SULLIVAN — Financial experts keep reassuring us that a resurgent housing sector will help rebuild the American economy after the ravages of the recession.
But who knew it would be fairy housing? One person with their eyes on the prize turns out to be lucky Sullivan artist Geri Luciano, who has a kind of Steve Jobs iPhone knack for creating things people didn’t know they needed desperately until they were given them.
Which brings us back to fairy housing. Luciano decided in her own mind that lots of little fantasy people were wandering about in search of a place to live. These sad legions, once abandoned and gnomeless, now find ideal lodging in little buildings and neighborhoods the artist pulls out of her imagination and fashions from thrift store finds and branches, acorns, driftwood and other odds and ends plucked from nature and glued together.
Her creations are retailed through Catherine’s Custom Framing gallery in town and are flying off the shelves like fairies on steroids. Some of her smaller constructions — Luciano can pour a whole neighborhood into a miniature teacup — are priced $12 to $15 and don’t stay on the market too long.
“We were trying to put some out on display, and people were taking them out of our hands and buying them,” says Cathrine Craig, the owner of Cathrine’s.
“And one of her pieces we shipped out to Seattle, Wash., and the lady who bought it said she had been looking for a unique, one-of-a-kind gift. With Geri’s fairy houses, if you see one and truly love it, you need to get it while you can before it’s gone.”
Our modest builder of wee homes blushes at the compliments and describes the journey that led to her fairytale ending. A special education assistant in Chicago, she and her retired mailman husband, Dominic, were looking for a country retreat and chose Central Illinois entirely at random in 2010. It was a little rough at first, with her family still up in the big city, but her sudden injection into the great outdoors soon rebuilt the artist’s outlook on life.
“I can jog to Lake Shelbyville,” she says, with a Cheshire cat smile. “I remember the first time when I jogged down there and saw a turtle slide into the water while a great blue heron was taking off and there were deer tracks all over the place. I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, I live here now?’ It was like I had to pinch myself.”
Always handy in a crafts kind of way, she finally had the time and peace to experiment with the latent artistic possibilities long locked up in her talented fingers. She began hiring out her burgeoning painting abilities, for example, and has now handled everything from repurposing furniture to dressing up rain barrels and even an 8-foot-tall fiberglass mushroom used as promotional advertising for the Dairy Delites ice cream shop.
And then came the fairy houses, floating out of her fertile mind on the gossamer wings of imagination. We look at one called “28 Curcubita Court” (they all have proper addresses), which nestles in a wicker basket and where a blue fairy called Muireall lives in a “warty gourd” that Luciano painstakingly remodeled, complete with window. Steps made from slivers of limestone lead up to the open front door and a postage stamp-sized woven welcome mat while a full garden is dotted with minute bird nests filled with infinitesimal eggs and miniature spotted toadstools fashioned from polymer clay, a favorite creative medium.
An accompanying book, written and bound by the artist and that would fit in the palm of your hand, describes Muireall as living in the Black Isle Peninsula of Scotland. Every fairy abode comes with a narrative like this and, leaving aside the delicate question of whether her customers actually believe in fairies, the landscape and place names they read about are all real and carefully documented.
“I don’t know if anybody would ever care to check or not, but I always research the place where my fairies live,” Luciano explains. “And I love building the homes and writing the stories, and sometimes, I stay up until 3 a.m. working on them because I get so carried away.”
But while you can take the artist out of the city, you can’t always take the city out of the artist. Luciano had never seen a paper wasp’s nest, and when she found one in her yard she thought it was a honeycomb made by bees and incorporated it in Muireall’s garden as a repository where she stores her fairy dust, naturally.
Luciano said she only found out what the honeycomb really was when her nail technician set her straight. “She says, ‘Girl, that ain’t no honeycomb, that’s a wasp nest,’ ” recalls the artist. “And I was like ‘Oh!’ So I had to change Muireall’s story just a little bit.”
Luciano had asked the technician if anybody would believe it was a honeycomb and was told, “ ‘Oh, sure, if they’re from Chicago.’ ” A little while later, two girlfriends were visiting from the Windy City and Luciano showed them Muireall’s home complete with the fairy dust storage facility to test their reaction. “And they both said, ‘Oh, gosh, just look at that honeycomb.’ ”