Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Fairy Princess

The Fairy Princess
--A mostly True Story

by Joel Haas

I’m a sculptor and this is a story about one of my most unusual commissions. I write this a day or two before Mother’s Day, and, as you shall see, that is very appropriate. Photos of the final work are at the end of this piece.

Several years ago, I received a phone call from a lady I had never met, a professional garden designer, who had seen my work and now wanted to commission a work for her own garden. As a professional artist, my bank account has never been so swollen that I could summarily turn down work, so while I idly played with the phone cord and sipped a cup of coffee, she explained what she wanted.
“I want you to do a memorial piece,” she began, “about my late daughter. She was six.” My heart sank—I don’t do portrait work, and certainly not portrait work when I can’t see the actual subject.
“She was killed in an automobile wreck along with her puppy and my younger sister who was taking her to the park.”
I told myself this was a job I did not want.
As if reading my thoughts, she told me, “I don’t want a portrait of her. And this happened five years ago.” She went on, “ I don’t care what sort of style you do this work in or what medium, but you do have to use the colors pink and purple.”
“Why pink and purple?” I asked.
“She had a fairy princess outfit that was pink and purple which she wore while playing in the garden.”
“So,” I asked, “what you really want is a sculpture that evokes the spirit of your child in the garden?”
“Right,” she answered.
“That,” I told her, “I can do,”—though I didn’t have the faintest idea at the time how.

Over the next few weeks I tried some ideas out—made abstract sketches, doodles of ultra realistic castings of flowers or children, but none of it seemed right. I was not evoking anybody’s spirit with these ideas--and deadlines and bills loomed. Finally, I realized, my client knew her child’s story, but I did not and I never would. So. I had to write her daughter’s story anew for myself and work out a sculpture based on that.

Over the next few days, I wrote a children’s story about a little girl who meets a real fairy princess and wants to become one, too. Then, I illustrated the story as if I were six years old!
I had the mother read the story when I was finished. After a good cry, she looked over the childish drawings I had so painstakingly made and selected which one she wanted me to translate into a steel sculpture for her garden.
What follows is the story I wrote and a picture of the final 8 ft tall steel Fairy Princess I built.

It all began with a very loud crash.
Everything was quiet and Leah was in her garden again.
For the longest time nobody came but the day was pleasant and nearly all the flowers were in bloom.
Soon, Helen and Margo from down the block came through the gate. A little after that, Leah heard her mother’s voice and Lindsey’s mother’s voice outside the tall, wooden gate. They seemed to be speaking in hushed tones, but, in a moment, Lindsey came in the garden, and they didn’t care what sort of tones their moms were speaking in.
Margo and Lindsey had capes and crowns and Helen had pink boots with glitter and a very fancy sparkly wand her daddy had made her. Soon kingdoms and castles had been conjured, boundaries drawn and tea parties and treaties arranged. There were no frogs to be found in the garden, so a kitten was pressed into service. Margo proclaimed the kitten an enchanted prince she would save with a magic wand and food.
Wrapped in enough towel “robes” to immobilize it, the kitten was plied with endless cups of imaginary tea and cake as they awaited just the right moment to suddenly proclaim it a handsome human prince.

A buzzing, tickling sound was heard in the distance. The garden grew even brighter. The air shimmered. Suddenly, in a shower of silver sparks, The Fairy Princess appeared, mounted on her faithful steed, Charley Horse.
The girls had never seen such a wonderful outfit!
Unnoticed, the kitten struggled free of the “robes” and teacups and hurried to safety under the kitchen steps.
“Do you all want to play fairy princess?” The Fairy Princess asked, casually brushing her magic wand through Charley Horse’s mane.
Hardly able to speak, all the girls nodded yes.
“Well, then,” The Fairy Princess proclaimed serenely, “We shall need wonderful dresses and castles and wands for everybody!”
As she slipped gracefully from Charley Horse’s back, The Fairy Princess shouted, “Tiaras for everybody, too!” With a glowing wave of her magic wand, they were all transformed –every one of them.
“Leah!” Margo and the other little girls looked up. “We didn’t know you were here and playing, too!”
“Of course, she’s playing too,” The Fairy Princess said airily as she waved her magic wand again.
And Presto! Head to toe, Leah was wearing a pink and purple outfit. Her pink gauzy wings fit perfectly with her sparkly purple dress, yellow crown and wand. She felt a bit wobbly and saw she was perched on some of her mother’s old high heels!
“Perfect!” The Fairy Princess squealed. “Everybody wave their magic wands!”
And so the morning passed—the girls waving their magic wands to create kingdoms and wipe away tears.
At lunch time, a grand gathering of the kingdoms was held and Leah’s mother—a servant summoned on brief sufferance from another world—served cookies and juice.
“May we please ride Charley Horse after lunch?” the girls begged The Fairy Princess.
“Of course,” The Fairy Princess answered between delicate bites of cookie. “He loves to race with the butterflies—he’s not really fast enough to beat the hummingbirds, though.”

