The story behind the Fairies at Trentham
Discover the story of how the Fairies at Trentham came to be with this guest blog, written by Fairy creator Robin Wight.
I started making wire fairies in July 2010, Fairies invoke thoughts of fantasy. They help you escape the real world for a moment and are generally associated with good things. Fairies are nice. I make wire fairies because I love the whole creative process of designing and building something nice and delicate yet are made from hard industrial materials.
The very first fairy trail was at Oakamoor Village Festival in September 2012. We hid 11 fairies along a path through the woods and handed out leaflets in the village challenging people to find them all. It was purely by chance that Amanda (then Trentham Gardens Marketing Manager) was walking with a friend and met “Shaky” followed by another, then another fairy. Someone asked Amanda for help to find one that seemed particularly well hidden and the penny dropped. I received an email entitled “We love your fairies”.
Here’s a fairy by fairy insight to Fairies at Trentham, and the evolution of the creative process, starting with the first 7 fairies which arrived in October 2012.
May 2011: fairy 6, galvanised - number 13 on the map
Glance is the earliest fairy at Trentham and is only the 6th fairy ever made. She is made from three different gauges of galvanised fence wire. Glance is probably the most significant fairy in the evolution of making them. After making five, I was frustrated that I could not get the proportions right so rather than just starting a skeleton and adding wire as I had in the past, I decided to design how to make them. I started by drawing a figure to scale and working out all the sizes including the skeleton bone lengths. I had realised that simply fleshing out the figure by winding wire around the skeleton distorted the proportions as the figure builds up. Instead, I starting to add wire where the muscles are and then cover the figure with a thinner layer of skin wire. Glance is the first fairy to have hair, but because the wire I was using was so coarse, I abandoned attempting hair until much later when I started using stainless wire 18 months on. Glance was never designed to be a displayed sculpture and does not include any structural means of support. When she was first made, she was simply free standing on her feet.
Aug 2012: fairy 10, galvanised – number 15 on the map
Having become known in the village of Oakamoor, in Staffordshire, as the man who makes the fairies, I was asked by the organisers of the village festival if I wanted to display a fairy. Up to that point, I had only ever made fairies up trees or sitting on a fence. Originally called “The thief”, she is only the 10th fairy ever made. I wanted to do something a bit more spectacular as a display piece. I was also a little concerned about it being stolen. The design was to have the fairy trying to carry away the watering can, whilst hiding the support to create the illusion that the fairy was airborne. The fairy is quite heavy, so the watering can is filled with concrete to counterbalance the weight as well as making it too heavy to walk off with. I was so pleased with the result, that for a couple of years her silhouette was FantasyWire’s logo.
Jan 2012: fairy 14, galvanised – number 8 on the map
There is a public footpath that borders my garden and I wanted to do something a bit more fun, I bit more sinister and apparently gravity defying. Originally called “Night Crawler” this fairy is the 14th ever made and was designed to cling to the side of my office and peer through the window. She has (road) cats eyes so if you take a flash photo she glares back at you! The idea being that anyone new in the office, would do a double take of a pair of deep eyes peering at them through the window. She is also the first fairy to sport a pair of gothic curly wings which I thought added to the sinister nature of her.
Mar 2012: fairy 18, galvanised skeleton covered in stainless – number 7 on the map
Originally called the “Water Fairy”. Tranquil is the first full sized fairy I made using stainless steel. Up until then, I had only used galvanised fence wire. I wanted to produce fairies of a higher quality and decided to try stainless steel. I had to take a leap of faith and bought £2000 worth of stainless steel wire not knowing if it would work. I was so concerned about the cost at the time, that Tranquil has a galvanised core and was only covered with a stainless steel skin layer. At the time she was made, I was taking commissions from local people and designing fairies to suit specific places in people’s gardens. Tranquil was made as a display piece, free standing and able to fit in the car so I could take her with me as an example.
Aug 2012: fairy 25, galvanised with stainless dandelion – number 4 on the map
Dandelion was the start of FantasyWire dandelions. I had always wanted to make a sculpture of a dandelion with interconnected seeds blowing away from the head. Now that I had thinner stainless steel wire, I had suitable material to try. I had the idea of a fairy blowing a dandelion and made a small prototype dandelion which my wife immediately claimed! I had to make a second to go with the fairy. The dandelion on display is not the original. As the design of dandelions evolved, we decided to upgrade it in 2015 when we installed the giant dandelions near the lake.
Sep 2012: fairy 27 - galvanised skeleton covered in stainless – number 6 on the map
Shaky is the first public interaction fairy. There is a public footpath near my home. Very few people ever walk past but Shaky was made to stand on a five bar gate, arm outstretched, hoping to get a hand shake. Little did people know that there was a camera pointing at her. I wanted to see if I could catch people shaking her hand while completely unaware that they were being watched. Shaky was made the month before Trentham Gardens discovered my work and she was relocated before I ever got to catch anybody on camera. She was never meant to be a serious work of art which why I didn’t worry too much about the quality.
