When Life Hands You Zucchini, Make Zucchini Cake.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Let them eat (zucchini) cake!

I do not have any tomatoes from the garden yet. Stop asking. What I do have are squash. And what I have even more of than ordinary yellow squash are zucchini squash. It’s an abundance of riches, so long as by “riches,” one means “zucchini.”

And, what oh what, is one to do with so many zucchini? You can grate them, coat them in bread crumbs and parmesan and sauté them in olive oil with salt, pepper, and garlic. You can slice them and grill them or fry them or roast them. One guesses you could pickle them. Or toss them, gift-wise, into the neighbor’s yard.

But, oh my god, all of these things require effort and none of these things results in cake.

What’s a girl to do?

A girl should do the following: grate two small zucchini, add chocolate, and make herself a cake. Cake!

So, that’s just what this girl did. And as luck would have it, it turns out to be ridiculously good and requires almost zero work (that’s right; like, practically none, and you end up with cake). In fact, this dumb veggie cake is the best cake I have ever baked (in fairness, basically all prior cakes have come from boxes. Don’t judge me, internets.) First, here is the original link for the recipe for this freaking delicious chocolate zucchini cake. As I have made small changes to it, I will give you the recipe here (in translation-ish), with a short description and all relevant thoughts on the recipe to follow, but don’t think I invented this cake. If I had, I would be a genius.

Combine all of the following in a big-ass bowl: 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, 3 eggs, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup oil, 1 tablespoon vanilla, 2 cups grated zucchini, and 1 cup nuts.

Mix well but don’t get too fussy about it. You don’t need the beater for this. You just need to not see big clumps of unintegrated powder. It doesn’t take long.

Pour batter into a pre-greased 13″x9″ baking dish.

Shove into an oven you have pre-heated to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit. Obviously.)

Bake for 50 minutes or until cake passes the toothpick test.

That is literally it.

Here are my personalizations to this cake recipe: (1) Eliminate the nuts. Nuts are gross. Leave them in if you’re a squirrel or if you like them, but I wouldn’t do that if I were you. (2) Grate just a little too much zucchini and put it in the batter anyway. (3) Add just a smidge of chili powder to the batter. Seriously. (4) When you put the cake in the oven, sing to it just a little bit. The cake seems to like it. I recommend the song “We’re making cake” or the very similar song “Hurry up, cake.” (You can shimmy, but like the nuts, this is optional.) (5) You can coach the cake but try not to scream at it or make it feel like it’s taking too long. Remember, you put practically no effort into this and at the end of all this non-work, you still get to eat cake. You can afford to be gracious.

This recipe makes really, really good cake. It is not the world’s most beautiful cake. But it is luscious and the perfect balance of sweet and rich but not too much of either. And if you take a sip of even really bad coffee right after eating a big forkful, you will think you have died and gone to heaven.

Next time I make this really good cake, I’m upping the chili powder and adding a little coffee. I might consider making one with either butterscotch chips or chocolate chips, just for the heck of it. But this recipe is so good, I also think it would be possible to eliminate the cocoa powder and make a version with citrus peel and ginger. And I might just make a zillion more cakes just like this one. Because, as it turns out, this is a damn fine cake.

It’s a good thing I have all this zucchini.

 

Guest Post by A: Homage to Kansas

I am very grateful to my dear friend (we'll call him “A” for anonymous, as he wishes to remain) who graciously permitted me to publish his photos and writing as a post today.


Kansas

Starting when I was two years old, I made one or even two trips to Southern California each year. These continued until I was seventeen, and a few times since then, they have been repeated. Most of those trips were made by automobile. It was a point of pride in my family that we never slept in Kansas, and that is no small feat considering that Kansas is well over four hundred miles east to west.

When I was nineteen, I met a young woman named Ann who proudly identified herself as a Kansan. Being obnoxious even then, I expressed my rather negative impression of her home state. Although I was really just teasing her, I did say something about Kansas being only an obstacle to be overcome on my California journeys. I told her that the scenery was a repetition of farmhouse, barn, one tree, wheat field, massive grain silos, wheat field, start again with the farmhouse, and repeat for most of a day’s drive. What, I asked was there to admire in such a place?

Ann made several attempts over the years to explain her affection for her home, but, though I respected her opinion in so many areas, I remained largely unmoved by her descriptions of the prairie. We became very close for a time, but the currents that flow through time and our lives separated us. Our last contact was an exchange of e-mail messages in 1993.

