There are many things I miss dearly about Vermont. One of those things would be working in the local-artisans-only art gallery and craft center, Frog Hollow. Recently, I’ve been receiving text messages from my old coworkers at the gallery with photos of themselves with some artwork and well-wishes. I miss the camaraderie and atmosphere of the gallery significantly more than the beautiful work we safeguard there and cannot wait to visit when I’m back in the area. So when I woke up this morning, on my first day off in five days, I made myself a cup of tea. At the stove, I couldn’t help gazing at my only seasonal decoration that I’ve set out thus far – an Amy Felske doll named Pennywort that I bought from the gallery before I moved to Philly.
Pennywort has been a focal point in a couple of my more recent posts, especially as October 31st draws closer. Today, though, Pennywort’s craftsmanship spoke to me. In fact, I took her from her usual spot on the corner of my walnut cutting board (a beautiful gift from a friend) next to the stove to the kitchen table with me so that I could inspect her over my tea.
First of all, I have to say that I’ve never been a “doll person”. As a little girl, my parents gave me American Girl Dolls to play with, but they didn’t see much use and primarily sat at the back of my closet, buried under a mound of clothes. My younger sister was much more interested in dolls than I ever was. After a trip to Shelburne Museum, where I mistakenly wandered into one of the old houses that had hundreds of century-old dolls encased in glass, dolls haven’t captured my interest. In fact, I find that most dolls create in me a frightening reaction such as one generated by Chucky or Annabelle lore. Thus, it took me by surprise that I so enjoyed Amy Felske’s work that I brought one of her dolls home with me. Little did I know that this doll would become my autumn display centerpiece.
Felske is meticulous to a fault. The strawberry blonde yarns that she utilized for Pennywort’s hair is not only twisted and twirled for texture, but thinned in places, and thickened in others. Her hands have individual fingers, and her right hand is clutching an iconic broomstick. Her eyes have pupils and emote a certain manic witchy glee that brings her to life, in a sense.
As I sat sipping my tea and looking at Pennywort, I began to notice small intricacies that I hadn’t seen before. For example, Felske lined the rim of the felted witches hat with beads set at understated intervals to add texture and interest. Each tiny bristle of her broomstick is cut at an individual length and attached to the stem of the broom, made from a twig that Felske most likely picked up on a walk through the woods. She sanded the twig, removing the bark and roughness so that it looked more like the polished wooden brooms that folklore is so fond of pairing with witches.
The outfit that Pennywort has donned is another gorgeous addition to an already spectacular work of art. She has a base layer skirt which is part of the foundation that allows Pennywort to stand upright, covered by two lovely layers of skirts in different earthy browns. Felske then tops her work off with a whimsically witchy brown shawl, held in place by a purple beaded broach.
But the feature that I find loveliest, out of all the spectacular detail, is Pennywort’s nose. More specifically, the wart on the nose, characterized further with a single thread poking out to symbolize a hair growing from it. Witches have forever been stereotyped with large noses and warts, and the attention to detail that Felske demonstrates in this piece is remarkable.
With all of this wonderful detail created by a talented local Vermont artist, I haven’t felt the need to acquire any other autumnal decorations. As I wrote about in my last post, I used to bedeck my space with cheap plastic decor, only to throw it away at the end of the season. But with the addition of Pennywort to my little apartment, I have no need for those easily acquired and more easily discarded items. It has been a wonderful reminder of Vermont, craftsmanship, artistry, and a little touch of fantasy each day that Pennywort has been standing on my countertop.