Oct 2012: fairy 28 - galvanised skeleton covered in stainless – number 1 on the map
Titania (Shakespeare’s Queen of the Fairies, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) was designed and made for Trentham Gardens. When we installed the original fairy trail, we felt that a fairy advertising the fairy trail outside the gardens, pointing the way would be a good addition. Titania is at the beginning of a new generation of fairies. Having switched completely to stainless steel which is available is finer gauges, I was able to start adding more detail like muscle definition.
In May 2015, more fairies flew to Trentham Gardens. The following six fairies were commissioned by Trentham to complement and complete the existing Trentham fairies, to be photogenic and intriguing.
Nov 2012: fairy 29, Galvanised skeleton covered in stainless – number 10 on the map
Swoosh is only the second fairy to have hair. I had attempted hair with Glance, but the wire and pose hadn’t worked. Swoosh was designed to have a pose where the hair could hang clear of her body so as not to spoil the outline of the figure. With hindsight, I was a bit too stingy with the amount of hair.
Apr 2013: fairy 35, galvanised – number 2 on the map
Bridget was designed to fit on the cables where she hangs. She is called Bridget because she’s on the bridge and was designed to be one of the first things you see on entering the gardens.
Apr 2013: fairy 36, galvanised skeleton covered in stainless – number 9 on the map
Poser was designed and named to pose for photos with Trentham visitors. She is the first fairy to have a solid metal hat. All previous fairies had hats made from chicken mesh, but I felt that because people would be touching her, I needed to make a hat that was free of all the sharp edges. All subsequent behatted fairies, started sporting copper hats and hair.
Apr 2013: fairy 37, galvanised – number 11 on the map
Swing was commissioned by Trentham to complement and complete the existing Trentham fairies. Swing was a challenge to make as the balance had to be just right to create the desired impression of a swing in motion. If the weight had not been set right, the fairy would be top heavy and would flip over with the fairy hanging under the swing seat.
May 2013: fairy 39, galvanised – number 5 on the map
Helper (the fairy with the watering can) had worked so well sitting on the surface of the water that we thought we would create a second fairy, but this time have her flying over the surface just touching the surface with her hand. There was a design challenge with Dip: to have her apparently floating in the air, almost horizontal, means there is a great deal of weight acting on the hidden support in her wrist. We knew, through experience with Helper, that she would sink slightly over time. If you look closely, you will see a hand reaching out of the water. This was to disguise the support until the sculpture settles when Dip's hand should be just touching the surface.
May 2013: fairy 41, galvanised – number 18 on the map
We felt that the wrought iron trellis had the characteristic of a cobweb and we wanted to create at least one fairy that had a greater appeal to boys.
Trentham’s 10 Year Anniversary
May 2014: fairy 59, 100% stainless – number 16 on the map
Wishes was so named from the phrase that drove the design “wishes do come true”. Wishes was a special commission to commemorate Trentham Gardens 10th anniversary. The design brief being “regeneration”, “a celebration” and “wishes do come true”. At the time of making Wishes, I’d already been making fairies that hung onto dandelions and spun around in the wind, but I’d never made a fairy that was human size. Concerned about the weight and the physics of making a fairy this scale in a public space, I decided to have her resting on one knee which helped to exaggerate the apparent power of the wind. Wishes is the most photographed fairy at Trentham and has become world famous, sited on many websites as one of the most inspiring sculptures on earth. It was a photograph taken and shared by a Trentham visitor, Jo Fitzpatrick, that triggered FantasyWire to go viral in September 2014.
August 2014 (watershed moment)
A photo of Wishes by Jo Fitzpatrick was shared on FantasyWire’s facebook page and FantasyWire went from 5k likers to 75k likers on the space of 4 days. The world changed. I had tens of thousands of requests to buy a sculpture that’s at home called ‘1 O’clock Wish’ which, during the hype, got the media headline “Dancing with Dandelions”. I reacted by making a copy and auctioning her off on eBay.
Giant Dandelions installation featuring Spring
Oct 2015: fairy 72, 100% stainless – number 11 on the map
Spring was introduced along with the Giant Dandelions. Amy at FantasyWire had been making and selling six feet tall garden dandelions for a while and Trentham Gardens liked the idea of photos of visitors blowing them. The problem was one of safety. Having a spiky ball of wire at face height does pose an obvious risk in a public space. “What if we made them taller and out of reach?” So, we made a prototype and invited Trentham to come and see it at home. We had several different sized dandelions in the garden and when Trentham turned up and looked at one about 8 foot tall, they said, “Is that it, I don’t think it's safe”. We asked them to turn around and look up. It was just like the moment in Jurassic park when they first see the dinosaurs. “I think we need a meadow full of them” was the reply. Spring’s design inspiration was taken from a pole-vaulter and was included to compliment the dandelions.