We had much in common: Family structure, appreciation for literature and music, life goals, and so on. Each of us was able to broaden the other’s interest in or at least appreciation for much that life offers. We assisted one another with academic assignments, and made some classes at least tolerable. For me, though, and despite Ann’s attempts to sway my opinion, Kansas remained a place to be driven through and overcome.

In 2011, I determined to locate Ann, presumably still in Topeka. Instead, I learned that she had died some ten years before, a victim of leukemia at the age of fifty-three. I was devastated. My first and continuing reaction was a keen sense of loss, but I have also recognized the gifts that Ann has given me. In ways that I will not discuss, I believe that Ann has saved my life, or at least has lengthened it, I actually like to listen to Vivaldi, and visits to museums of fine art are no longer seen as a dull waste of time.

I visit Ann’s grave once or twice each year, and always on her birthday. She used to make a big deal of my birthday, presenting me with baked Alaska as a birthday cake. I have not celebrated my birthday since those days. So, if birthdays were once special to her, then hers will henceforth be special to me.

I have also allowed Ann to guide me through her Kansas, and I have discovered that there is majesty about the place that requires no thundering surf, no soaring mountains. The wonder of it is the peace and the solitude of broad prairie, the wind, always present either in a whisper or in tumult, and mostly, just the simplicity of broad vistas. Kansas is solitude out on the prairie, but it is neither truly empty nor lonely.

I travel with my best friend and perhaps with Ann. We stop often just to see and to think. I hate to leave, but I am always refreshed when I return to my more responsible life.

This is my homage to Kansas and to my Angel of the Prairie. It is a reminder that we must always make the effort to look more deeply lest opportunity pass and be lost forever.

 

Not Scolymus. But Squash.

July Squash and Cucumber

Family Cucurbitaceae

“But when you see the scolymus flowering and hear the cicada sing in the tree, sending its beautiful, vibrating song pulsing from under its wings in the season of scorching-hot summer, then you will find that she-goats are fattest, wine most delicious, women most desirous of love but men most enfeebled, for now the dogstar Sirius parches their heads and their knees, and in the heat their skin becomes dry…Then would I have a shady retreat in the cool of the rocks…And then would I drink of the red wine, as I relax in the shade, my appetite sated completely, turning my face to enjoy the cooling breezes of Zephyros…”

–Hesiod, translated by R.M. Frazer

I think Hesiod did a bang-up job describing July. But I wasn't sure about the scolymus— I mean, is that a deal-breaker? If I'm not growing any scolymus in my July summer garden, do I need to put away my wine-skins, place my she-goats on diets? Does this mean my men are not most enfeebled and I am not desirous of love?

Lest Zephyros spurn me, I had to check up on my possible frenemy, the scolymus. Luckily, my grandmother's gardening book did not let me down. According to the Wise Garden Encyclopedia, the scolymus is a “hardy, biennial herb (Scolymus hispanicus), known also as Spanish-oyster-plant or Golden Thistle, and grown like parsnip (which see) for its long edible roots. These are larger than those of salsify but are used in the same ways as a fall, winter and spring vegetable.”*

Thistle? I have plenty, so close enough.

I prefer the squash and cucumber flowers; the lush and gargantuan greenness of the July vegetables, threatening to completely dwarf and subsume their neighbors, the tomatoes.

Hesiod and I are fond of July and grateful for Zephyros. It's possible we prefer the red wine (by which we mean IPA, but why quibble over scolymus or ouzo? What are details amongst friends?), if we have to choose. But shade, be it under squash flower or cool rock, we — Hesiod and me— we can't complain.

* Regarding scolymus, there's also this cool globe artichoke, which is known as Cynara scolymus. It's not a squash picture that I took and it's not from the Wise Garden Encyclopedia. It's worth a glance anyway.

 

Yesterday. Literally.

Water drops on leaf.

After the rain.

The weather yesterday included rain. And this leaf, which held the evidence of rain. Until said evidence evaporated. As it will.

Guest Post by Ryan Ahearn: The Tipping Point

This post is written by Ryan Ahearn (a big Thank You to him for being awesome!). You can follow Ryan on Twitter: @SouthSide_Ry
 
