see a little of the artist's heart and mind behind it.

It really made me smile to see my little bunny here! Thanks so much for sharing it with me! …And, I absolutely love seeing your own polymer creations evolve—your mugwort leaf is gorgeous!


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