WEST HARTFORD — To the unsuspecting eye, it may look like a bottle cap. Or a button. But to a keen middle school faerie house architect, it could be the top to a stool. Maybe a tiny window.

As part of a two-tiered project beginning in the spring of 2019 and culminating this October, Middle School students in Katherine Nicholson’s art class had the opportunity to dive into the “a-cutely” fascinating world of faerie houses. Faerie houses are whimsical habitats that are created and displayed, often built right into wooded areas and encourage anyone that interacts with them to connect with nature and the outside world.

As the first step of this engaged learning project, visiting artists from the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme came to Kingswood to run a hands-on workshop that walked students through the process of building these miniature habitats. Students were given a platform with identical simple cloth tee-pees. From there, the young artists used a range of everyday materials from buttons to matchboxes to safety pins to make miniature rooms, beds, chairs, decor, and furnishings for their structures. Add a coat of limitless imagination to create a narrative for what their small inhabitants would do in their new home, and you have a faerie house.

Bring on part two to this engaged learning initiative. Each year, the Florence Griswold Museum is home to a standing Wee Faerie Village, which can be found on the grounds of the museum, and each year a different theme is chosen. A myriad of institutions and non-profits apply to participate but only a small few are chosen. For the fall 2019 display, KO was one of the few selected to participate. The theme was SuperTopia! — superhero hideouts and hideaways.

Nicholson herself is a talented artist herself in a wide range of mediums. While she humbly shared that the project “was student-led from beginning to end,” she brainstormed the idea, threw the KO name into the hat for consideration with the museum, and coordinated everything from the visiting artists to helping students navigate the creative process. You could say she was the glue. Literally and figuratively. She tested a host of different glue types and trial runs for what would hold up to inclement weather, which is essential to a faerie structure housed outside. Despite all her hard work, Nicholson did what exceptional teachers do. She keenly gave her students the parameters of the project but stopped there to encourage their boundless imagination. Eighth-grade art student Ava Leshem said, “I really enjoyed this project! It was fun to work with someone to make the house and bounce ideas off of. It was also a great way to display people’s creativity.”

The opportunity to participate in this exhibit was incredible for students on many levels. “It gave them the task to build something that had a purpose, while challenging them to problem-solve, think creatively, and showcase their fun-loving middle school personality,” said Nicholson. “They loved building a hideaway in miniature, as they could use materials in new ways and be inventors. Students learned how to work with a coherent theme and collaborate as a team during their work on the house.”

The final KO SuperTopia! exhibit whisks you from reality into a deliciously enchanted out of this universe world, showcasing a village of superhero dens, headquarters, and hideaways. It draws you in with this description:

“When they are not flying around the galaxy doing “Something good or something bad, or a bit of both” they crash in their treehouse- complete with a shared kitchen, hammock, and rope swing. Each Guardian has his or her own section. Drax Faerie enjoys reading and relaxing in his meditative space where he is surrounded by pictures of his family. Rocket Faerie hangs out in his high-tech headquarters quarters where he meets with his team. Groot Faerie resides in comfort near his pool with nature all around. Gamora Faerie escapes her male counterparts in her green and elegant apartment. Lastly, Starlord Faerie listens to endless music on his ship.”

Nicholson said, “The faerie house project proved to my students that they can be builders, artists, and creative- problem solvers, and while doing all of this, they had fun with their peers and learning about superheroes. It is our hope that the visitors to the museum will see that the students embraced the traits and personality of the characters in the Guardians of the Galaxy to truly make a hideaway for the Guardian Faeries.”

The visiting artist, the supplies for the house, transportation, and museum fees were supported by Goodman Banks Visiting Artist Series. Through the series, students experience the creative process firsthand as they work with visual and performing artists from around the world. Through performances and master classes, artists share their techniques, processes, and creations with Middle and Upper School students who come to know life through the eyes of working artists.

The exhibit runs through Oct. 27 and anyone is invited to visit. For more information visit www.theflorencegriswoldmuseum.org.

Connecticut Media Group