Server Collage
 

I recently stumbled upon an article shared on Facebook by a “friend” (I should say “former friend”), from, of all places, Time magazine. To be fair, it was a commentary piece, as is this one, but a reputable magazine still gave this person the audience and soapbox to stand on and slapped their name all over it. The title of this little gem was “I Don’t Feel Guilty for Not Tipping My Waitstaff.” I angrily read through it; there’s plenty of these little articles out there, so it was not an argument I had never heard before, but Time magazine? I was ready to comment but, as we know, Facebook commenting on a national thread is a giant leap into a troll wormhole never to return. It was early, one of those got up to go to the bathroom and upon returning checked your phone and made a quick scroll through Facebook things. I decided it wasn’t worth my time, put my phone back on the nightstand and tried to go back to sleep. I lay there thinking about it, brooding. I only had a couple hours before I had to get up and go to my own “waitstaff” job, and I started thinking of all the reasons the article was so stupid. I battled the urge to pick my phone back up and write out a long comment to the article, but knew it wouldn’t be seen by anyone with an open mind. Then I remembered a very talented friend had been encouraging me to make a contribution to her blog site. If anyone could take my dribble and turn it into something readable, it would be she. So here I am at 6 a.m. pounding out my very first blog post.

The article by Sarah Bartlet (no relation to U.S. President Josiah I hope) begins by so eloquently stating that “The art of tipping is, for most people, really freaking annoying.” Ahh…so Shakespearean! She argues that trying to determine how much is too much, how much is not enough, what percentage of this is this, blah, blah, blah. She’s obviously rationalized being a cheap-ass into an art form and has now found the stage for her rationalization. I am not writing this to be an attack piece on her or the like-thinking populace, though, so I will move on (try).

The main argument against tipping that I have always seen is : Why should I have to tip to pay the server’s wage, instead of the restaurant? There are a number of things I could say in response to this, but I will try to narrow it down. It is pretty commonly known that most tipped employees throughout the country can be paid $2.13 an hour because it is “expected” (remember that word because we will come back to it) that they will be tipped up to a minimum hourly wage on average. Restaurants save money this way. It allows them to charge less for food, schedule more servers to make your dining experience better, have more people in the kitchen to prepare your food faster, have multiple managers in the building to help with any issues that might arise. They can schedule bussers to clean the tables so when you’re on a wait, the table is cleaned and reset as fast as possible so you, the patron, can sit down sooner. They can schedule multiple bartenders so that when you order a frozen margarita with seven different types of fruit, torn mint leaves, a piece of bacon (extra-crispy, of course), gummy bears, a rainbow-salted rim, and a bottle of Corona sticking out of it, you can get it in a timely manner.

So lets take out tipping. We can start paying servers eight dollars an hour. Beyond the obvious of it then being difficult to find good servers willing to do the job (it’s not easy if you’ve never tried it), there would be a number of other trickle-down repercussions. Restaurants will do everything they can to not raise the prices on the menu, especially corporate restaurants where they can cut expenses in other ways. Schedule a few less servers, you’re now waiting five minutes before the server can get to the table so you can order a drink, maybe another 5-10-15 minutes to order your entree, because they dropped off your water with five lemons, and said they would be right back, but they have eight other tables, one needs refills, another needs their check (six people split, one is separate, two are together, another two together, and another separate, they want the appetizer split on three of the checks, and it’s her birthday so I’ll buy her drink. You got all that?). Another wants to pay with a $100 bill for a $23 meal; another wants more ranch, another has food ready, another that got there before you is “ready” to order too but they have 20 questions about the menu. The server isn’t in a hurry though, they’re not working for a tip. Finally, they come back to take your order, but there are a few less cooks in the kitchen so what used to take ten minutes for your steak dinner is now at the bottom of 30 other orders. The ten-minute steak now takes 30 minutes. Your server was busy, maybe they rang in the wrong temperature, what do they care? They’re not getting tipped, there is no accountability, and if they get fired they can get an eight dollar an hour serving job at plenty of other places. Maybe the steak had the right temperature but the cook, because he was busy, left it on the grill too long and now it’s overcooked. You can’t eat it. If you are lucky to even get the server back to the table so you can say something to them, you’re going to wait another 20 minutes—maybe it goes back to the bottom of the order stream because there aren’t enough managers to make sure it gets done quickly and back to the table. Good luck getting that steak you don’t want taken off the bill without having to wait even longer. Meanwhile, there’s a lobby full of people waiting for a table to open up, a table that used to be sat and out the door in 40 minutes now takes 90 minutes; people are waiting. There’s no one to get the table cleaned right away; the server has no rush to clean it because they’re getting paid hourly. There’s only one host and she’s seating someone else, then trying to clean a table, so you can’t even put your name in, trickle down, trickle down, trickle down… I hope you see my point. Maybe it’s worth tipping 20% to avoid all of that? You can say, well, if that happened I just wouldn’t eat out anymore but, yes, you would— because it’s still easier than cooking.

