Fairyland Here on Earth

The garden in the mind of photographer and artist Anastasia Traina is alive with curious characters — fairy folk congregate with beetle and butterfly in a secret world of what Shakespeare might have called "the merry wanderers of the night." Based in Chatham, N.Y., with her husband, actor Scott Cohen, known for his roles on "Gilmore Girls," and, fittingly, the fairytale cult-classic miniseries "The 10th Kingdom," Traina spoke with me ahead of her solo art exhibit, "Alchemy and Innocent," which will open at The Berkshire Botanical Gardens in Stockbridge, Mass., on Friday, May 5.

Alexander Wilburn: Previously you were living in New York City, has living upstate had an effect on your art?

Anastasia Traina: It’s here that I discovered a new language to tell my stories. Previously I was a playwright and a screenwriter, but I found myself at a crossroads. I wanted to tell stories in a different way. I found myself at Berkshire Botanical Garden one day and found out they had classes for botanical art. I slowly became enchanted with visual storytelling, and I ventured down to the New York Botanical Garden’s program for art and illustration. From there I developed the technical ability to tell my stories about the natural world.

AW: I didn’t know the Botanical Gardens in New York had an art program.

AT: It’s actually a very prestigious program and it really is like going to art school, you learn from the very best. They take you through every single medium, watercolor, colored pencil, silverpoint…it’s a very classical education.

AW: We see a lot of floral paintings here in the country, but yours are decidedly different. How would you describe your approach?

AT: I find a floral specimen that I love, in the forest or in a garden — recently I ventured to Emily Dickinson’s garden. The house was closed and in the garden, which was being very well taken care of, was a tulip that was half alive, but it was so vibrant still, and it had this little dozing bumble bee on it. I thought this is where Emily got her inspiration. The garden was so small, and her literary world is so huge in its depth. I sat there and sketched the tulip and the bumble bee, and later at home started researching Emily’s poems on tulips and what the colors of different tulips mean. I feel like a flower’s life reflects ours in a way. They’re beautiful living creatures, their lives are so brief, but they’re so full of lessons and poetry.

AW: When I was looking at your work I was thinking about the Victorian illustrator Richard Dadd who was known for his supernatural illustrations of fairies.

AT: I love him, his paintings are so beautiful and intense, and so intricate in their details.

AW: The similarities I see are that your fairies and little creatures are so well blended into nature, you have to take a second or third look to find all the little details in your work.

AT: A lot of the time in my work I’m inspired not just by the single flower but by all the dirt and little microbes and fungi around it. You can find so many things that are alive in a handful of terra. It’s magical to see what’s alive in the soil. Everything is so interconnected. In my art, I take a little patch of soil with mushrooms and little creatures on it, and it’s my way of making it important and saying you should take care of the Earth.

Onna-Bug-eisha and Her Leaf Cutting Factory by Anastasia Traina Photo courtesy the artist

Wait For Me Photo courtesy the artist

Onna-Bug-eisha and Her Leaf Cutting Factory by Anastasia Traina Photo courtesy the artist

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