While plenty of artists work in similar media, Medford artist Beth Powell can honestly say that she has never met anyone who has responded, "Hey, I build faerie houses, too."
Always the imaginative sort, Powell has been creating elaborate and tiny escapes for people of the fae — be they creatures of land, air, water or fire — since she was a young girl.
The 48-year-old Medford R.N. remembers building faerie castles and pixie dwellings as naturally as other children blew bubbles or colored with crayons.
Influenced by the living arrangements of "Swiss Family Robinson," "The Borrowers" and "The Root Children," Powell's mother heavily encouraged her daughter's creative streak and endless scrounge for "supplies."
"I spent hours making homes, rooms and tree houses out of cardboard, jewelry boxes, paper-towel rolls, matchboxes and anything else I could find. My mother encouraged me — she even taught me to sew — so I made all the furniture, too, including sewing and embroidering miniature bedspreads, curtains, canopies," says Powell.
"I spent a lot of my childhood making these little houses with Elmer's white glue. I've definitely evolved."
Evolved, in fact, to the point where Powell's houses will be featured in a volume of some 30 faerie-house artists from around the country in an upcoming Schiffer Publishing volume titled "Creating Fairy Homes and Gardens," set for release in 2014.
Arranging the snake-skin sails on a large faerie ship one recent afternoon in Bear Creek, Powell surveyed the bank looking for trees where she could hang a large gourd-turned-faerie-cottage.
It's easy to imagine that Powell's creations, boasting such intricate details as penny-sized picnic tables and pea-sized hanging plants spun from wire and moss, are inhabited by mystical beings.
Having created more than 100 artworks in her life, Powell has gifted the majority of her houses to friends, but she's sold a few and kept the ones of which she is most fond.
Powell eased away from her childhood hobby for a time when she was a young adult, but even then, when she wasn't actively building faerie houses, she found herself collecting materials and trinkets from nature, yard sales or wherever and stowing them away in her garage. A friend who created shadow-box houses nudged her back to her craft.
"We would make stuff when we camped, like little houses and creations that took me back to my childhood again. I remembered how much fun it had been, so I started up again," says Powell.
"Once I had children, my kids and I would do it together," Powell says, noting that she and her son and daughter would often leave tiny dwellings in nearby forests or near lakes for fishermen or campers to happen upon.
Never starting with a plan, Powell will find a certain object and build around it. Materials run the gamut from mosses, acorns, rocks and wood to bird skeletons, rat paws, seed pods and occasionally sections or pieces from worn-out gadgets.
"I've always collected — for years — and had no idea why. When I started making faerie houses again, the whole thing was just serendipitous," she says, pointing to two of her favorite pieces, a large faerie ship and a carousel.
"I love nature more than anything else in the world. I can look at anything and say, 'Oh my god, that's beautiful.' I see a twig on the ground, and it's not a twig — it's an arm chair. I'll pluck pieces from around a big pine cone to make a spiral stair case. I'll use petals from flowers to create a headdress."
Barbara Purchia, an editor working on the faerie house and garden book due out next year, said Powell's work is some of the most unique she has seen.
"Her stuff is very, very cool. Very different and unique," Purchia says.
"She's done woodland and water ... her work just blends with nature so well, you could imagine walking through a forest and finding one of these houses. Her attention to detail is incredible and really just stands out."
Excited to be featured in the upcoming book, Powell credits faerie-house comrades she's met online and her single mother's knack for keeping a young artist busy so many years ago.
"It's just something that I've always loved," Powell says.
"And I guess it's pretty fun for people to look at, too."