Now, I cannot guarantee this would all happen as a result of a restaurant paying a server’s wage, but I can guarantee this: those who say “the restaurant, not I, should pay the employee,” do not actually want it to happen. No, they want someone to wait on them with the expectation (told you we’d come back to it) that they are going to leave a tip. They can get great service, they can ask for everything they want to ask for, get 50 refills, maybe the server gets them an extra side of something and doesn’t charge them: they know that server is working for a tip. They can take advantage of that expectation, then walk out the door without leaving a dime extra and, apparently for the woman who wrote this article (in Time magazine!), not feel guilty. That truly takes a special class of crappy human being. If you have this strong insistence that you are not going to tip, you want to beat that drum, fine. Let it be known to the hostess when you put your name in, tell the server when you sit down. Hell, you can wear a t-shirt or a button “Tipping is really freaking annoying, and I don’t do it.” Now, you are no longer taking advantage of the shared expectation, you are not going to tip, and the server knows it. I am sure your dining experience will be a great one.

My favorite argument against having to tip, however, is that the server isn’t forced to do the job, they chose to do it, deal with it. Yes, the server did choose the job, again with the expectation of being tipped, I’ve said enough on that, but they aren’t forced to work for tips. My personal basis for choosing to be a server is this: I can work 25-30 hours a week as a full-time college student, and make enough to live, pay my bills, and get by. So why am I complaining that people should tip? The amount of money the person makes or doesn’t make should not matter to you, it’s not your concern, leaving a gratuity is what is customarily done when you sit down, eat dinner, and are given good service. My landlord has plenty of money, I’m just not going to pay my rent. My landscaper’s business really seems to be taking off, today’s mow is gonna be free. There is more to it though. Sure a server can work a Friday night and average say $20 an hour, but a server can’t just work those busy shifts. They have to also work the shifts where they average maybe $10 an hour, or less, or even days where they go into work, it’s slow, and they leave with nothing. Being a server isn’t just bringing out your food, and filling your soda. They have to get there early and help open the restaurant. They stay after close, cleaning, putting everything away for the night. You think silverware gets polished and jumps in that nice roll by itself? They have to pay for a uniform —and when you’re on your feet constantly moving around, you wear out shoes pretty quickly, gotta buy those every few months. And pens… everybody steals the damn pens. So do servers make pretty good money? As with many jobs, they can, yes, but there is a little more to it than what Ms. Bartlet (oh, who am I kidding, it’s gotta be “Miss” right? With like 30 cats??) states in her article: “the 60 seconds you spent serving me doesn’t merit an extra dollar. I simply don’t believe in it. And I’m not apologizing for it.”

In the end, going out for dinner used to be a privilege, but it’s become much more of a standard for eating. An extra 15-20% for the ease and convenience isn’t all that bad of a trade-off. So you don’t need to walk in the door, and instantly begin trying to find something wrong or something to complain about. Just as a server isn’t forced into the job, you’re not forced to go out to dinner, but if you do, you know what is expected from you if you get good service. Otherwise, go to McDonald’s or stay home and have a microwaved meal with your cats.

 

That Time My Sister and I Detasseled*

Sassy 1989

In this issue: Everything you ever wanted to know about detasseling...But were too afraid to ask!

My sister and I, as it turned out, had delicate hands. And no patience for flies.

And yet. It being Indiana and we, being pre-teens with much desire for the latest fashions as advertised by Sassy and YM, we signed up to detassel. A summer job for Hoosier kids. Get on the bus at Zero-Early a.m. and ride the combine until dusk, doing some job called detasseling. The rumor is it's essential for the pollination and therefore the fruiting of the corn.

How bad could it be, we asked, in between singing along with Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam, making mix tapes combining Rick Astley and Wang Chung, “Walk the Dinosaur” and “Toy Soldiers.” We are Indiana girls. We can do this.

So my sister and I, we pack our cooler, with Lunchables (totally adequate sustenance for a day in the fields) [1] and Diet Faygos (Frosh and Redpop, some cream soda for late in the afternoon). [2] And we board the yellow school bus, labeled by the name of the farm.

We'll make money, you betcha. And with plenty of time afterwards to watch Say Anything. Again.

The day is hot. The corn is endless. There are kids there who are made of steel. They don't have time for your Children of the Corn jokes. By 9 a.m., they do not – do not – give a shit about “Malachi.” They are unimpressed by your Nike saddle-style cheerleading shoes. They brought gloves and they're ready. By 10 a.m., these kids are looking at our bleeding hands and laughing. They are drinking their water and their Gatorade and I am wishing Faygo had been invented for the purposes of hydration and not pleasure. My sister might have been wishing the same. If I had had any spittle left in my mouth, I would have asked her. I did not.