And so they played until the shadows lengthened as the afternoon sun turned the garden lawn hazy gold.
Leah was having so much fun riding Charley Horse and turning flowers into castles and frogs, she hardly noticed Margo and Helen and Lindsey had left.
“Where did they all go?” Leah asked The Fairy Princess. “Did they all have to go home?”
“No,” said The Fairy Princess as she conjured up sugar cubes and apples to give Charley Horse, “They said they were too old to play fairy princess any more and left.”
“Will they be back?” Leah asked.
“No,” was the reply. “They’ll always be too old to play fairy princess now.”
Surprised and a little put out, Leah declared, “Well, I’m not too old to play fairy princess. I never want to be that old!”
So they played—or held court—until the tide of shadows washed over the garden and lightning bugs began to twinkle above the beds of liriope and spearmint.
“Charley Horse loves to race lightning bugs,” The Fairy Princess observed while daintily holding a pretend tea cup.
“I would love to be a real fairy princess like you!” Leah sighed. Even the coat hanger wire in her gauzy pink wings seemed to slump a bit in resignation.
“Why nothing could be easier!” The Fairy Princess said. “You have only to ask your mother if you can come with me to see Titania, The Fairy Queen. I’m sure she could make you a real fairy princess for ever!”
“Now?” Leah was startled.
“Just go ask,” The Fairy Princess pointed to the back door. Already, the porch light had come on to show the steps in soft light.

The screen door shut quietly behind Leah as she entered the house. It seemed so dark and so late. Hadn’t the sun just gone down? Yet both hands on the kitchen clock were already on the 12!
Had she missed supper?! She hadn’t even felt hungry all day!
The house seemed so dark, yet she could see with perfect clarity. It didn’t matter—she could have walked the house with her eyes closed. She hurried down the hall and to the left—into her mother’s bedroom.
Mommy had new pajamas and her hair looked different.
But still, this was the safest and coziest place in the world!
Without even thinking about it, Leah climbed into bed with her mother as she had so often in the past. She heard her mother’s happy murmur of sleepy greeting and felt her mother’s arms around her.
Adjusting her toy wings and wand, she told her mother all about the day, about Charley Horse and Margo, and Helen, and Lindsey, and about The Real Fairy Princess who could really fly and really turn columbines into teacups and pecan sticks into wands. And how the other girls were too old to play fairy princess and had left but how the Real Fairy Princess had promised Leah could be a Real Fairy Princess, too, if her mom would only let her go with the Real Fairy Princess to see Titania, The Fairy Queen, and…”
Leah stopped for breath.
Her mother was smiling and nodding.
“Oh, please, Mom! May I go? May I?” She used the same tone as if she were pleading to go to Margo’s for a sleep over.
For the longest time, her mother said not a word.
Finally, “Yes,” she nodded, and Leah was out of bed, nearly flying down the hall, shouting, “Thanks, Mom!” and never saw the single magic tear coursing down her mother’s face.
Charley Horse was waiting nearby as the back door slammed shut and Leah skipped into the moonlight shouting, “My mom says it’s okay! I can be a Real Fairy Princess forever!”

Day was rapidly diluting the night sky.
The mother stood silently crying by the back door. She had had the most delicious and painful dream of Leah last night. The joy of holding her child in her heart and then the white hot pain of letting her go.
She pushed the back door open and felt the dew and grass between her toes.
She heard voices--softer than daybreak’s whisper—in the jasmine along the back wall.
Sparkling dimly in the tree branches overhead was a regal woman in a magnificent gown. Titania, The Fairy Queen! Around her were little girls in a multitude of fairy princess robes from terry cloth to gauze to real satin.
She saw Leah standing before The Fairy Queen, a look of puzzlement and awe on her child’s face.
“Where are my real crown and real magic wand?” Leah asked.
“In your mother’s garden,” The Fairy Queen answered. “You’ll have to seek them there.” Then, waving her scepter, The Fairy Queen wove a circle of sparkling fairy dust around Leah’s head. “This is what I decree: that whenever and wherever you are carried in your mother’s heart throughout her garden, you will be Chief Real Fairy Princess there and decide whatever games are to be played!”
With that, The Fairy Queen started to rapidly fade away. Already, it was hard to tell if she were still there in the tree top—or if it were just a trick of the light on leaves and branches.
“Wait!” Leah called, “Can I have my friends over? And all the other princesses, too?”
“By all means,” she heard The Fairy Queen say. “And Charley Horse, too.”
And, then—they all vanished.
And, then—it really was just morning light playing tricks on leaves and branches.
Steel sculpture about 8 feet tall--note, even the flowers holding up the princess are made in steel. There is a butterfly in her hand for resurrection.
Below are two of the quick sketches of illustrations done for the mother to view.


Sally Sheets said...

I read this story about "The Fairy Princess" with real and deep connection! I too am a mother of a twelve year old daughter who passed on to Heaven from Melanoma cancer in 1990. I love what you were asked to do for this mother and what all you went through to get the request carried out! I love the piece you made for her garden and also the story to go with your creation!

After 15 years of missing my oldest child from living life here, with us, I have come to cherish the gifts from others stories and find comfort in their pathways through grieving in their losses!

We have never been able to afford to have anyone to craft something that might capture the essence of our dear Stacia, but I can be happy for those who are able to have their deceased child's essence captured in an art piece to have and enjoy!

Thank you for saying yes to this precious mother! I would love to visit her garden and visit with her!

God bless you!

A mother who understands and cheers for those like me!

Sally Sheets

Anonymous said...

can i copy out the story coz i entitled my photo The Fairy princess and so as just to place this story in my comments. don't worry, i will place all credits back to you. :)