It’s a joy to watch children’s faces light up as they spot one of the tiny faerie houses hidden in the woods at Aullwood Audubon Center.
Aullwood’s Faerie House Exhibit — the Old English spelling is used because it sounds magical — has been charming visitors for the past eight years. The exhibit comes in the form of a beautiful walk in the woods sprinkled with hidden houses that belong to Aullwood’s “faeries.”
Your job, as visitor, is to discover each of the six homes and fill out the questionnaire you’ll be given at the front desk when you check in. After you’ve completed the trail loop and filled in the simple form, you’ll be invited to select a prize at the reception desk. This year, the prizes are lovely little rocks polished by the fairies. It’s great fun for the kids; adults love it too.
Before or after you start your walk, be sure and look in the gift shop for the amazing miniature house that’s on display year after year. In it, you’ll see a mother faerie reading tales to her children.
The theme of the houses along the woodsy path changes every year. In the past, we’ve had to guess what kind of bird lives in various little birdhouses and what famous fairy tale characters reside in each of the abodes.
This year the focus is on “Earth Elements’’ and the variety of natural materials used to build each home. Is it made of wood or stone or straw? You may even be able to find where the faeries found their building materials.
You’ll also have fun trying to find the teeny faerie hidden in each of the settings. Note that the trail is paved and easy for all and takes less than a half hour to complete.
The ‘Designing Divas’
Laurie Cothran, Aullwood’s development and marketing manager, says her organization is grateful for the creative genius of those who plan, build and create a new exhibit each year.
The group is known as the “Designing Divas” and this year includes Judi Hill, Christine Evans, Kathy Anderson, Deb Snyder and Jill Gordon.
Anderson says she’s passionate about the annual project. “Every year doing the houses is so different, and I always get consumed in the process of creating them,” she says. “Young children have such a beautiful way of looking at the little houses with such wonder and imagination! I try to capture that wonder and imagination when I make my houses, and that is what keeps me motivated and excited to continue each year.”
Hill, who lives in Beavercreek and has been volunteering at Aullwood for decades, first worked at the front desk and then in the gift shop. Eventually she began making craft items for the shop. When Aullwood’s former executive director Alexis Faust asked if she’d be interested in creating faerie houses along the woodsy trail, she recruited her sister and a friend to help with the project.
Still, in an effort to keep curious visitors from touching or moving the little vignettes, Christine Evans and a friend have come up with a cute poem for each of the houses. Ask your children or grandchildren to read them aloud along the way.
Here’s one clever example:
Keeping Faeries Merry
If you move anything we will be FAERIE sad
If you take anything that would be FAERIE bad
If you break anything we will be FAERIE mad
So just look and enjoy and we’ll be FAERIE glad!
by A. Mary Faerie
“We don’t have trouble getting new ideas, the biggest challenge is making them last for three months in the pouring rain,” Hill notes. “In the early years, some fell apart and we had to go back and put them back together. One year a mole dug under one of the houses and we had to do that one over. Now they are indestructible!”
When Hill was 5 years old, she loved a comic featuring Lilliputians. “I would play and pretend Lilliputians were all around me,” she remembers. “They were tiny, and I was the giant. I think that’s why people love miniatures — we feel powerful and they’re so tiny.”
“That first year, I don’t think any of us knew what we were doing,” admits Anderson, who lives in Butler Twp. “We used tree stumps as the basis for the houses. Since that time other materials have been used — from recycled materials to gourds. The more I learn, the more excited I get.”
The trio begins with a brainstorming session to decide on an overall theme. “Once we have a theme, we decide on six subjects that would represent our theme,” she explains. “For example, when the theme was birds, we had to decide which birds we wanted our houses to represent.”
Each woman then picks two houses she’d like to build and begins her research. “We learn everything we can about our subjects and often scour the internet and YouTube for ideas,” Anderson says. “Then we decide how to actually make the house. From start to finish, the process takes several months.”
Hill says they try not to buy materials for the houses and prefer to make them from items they have in their garages, attics and basements. “Before we throw something away at home, we think, ‘What part of a fairy house could this be?’” A plastic spoon handle became a picket fence, a bathtub spa tray and a chain leftover from hanging a chandelier became a castle drawbridge, wine bottle corks morphed into a roof, and rope found new life as a thatched roof.
In addition to installing the tiny houses and accessories, the women bring plants and flowers to create a colorful landscape surrounding each home.
The Designing Divas say they couldn’t possibly do their special work without the help of their husbands. “We’ve decided that we have the best husbands in the world because they were all drawn into the project,” says Hill. “They end up doing a lot of the work — hauling topsoil, sawing wood, pulling poison ivy, taking photographs and cheering us on!”
Hill’s next-door neighbor, Mary McCarthy, visited Aullwood with her children and grandchildren a couple of weeks ago.
“I thought it was wonderful!” she reports. “We walked the loop, and they were thrilled whenever we saw a little house. I gave my grandson my cellphone so he could take pictures. They also went up in the tower to see the troll and it was wonderful walking in the fields with the wildflowers and blackberries.”
Cothran says the faerie houses have attracted many thousands of new and returning visitors to Aullwood this year. “They not only enjoy the delights of discovering six new faerie houses, but also enjoy visiting ‘The Troll that Hatched an Egg by Thomas Dambo,” meeting our turtles, snakes, watching birds or meeting our farm animals.” She says visitors can also enjoy a new wheelchair-accessible boardwalk in the Muskrat Marsh that connects to the Cardinal Trail where the faerie houses are.
“I believe Aullwood truly makes a difference in children’s lives by exposing them to the wonders of nature and teaching them about the world around them,” Hill concludes. “It’s a magical place!”
HOW TO GO
What: The Aullwood Faerie House Exhibit, Earth Elements
Where: Aullwood Audubon Nature Center, 1000 Aullwood Road, Dayton
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Through Labor Day.
Admission: Free for children 3 and under, $8 for children 4 to 12, $12 for adults ages 13 to 64; $10 for seniors 65 and over. Aullwood is a Blue Star Museum with free admission for all active-duty military, including National Guard and Reserve members (includes up to five family members, including grandparents, children, cousins.) Free to members of Friends of Aullwood, National Audubon Society
For more information: visit www.aullwood.audubon.org or call 937-890-7360