My hands. The palms of my hands were scratched. My face was sun-burned. My shorts clung to my legs in ways I could never have predicted. There was possibly chafing. There were bugs. And then there were bugs. And some more bugs. And walking, sticky and shaking and interminably, between rows and rows of six-foot tall corn, bathed in bugs.

The first knuckle on the insides of every finger on both hands: rubbed raw. I looked at them in horror. I could see, or so I thought, bone and tendon; lashed naked by endless rows of sturdy Indiana corn, emerald leaves with knife-edges. I still don't know what a tassel is. I think I've pulled some. Not enough to please the 16-year-old screaming at me from the combine. But still. I look at my hands. I think of death. I think of Skeletor. I think of my sister, eating Doritos after school, and watching She-Ra. The Princess of Power would not bow to this. She would look at her bleeding, open fingers and still pull tassels.

I am not She-Ra. I could not possibly care less about Lunchables. Where's my sister? I want to go home.

Eventually, my sister and I go home. We do not return for Day Two of Detasseling; the part where we took Lunchables instead of gloves [3] is proving our summer income downfall.

We do, indeed, watch Say Anything. My sister and her friend K. learn how to puncture Dr. Pepper cans with pencils and guzzle them (they do this, considerately, in the bathtub, so as not to make a gloppy, sugary mess in the rest of the house. The shower curtain has drops of candy-like soda, smelling like Lip Smackers lip balm, for weeks).

I sit in my room, on my peach bedspread, and wonder how the summer, so early in, could so possibly have gone so very wrong. And how I will use my hands in the next couple days.

I dreamt, when I was younger, of being Laura Ingalls Wilder. Of being a farm girl, a pioneer girl, indomitable and tough, as sturdy as well water, as the plains, as Indiana corn or Frances Slocum being all strong and Quaker-y and not minding a bit when she's kidnapped. I am soooo nothing like these things.

Neither is my sister, which is no consolation. If the prairie is calling, our bleeding and exposed fingers can't answer. We're not made of sterner stuff.

But the summer is young. If detasseling is impossible, well, we can always read an obscene number of books. We can paint our nails peach and then pink and then iridescent. We can page through the Sears and Penney's catalogs, looking at clothes and models and daydreaming of having perfect hair, even teeth, perfect legs, and the best, tightest jeans, as we laugh, shaking our hair off our shoulders in front of a very clean locker, holding a pom pom or some color-coordinated books while a hunk in a letter jacket adores us, hygienically, but still. We can set off firecrackers we bought from Village Pantry. We can spend entire evenings weaving friendship bracelets from embroidery floss.

We can dream of being cheerleaders or honor students, pop stars or presidents. We can wonder what it would be like to have palms and fingers of titanium, able to withstand any number of corn stalks, making a bazillion dollars pulling tassels from corn.

We can always watch Say Anything. Maybe someday the boombox will be for us, and not Ione Skye. Heck, maybe we can be sorta like Ione Skye.

Summer is forever. Summer is for self-improvement. And learning how to punch a pencil into a Dr. Pepper and chug, chug, chug. Summer is for making sense of what happened in the fall, in the winter, in the past, in the future.

Detasseling? Well, that's for better people.

Say anything. Our Skeletor hands will heal. Our minds will expand. We'll draw lots of hearts and globes with Crayola markers in an '80s palette. We'll write bad poetry and fight with our sister about clothes. We'll hitch-kick and pirouette to “Rhythm is Gonna' Get You” and…we won't detassel.

We'll – I'll – always feel inadequate about that.

And yet, summer and makeovers and the sense that anything other than the damned cornfields is possible….

Adequate. More than adequate.

Tassels aside, you're okay, kid. It's a brand-new school year in front of you. Practice your handwriting. Practice your hurkey [4]. Ignore the tassels and get ready for the year when you finally get everything right.

You have a khaki skirt in the closet. Press it.

Remember that Sassy magazine said that pale pink eyeshadow is classy, subdued, and unexpected.

Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation is right around the corner. So limber up.

The world is your oyster. Corn, for other people.

Summer is going. Paint your nails, improve, and prevail. No one will know you screwed up at detasseling if you don't tell them. So don' t.

Detasseling? What's that?

I never did it. Neither did my sister.

Don't look at my hands. Just don't look at my hands.

 

*Fun game: this article doubles as a word search, drinking game or both. Drink/circle the word every time a 1980s pop culture reference is made.

1.) It is entirely possible our mom made us include fruit and sandwiches with our sodas and Lunchables. We were teens and old enough to know better. There's no excuse.

