We have so many talented artists at TRF. They work in fabric, wax, glass, metal, beads, paint, pencil, clay... If you've never walked the festival with eyes open to the gorgeous stuff people have lovingly made, then we'd venture to say you're really missing a treat. Antoine Birdsong is one of our gifted artisans; she forms quirky, whimsical faeries whose impish spirits tickle the faery spirit that we here at TRF believe inhabits everyone, whether they want to admit it or not.
A visit to Antoine's shoppe, Faeries from the Swamp, located near the Odeon Stage, is a visit to sweet magic. The space is warm and inviting, an adorable cottage with a friendly staff and an exuberant welcome; Antoine is thrilled to see anyone and everyone, and she makes sure they feel that welcome.
I asked Antoine a few questions about her work:
TRF: What is your style of art?
AB: I like to think what I do with the polymer clay is "additive sculpture". By that, I mean, I add clay to clay to create my pieces, rather than cut away from a large block of clay. I pick up the clay, and see what happens... surely I know if I am about to create a faerie, or a dragon egg, or an enchanted mushroom, but I try not to anticipate what it will look like; I prefer to be surprised.
TRF: Do you have a mission?
AB: I don't feel I have a mission, other than to try and enjoy my job, to help others enjoy their days. My husband was the sole breadwinner during the first half of our marriage, and I wanted to give him the same consideration and allow him to experience being taken care of! Who knew it would end up with him working nearly as hard as I? He, too, loves the work we do. It's nice! He gets to sell my work, and I get to just be creative.
TRF: Do you work alone or in a group?
AB: I create each piece, myself, without help from anyone else. I often get people saying that they'll help me, since I sculpt nearly 70 hours a week during festival, but then it wouldn't be my work, and I refuse the help.
TRF: How did you learn your art/craft?
AB: The first time I picked up the polymer clay, I also glanced through a booklet that my sister had that showed how to make a few pieces - bears, turtles, faces, ears, etc... From that point, I guess I just used trial and error. My mom wanted to buy me an expensive set of instructions by a well-known artist, and I told her that I was pretty happy with the way I did things and didn't need her to spend the money. I might have learned a thing or two from the DVDs; but, honestly, I am happy I did it the way I did.
TRF: What is its tie-in to the Renaissance period?
AB: Faeries and Enchanted Beings, Dragon Eggs, are all from an era of magical mystical belief systems. The whimsy I create brings us to a time when all things were believable!
TRF: Where else do you show/sell your work?
AB: I have an annual circuit of shows that I do, with my husband, and we have not just my art work, but a bath salt and tea shoppe, a shoe shine, and in Florida we sell Mangoes on a Stick! We work incredibly hard for 6 months a year, and have carved out a route, and a place in the business world that makes us happy.
I am an artist. But I am also a starving artist, so I came up with different ways to supplement my artistic endeavors. I created a bath salt store. I sell Himalayan Salt, mixed with herbs and spices to create herbal remedies for the tub and shower. This part of my festival work, I believe, gives me as much or maybe even more satisfaction than my art.
At first it was a way to earn extra money, and now, I feel such gratification and fulfillment when a repeat patron comes to me and tells me that the remedy we created brought relief to a mom with cancer, or to a child with skin issues.
I take such pride in all that I do in my work - and am honored that my patrons bring with them, their trust in me. Along with the bath remedies at the Salt Cellar, I realized that Herbal Teas follow along the same line of my bath salt-a way to help people. I love the format and business model I have created with my tea - 40 teas, herbs, and spices to create your own Herbal Blend Gourmet Tea.
Along the way, we encountered severe storms - and 6" thick mud all around our guest booth...a friendly conversation brought about the need for leather care and weather proofing for the Renaissance Faire circuit. A bit of research and some supplies, and a few weeks later I had an additional business shining shoes, and creating a leather care product called Boot Rub. It is an amazing reconditioner of any age smooth leather, and I have even used it on couches, and garments, and wooden desks, not just shoes and boots!
TRF: What's an interesting bit of trivia about you, unrelated to what you do at TRF?
AB: am an animal lover, and travel with a host of four-legged family members. With two dogs, three cats and even a budgie, I am never without someone to show me some love and affection. I have been married to my husband for more than 27 years. He is from Austin Texas, and we met, in of all places, New York City. I have dreams of travelling to Africa, and Parts of Europe, and to take a weekend long road trip taking pictures of old barns.
My philosophy is:
The answer is always "no" if you don't ask the question.
I can do anything I put my mind to.
If you recognize the problem, you can fix it.
My needs are simple, and my hopes are grande.