The prompt for Kick-About #12 is the Cottingley Fairies! Remember those cheeky photographs that fooled everyone back in 1917? Hats off to Elsie Wright (16) and Frances Griffiths (9) for scoring a hit without the use of PhotoShop. Who needs PhotoShop when you have cardboard cut-outs and a camera?
I think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when this subject comes up, because I’m aghast that the man who created the most skeptical and scientific of fictional detectives, Sherlock Holmes, could be so gullible as to believe that these photos were authentic. But the truth is, if I had been around in 1917, I would very likely have been one of the people who was fooled by them, simply because I would have wanted to be.
In 2009, a friend Annabel Butler and I found a small ceramic gnome in an op shop*. From memory the original gnome was a ghastly thing; cheap and badly painted with a red slash of paint across his mouth that was about as accurately applied as The Joker’s lipstick. He was only about 10-15 cm tall. We sneaked him into the garden of a local friend and said nothing about it.
The friend was a bit of a trickster herself, so we responded with denial and polite curiosity when she asked us if we had put it there. We followed up by putting a few more in every now and then, and moving them around the garden. We were surprised when her local enquiries became a little frantic and she became spooked. So we confessed. But it turned out that her two children were not spooked but charmed by the gnomes and took to calling them fairies. They were convinced that the fairies were alive and moved around when nobody was looking.
Naturally, we couldn’t let the children down…
The fairies multiplied enormously, built huts, got married in various gender pairings, even wrote the occasional letter which had to be delivered to the letterbox via a tiny, tiny rope ladder that took Annabel ages to make. There was a Christmas feast with a musical stage show featuring some ugly clowns. Then the fairies departed because we felt they had overstayed their welcome.
But I received a note from Sass, whose garden it was:
‘I wanted to tell you how much we enjoyed our visit from the fairies and how much the girls are missing them. They are asking questions I am unable to answer and wondering if they will ever return for a visit. The garden seems so very quiet and boring now without them. So if they happened to reappear for any unforseen reason we would welcome them back with open leaves.’
They returned in a hand-made covered wagon, charred by dragon fire and set up camp again. I can’t quite understand or believe how we found the time in those days for such activities.
Looking at these photos, I’m reminded again of how seemingly unconvincing the installations were. It was the Powerful Energy of the children’s imaginations that brought them to life. How I love that Powerful Energy! And as an adult, I regularly delve into books I read as a child in an attempt to recapture the Power. I am forever hammering on the back of the wardrobe, so to speak.
I’ve made a couple of new ‘fairies’ for 2020, the stranger-than-fiction year. Possibly due to the poisoning of my mind by doom-scrolling through US election news, my 2020 fairies are a pair of Dickensian style villains, sloping back into the forest after getting up to goodness knows what… (Perhaps he is carrying a sack?) The female figure, superficially posing as a pretty thing, with gossamer wings and a lacy apron, has overly long stick insect arms and carries a thorny crook/trident. The male of the species is wearing a lacy collar that droops down in a hairy way from his neck. But the rest of his torso is naked and a bit bloated.
I tried the image out with my viral pattern overlaid in the background. I like the way it makes the scale of the figures ambiguous. It could be dandelion seeds or similar, or perhaps it’s a light effect in the sky. But I think I prefer the image without it. It takes it a little too close to 1960s psychedelic picture book art, and I’ve always preferred the more restrained 1950s art.
Because I’m so minimalist. Yep.
*(translation: thrift store)