2.) There were probably some Capri Suns in there, too.

3.) Always listen to your mother. If she says to take gloves, take them.

4.) Fancy cheerleading jump.

 

Art History By Number: Fairies for Midsummer’s Eve

Fairy Art

Figure 1: Fanny Y. Cory (1877-1972), “Make Me a Mortal” (1903); Illustration from L. Frank Baum’s The Enchanted Island of Yew: Whereon Prince Marvel Encountered the High Ki of Twi and Other Surprising People (Bobbs-Merrill; 1903). L. Frank Baum, is of course, best known for his Oz books, fairy worlds, and magical creatures combined with an obvious playful love for language. In 1901, he wrote American Fairy Tales. In 1911, he wrote The Sea Fairies. In between these, in 1903, he published his tale of an enchanted island where a girl-fairy longs to live a completely different life, that of a mortal (and a mortal young man, at that). This illustration shows the fairy, “clothed in soft floating robes of rose and pearl color, and whose eyes shone…like two stars.” The fairy is asking the girls of Dawna— Seseley, Berna, and Helda— for their assistance, claiming “You are mortals, and by the laws that govern us, a mortal can change a fairy into anything she pleases.” The fairy then is transformed into the young knight, Prince Marvel, a “tall, slender youth with waving brown hair and dark eyes.” But in Fanny Cory’s first color plate for the 1903 edition of The Enchanted Island, she shows the fairy and the girls in all their delicate, pearl and rose-colored femininity, surrounded by ornamental, art nouveau iris stalks around the border of her highly-stylized composition. Cory was a popular illustrator for children’s books and periodicals in the early 1900s; in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, she became a nationally-syndicated newspaper cartoonist with her comics “Sonnysayings” and “Little Miss Muffett.” She also published her own books: a Mother Goose and a Fairy Alphabet, which the artist believed to be her best work.

In 1900, the magazine The Critic, cited the best virtues of Cory’s work as being “puckish humor and art nouveau.” These qualities are evident in this illustration: the lettering is humorous, even as the slender, etiolated ladies and fairy are juvenile and more innocent relatives to the eminently decorative women created by Alphonse Mucha and the Viennese artists working at this time. There is a distinctly draftsmanship quality to this composition—one never loses the lines—and a delicacy here which recalls Botticelli’s Young Man (compare the coloration of the eyes, nose, and mouth of the ladies and Botticelli) and is very different from Cory’s more robust later elves, gnomes, and fairies.

The artist here has chosen to depict a fairy that is an adolescent girl or, rather, a young maiden. This fairy, Baum’s “Prince Marvel,” is not written to be a pre-pubescent child and is not depicted as one. While fairy illustrations were common in England and America from the early nineteenth century to the opening of World War II, it is always an interesting comparison: does the artist skew her fay-folk as pseudo-cherubim, as tots, as virginal tweens, or as women (see Hughes)? Cory’s Fairy Alphabet shows a range of ages and moods and a more robust, harder style. But the 1903 “Make Me a Mortal” remains true to young womanhood (maybe even Cory’s?), to the organic, naturalistic, and stylized aesthetic of its time, and to Baum’s text. It is easy to think that had Cory’s near-contemporary, Cicely Mary Barker (active 1911-1962), illustrated this book, the fairy would have had innocence in common with Cory’s, but would also have skewed in Barker’s depiction as more eight than eighteen and would have been perhaps heavier on charm than on elegance (but with both in abundance). Cory is similar to the better-known Barker, but she is the flip-side to Barker’s coin. Cory’s early-twentieth-century illustrations should be remembered along with her long career in cartooning and it would be nice if her name would be listed more frequently alongside some of the other luminaries of fairy illustrators of that era: Barker, Margaret Tarrant, Arthur Rackham, and Kate Greenaway, for example. Cory is as talented as any of these.

Figure 2: Edward Robert Hughes (1851- 1914), Midsummer Eve (ca. 1907-8). There’s always been something about liminal spaces and times which seems to attract rumors of magical possibilities: crossroads and witches, equinoxes and opening of the veils between the seen and unseen worlds, similarly with dusk and dawn. Hughes, in this work, is playing with two of these at the same time: Midsummer Eve, “traditionally the time of the year when fairy power was thought to be at its strongest,” and dusk, an ambiguous time the artist represented as “mysterious and charged” in this work, as he had also done with his Twilight Phantasies and other paintings after 1905. Hughes explained “the coming of twilight is the time to see things, their harshness is softened…” and this piece demonstrates his use of color to create dim and ethereal lights which belong to softer, transitional moments.

