Once upon a time there was a little girl named Bonnie Stewart who liked to play in the woods. Amongst the pines, she found a getaway from all life’s problems and made friends with the forest fauna.
The Robbinston artist liked to draw her furry playmates in a sketch pad and paid their modeling services by building them little lean-to homes against tree trunks.
“There’s something magical out there,” she said.
Bonnie is all grown up now and has had three sons of her own: Christopher, 26, Daniel, 24, and Joshua, 17, but she still finds solace and takes pleasure in creating homes for her friends from the forest. She calls them pixie houses, which also are inhabited by fairies and gnomes from time to time. Her family is very supportive of the hobby.
Nancy Asante co-owns and runs Eastport’s The Commons, where most of Stewart’s pixie houses and intricate wall decorations are sold.
“Bonnie brings formidable talents and her whole life history to the creation of these pixie houses,” Asante said. “I so admire her attention to detail and her ability to combine ideas and materials into a themed work … Visitors to The Commons gallery consistently stop to admire her work.”
Constructing miniature homes for supernatural folkloric creatures is popular throughout New England and the nation. The art form encourages children to experience nature and invites adults to reunite with their inner child. Materials are gathered from beaches and forests, like seashells, tree bark and pinecones, then transformed into household elements such as washtubs and shingles. Some incorporate frosted glass and broken bits of china and other elements washed up by the sea.
Bonnie took to the woods as a child to escape an unhappy home life. Eventually, she wound up in foster care, bouncing from place to place when she wasn’t running away, and occasionally sleeping on park benches.
Throughout her life, the artist has found peace from these troubling memories in the tranquility of nature. Her business cards are made of birch bark, with a four-leaf clover Mod Podged to one side and the handwritten message “Feel the Earth, Experience ARTful Healing” on the other. She said pixie houses are her way of taking bad experiences and flipping them into something beautiful.
Making the houses began as a therapeutic form of recreation after a friend introduced her to a book collection of fairy houses throughout Maine. Remembering the lean-tos that she built for her childhood friends, she decided it was the perfect pastime. She already had collected natural odds and ends on woodland and seaside walks and had plenty of material to get started with.
Over the years, the pixie houses have provided a respite from her post-traumatic stress disorder springing from her childhood. In her abodes for wee folk, she incorporates inspirational people from her life. For instance, a lighthouse represents a high school art teacher who encouraged her to follow her dreams.
Through her artwork, she likes to remind people of their connection to the planet and each other.
“In these days, the world is crazy,” she reflected. “I think we need to get back to ourselves and the Earth and the things that are important.”
In her Robbinston studio, which her youngest son Joshua calls “the cave” because she seems to get lost in there, Bonnie spends as much 80 hours on an individual piece.
To date, Bonnie has created more than 100 pixie houses and has sold roughly half of her fanciful creations that fetch from $60 to $500, depending on how large and intricate they are.
Right now, she’s working on an America-themed house that she intends to donate to the local American Legion for a raffle to benefit veterans. She draws inspiration from her son Daniel, who is serving in the U.S. Air Force and currently stationed in Qatar.
One of her favorite places to collect building materials and daydream is a secluded beach on the southern end of Eastport. There, she finds the same peace as the woods of her childhood. Every time she finishes collecting there, she sits down facing Passamaquoddy Bay. White cottages stand out among forests and meadows on the distant New Brunswick shore.
Taking off her shoes, she suns her toes on the warm beach stones. With a deep breath, she closes her eyes and sits for at least 10 minutes, allowing her mind to settle as the sea breeze washes over her. She thinks of her life, of her past and what she would still like to become.
These inspirational moments of peace are reflected in the pixie houses, where her spirit finds a home.