Dancing with Dandelions
Nov 2017: fairy **, 100% stainless – number 21 on the map
The phrase “Dancing with Dandelions” came about at the time I went viral (2014) and was used several times in media publications to describe what my fairies do. The name became associated with the fairy I have at home in the garden which spins in the wind. I posted a short video in 2014 of her spinning which has been viewed millions of times. The name stuck and the design is so popular that 99% of all sculpture requests want a copy of Dancing with Dandelions. I got something so right with this design, I don’t know if I’ll every improve on it. As a result, I don’t make copies (without good reason). There are only 4 examples (made by me) in existence and I own two of them. She has literally become the company’s registered Trademark to protect the design. The example at Trentham Gardens was made life size as an exhibition piece.
Last year Trentham Gardens asked me for some input as to how they might refresh the fairy trail. I love Trentham Gardens, the people and I’ve benefited greatly from the relationship. The concept of a fairy trail is as strong as ever. But given that what I produce now is so different to what I produced in 2011-12 it created a conflict: How could I help without drawing attention to examples of my early works? People will think they represent what I produce now, and they don’t.
The answer is in teamwork and being honest. We agreed to extend the fairy trail to include a few examples of what I do now and use the whole body of work as an exhibition of the evolution of the wire fairies. It’s been interesting working with the original fairies again. The workmanship and materials may be crude, but each one has such a strong story and provided me with lessons that led me to what I do now.
May 2015: fairy 71, galvanised skeleton covered in stainless – number 14 on the map
I’m always looking for ways to marry up a fairy with a dandelion in a design for a sculpture. When I first posted photos of Whimsy’s Pride on Facebook, I sort of harvested the comments and complied a little story which goes: Whimsy was a little fairy who was out collecting wishes (dandelion seeds) with the other fairies. She picked a full dandelion head which was too heavy to fly with. The other fairies offered to help. Whimsy is a stubborn little proud fairy and she refused any help and instead elected to walk back to the fairy glen with the dandelion over her shoulder. She was so proud and stubborn and she stomped her way back not realising that with every heavy footstep the wishes (seeds) where falling out of her dandelion. It was only when she got back to the fairy glen that she turned and realised that all the wishes had gone. That’s the start of the story as Whimsy now has to back track and find all of the wishes and discover the story behind each one. Whimsy is one of the best loved fairies I’ve made to date.
Oct 2018: creation 97, stainless and copper – number 17 on the map
Wanda is the only mermaid I’ve made or am likely to make. I’m not planning on straying far from fairies. Wanda came about because of a meeting with Trentham Gardens in which we discussed the possibility of a dragon. The idea of making a dragon as a one off does appeal to me, but how best to represent scales? I’ve often considered making a mermaid since they are sort of related to fairies, being fantasy female creatures. So, I decided to experiment with scales by creating Wanda.
Mar 2019: fairy 101, 100% stainless – number 19 on the map
No Words was actually made as a display piece for Trentham Gardens. After we decided that the fairy trail should represent an exhibition of the development of FantasyWire, I decided to make a large statement piece to show how far my work has come since the early galvanised fairies. The title of “No Words” came about through a moment of extreme clarity about life. If you’d like to know the full story, you can read it on the FantasyWire website blog as its too complex to shorten. https://fantasywire.co.uk/new-fairy-no-words/
Nov 2018: fairy 98, 100% stainless – number 20 on the map
Trillian is a remake of an earlier fairy which was first shown at one of the Meet the Fairy Man events at Trentham Gardens in 2015. I very rarely do remakes, but Trillian has been a very popular fairy and her design lends itself well to being an example of how to make a fairy. She doesn’t have any complex elements to make like dandelions, but has plenty of emotion and character. For this reason I chose Trillian to be the example that I filmed. She features in the tutorial videos available on our website. If you want to watch this fairy being made you can do. https://fantasywire.co.uk/how-to-1/
May 2019: fairy 102, 100% stainless – number 3 on the map
I drew the design for Potty several years ago (without the pot). I imagined that a fairy pulling up a dandelion would fit the typical FantasyWire style. She’s slightly comical, has emotion and visual illusion. The reason I hadn’t made her, was because I could imagine how to frame it. To have her standing on the ground would kill the spectacle I wanted to create. When we were at an RHS show the neighbouring stand was selling oversized Greek urns and elaborate plant pots. I asked if they could make me an oversized regular plant pot and they did. The pot lifts the fairy off the ground and provides the framing I’d been looking for.
To date, I’ve been sort of designing fairies that fit in my garden with a scale to match. I’m thrilled to be working with Trentham Gardens again. Not only because I love the place and the people, but it’s expanded my thinking and opened up possibilities on a bigger canvas to fill. It's also providing me a platform to showcase what I do. So who knows where we (including Trentham Gardens) go from here… Maybe one day we’ll be unveiling a 150 foot Dancing with Dandelions that turns in the wind. Although, I think we'll need a little help from the fairies to pull that one off.
Guest Blog, by creator Robin Wight