Hughes himself, is often considered a “liminal” artist, straddling the intersections between First and Second Waves of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Symbolist artists. The intensely medieval (idealized pre-modern) aesthetic and the specificity of place (it’s very difficult to believe that tree in the right background is not tied to a particular spot in Hughes’ neck of the woods) tie Hughes firmly to the Pre-Raphaelite tradition, just as does his pedigree as the assistant of William Holman Hunt and his own sentiments: “having grown up among ardent exponents of Pre-Raphaelitism, the artistic ideals of which I share, my sympathies are reserved for that school.” It was also Pre-Raphaelitic to be connected with Symbolists: The mystical strain “typified” by Edward Burne-Jones, Solomon, and Gabriel Rossetti, no less than Hughes, has been frequently classified as Symbolist. Symbolist art often showcased poetic, mythic, or allegorical subjects and sought to replace the visual, mundane world with one they felt was more spiritually true: the often hidden world of magic, illusion, and imagination. The poetry of Charles Baudelaire is often held to be a literary example of Symbolism at its height and Hughes used the poetry of Baudelaire for the title of his Heart of Snow of 1907. While Midsummer’s Eve, with its fairy circle and magic, is thematically firmly Symbolist, the representation of the fairy as a woman, “powerfully sexualized” or “seductive” can also be seen as placing this work in the Symbolist camp, which frequently featured women who were “alluring, yet cold and forbidding…mysterious, allusive, and suggestive.” It seems most of all to be a Symbolist painting executed in Pre-Raphaelite language. And the way Hughes uses color (the lanterns) to create light demonstrates fully the reputation Hughes had among his contemporaries as a specialist in color and technical facility.

Figure 3: Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938), “The Fairy Ring” (1916); Illustration from his short story of the same name found in his book, Friendly Fairies (Bobbs-Merrill, 1960 edition; original 1916). Johnny Gruelle, an artist and illustrator (famously the creator of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy), lost his daughter, Marcella, to smallpox in 1915. In the short story illustrated here, “The Fairy Ring,” published just one year after Marcella’s death, Gruelle is writing and depicting centuries-old beliefs in the overlap between the fairy world and the world of the dead. For centuries, especially in England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, it was believed that fairies “took” the dead, or that the beloved dead would find places, forever young, dancing in fairy rings, seen and unseen, living among the remnants of a mysterious, ancestral past; a simultaneous but secret world, known and felt, but seldom seen. In “The Fairy Ring,” Gruelle writes of a very old and down-on-his-luck street violinist, who receives a magical iron ring as a tip: It transports him and his sister to a fairy ring, where “all about, laughing and talking, were hundreds of little fairies, gnomes, and sprites, and there, too, were the playmates of long ago…In his gladness he danced with joy.” In the morning, the landlord enters the siblings’ apartment and finds only the small iron ring (the “fairy ring”) which was vehicle and gift: the elderly persons have been transformed permanently, grafted into a magical, better world. The short story itself has much in common with O. Henry’s “The Last Leaf,” Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,” and countless fairy/death folk stories from both the Old and New Worlds. The image is faithful to other descriptions of fairy rings: note that here in Gruelle’s illustration are the “little people” of gnomes, elves, and sprites, as well as the fairies themselves, sylph-like and generic, white-gowned in the right top side. And, in Gruelle’s version, the humans (presumably “taken,” transformed, or passed) are equal participants in the magic and musical circle. This is a thought of eternity, transformation, and the overlap of death, life, and magic which goes back centuries.

Gruelle’s style is comparable to many other contemporary illustrators, much like Fanny Cory. The faces of Gruelle’s folk, be they human or fairy, seem to me to have more in relation to Blanche Fisher Wright’s than to, say, Kate Greenaway: related, but not interchangeable. Gruelle’s father was a member of the Hoosier School of artists and it is not impossible that their Impressionist influence motivated the expressive and amorphous “drip” background of the left panel of this illustration.

Gruelle’s fairies, while less detailed than their spritely and human peers, are emphatically not the sensuous women of Hughes; they are not the pre-adolescent tots of a Barker. They have, in their way, the form of a thirteen-year-old girl. Did Gruelle imagine Marcella as one of these fairies, then, and himself, perhaps, as the violinist returned to youth? It’s difficult to say. But if so, if there were any night other than All Hallow’s Eve when such a thing would be possible, it would be Midsummer’s Eve. (Even if Gruelle placed his violinist firmly in winter.) “…your soul can leave your body on St. John’s Eve and wander to the spot where body and soul will ultimately experience earthly parting.” And this is, mainly, just what happens with Gruelle’s violinist and his sister.

