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  • Andrea Durnell

Story Time

I am heading into the home stretch of sewing the clothes for this year's menagerie. The badger will be the final addition to the collection this week.

From the time I sink the first gouge into the wood, I am thinking about who these characters will become. They are in a constant state of evolution until I put the finishing touch on their last detail.

We still have to complete Shoe Day, Hat Day, and Bag Day, which is usually also Accessory Day, but not everyone needs an accessory to tell us all who they are.

Because I work on each menagerie as a group, there tends to be a general theme even if they are each very much an individual entity in the end. This year the core element of the group is about social dynamics, particularly families.

I don't necessarily tell people if they have become one of my characters. Not everyone would be flattered! I also don't really reveal all the reasons they inspired me for the same reasons. It is all perfectly clear to me and there is generally a broad trail of evidence if someone can follow my train of thought. Spoonfeeding it would ruin it for me. Very frequently there is a story I tell and a whole lot more that I do not. I typically only reveal all at my shows where I feel boldly anonymous or to their future owners if they are curious. While I post my daily updates and work in progress on Facebook, it really isn't the time or place for personal details. (I share my dog's innermost secrets and the food that revolves around me, but that is about all I usually share with social media) Buried in this year's group there is even a self-portrait, something I have never done before.

The part of the story I reveal about these characters is often more a provenance of materials than a "tale" about their actions and activities. We are all a sum of our parts and these characters are no different. The reasoning behind choosing their materials is also an explanation of who they are, the method to my madness, I suppose!

The reason this year's menagerie ended up being about social dynamics is that this was a huge year for my husband and me. We bought my mom's log house in Montana. She is 92, and life is changing. While she is doing really well living there and will continue to do so for as long as she is able, life has gotten expensive and we took the plunge so she can reshuffle her finances and not be saddled with a mortgage or forced to make any life-changing moves to assisted living unless it really becomes necessary. But in the process of doing this, we created an epic wave of practical issues, emotions, ethical concerns, financial considerations, future decisions, and yes, ruffled feathers.

This house has significance to me because it really kicked off my career. In 1988 it was in Country Living Magazine. There was a tiny photo of a doll whose clothing I had made at my mom's request. After the magazine came out, my mom got a lot of doll requests and asked me to make clothing for them. Eventually, I began making and selling dolls for the shows she had in her house (her career was as an impressionistic oil painter) and this eventually caused me to branch off on my own.

My husband and I were married in front of this fireplace in 1993 and I am very excited to hopefully spend some years in this house and garden filling it full of color, food and the energy of my own artwork as my mom's dynamic era has its denouement. It could be years before this happens, but now is the beginning of a big new chapter and it has brought up a whole lot of "stories". One chapter ends, and another begins.

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