Figure 4: Kinuko Y. Craft (b. 1940), Faery Reflection (Claire’s Wings) (ca. 2003-4). It would be easy to see Craft’s fairy in this image as the younger version of Hughes’ sensuous woman: a portrait of the fairy as a younger girl. Craft’s painting has much in common with Hughes’ Midsummer’s Eve: the coloration (strongly, darkly in forest greens and golds), the use of light, the attention to detail in the face (Hughes, a noted portraitist, and Craft, in this case, painting a portrait into a fantasy), an emphasis on atmosphere and mood, a naturalistic detail which becomes specific. Craft refers to herself as an “Imaginary Realist,” and this seems as good a description of this work as any. Here, the fairy looks over her shoulder at her reflection in a pond. The reflection is mirror-sharp, in some ways more clear than the original. It is a theme Craft explores in her other works, notably The Transformation of Angarred and Shakespeare’s Daughter. While the work plays with ideas of fairies, it is nearly impossible not to also be reminded of the myths of Pandora and Narcissus, and there is much in this image which recalls the standard imagery of the Star card in Tarot decks— even if the requisite jugs and stars are missing. The face of this child-fairy, much like Cory’s, recalls the linear delicacy of Botticelli. The youth, freshness, and naturalism would remind one of Margaret Tarrant or even of Cicely Mary Barker, but the mannered self-consciousness of this work has far more in common with Hughes.

As with angel wings (the bird-based wings of Caravaggio or the shield-types of Giotto), it’s an interesting element of fairy art to examine what wing type the artist chooses. For Craft, this image calls on dragonfly wings (and presumably the symbolism of “new beginning” and the magic of “four:” i.e. four seasons). For Kelly, the wings are those of the moth or butterfly and for Gruelle, there are only suggestive wisps.

Figure 5: Becky Kelly, from Hallmark “Spoonful of Stars” collection (2007). Becky Kelly is an American artist who cites the Impressionists, Carl Larsson, Henriette Willebeck Le Mair, and children’s illustrators of the 1920s and 1930s as influences. In this image, from her collection for Hallmark, the watercolor artist has depicted a child-fairy that combines the naturalistic detail, freshness, and innocence of Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairy series with a frank American simplicity. This fairy of Kelly’s combines many of the aspects which Kelly writes about on her blog: “I make most of my fairy’s and children’s clothing white…” and “I use the darker foliage to contrast with the lighter peach color of awkward toes turned inward;” “Fairies have glistening wings painted to look like delicate, reflecting light, with an iridescent, opalescent quality. Her wings reflect all that surrounds.” Kelly also writes about her technique, which is additive: she works “from light to dark, starting with light glazes of watercolor, then building layers…” and she allows “parts of [the] paper to show to add shimmer and sparkles of dew on a leaf.” Kelly is no longer working for Hallmark, but her work is available to view on either of her websites (see Bibliography), one of which is about gardening, a love that is easy to understand by looking at the fresh peach in this equally fresh fairy’s hand.

Bibliography and Sources:

Aveni, Anthony. The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays. London: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Baum, L. Frank. The Enchanted Island of Yew: Whereon Prince Marvel Encountered the High Ki of Twi and Other Surprising People. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1903.

beckykelly.com (Becky Kelly)

beckykelly.blogspot.com (Becky Kelly)

enchantedtoad.blogspot.com (Becky Kelly)

Evans-Wentz, W. Y. The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. Original, 1911. New York: Kensington, 1994, 1966.

fycory.com (Fanny Cory)

Gruelle, Johnny. Friendly Fairies. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1919. Reprint, 1960.

kycraft.com (Kinuko Craft)

larsonweb.com “Claire’s Wings” (Kinuko Craft)

Osborne, Victoria Jean. A British Symbolist in Pre-Raphaelite Circles: Edward Robert Hughes RWS (1851-1914). Thesis: University of Birmingham, 2009.

Wikipedia: entries for Cicely Mary Barker, Kate Greenaway, L. Frank Baum, Margaret Tarrant, Kinuko Y. Craft, Johnny Gruelle, Fanny Y. Cory, Edward Robert Hughes, The Star Card (Tarot)

Image credits: (1) The Enchanted Isle of Yew, 1903. (2) Wikimedia (circa 1907). (3) Friendly Fairies, 1919. (4) Kinuko Y. Craft, Duirwagh Gallery (2004) (5) Becky Kelly, “Spoonful of Stars,” Hallmark Cards, 2007.