Urban Enchantment Series: The Fernie Brae, Portland, OR
September 24, 2019
A guest post by Grace Nuth
The Fernie Brae, a gallery and shop in Portland, Oregon, gets its name from the old ballad “Thomas the Rhymer.” There is a line in the
And see ye not yon bonny road
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the Road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.
The Fernie Brae is the dream project of Bryonie Arnold, an artist and entrepreneur
To enter The Fernie Brae, you have to walk up a sidewalk by a stone wall guarding a garden brimming with flowers chosen from Faerie lore (foxgloves, harebells, etc). Look to your right as you approach this magical purple foursquare house, and you can spy a table and chairs among the plants; two child-size mushroom seats flank a wooden table just large enough for a person to set an offering to the fae on top, as two tall, curious horned Faerie creatures inspect your benefaction from their guard posts near the front porch.
The doorbell jingles as you open the door, and directly ahead of you, like the prologue of a story, the words from “Thomas the Rhymer” are written on a moss-dotted scroll. Turn to your right, and you will enter the front room of this Faerieland; immediately you are surrounded by creatures mysterious and magical, some welcoming, some a bit more aloof.
I had my first opportunity to walk past that garden and visit the Brae last September, to attend the exhibit opening of the Found Things from Lost Lands show. I immediately felt at home because I was surrounded by the creations of kindred spirits I know and love from the internet, though some of them I have never met. I saw fairy wing jewelry by my friend Helen Nevett, art postcards from Virginia Lee, prints from Terri Windling, paintings by Iris Compiet, and of course the works of the Frouds, among many more incredible works of art.
Even the backbone of The Fernie Brae is enchanted. As work began on renovating the building to make it suitable for this sacred and special space, Bryonie and her husband Eric, along with many volunteers, including Toby Froud, made sure to pay attention to the magical as well as the physical aspects of building. Sigils and magic were literally carved and painted into the lintels, mantel, and floors.
Toby created a stunning goblin face that was installed into the fireplace in the front room. He also donated or lent many props and even a few puppets from his short film, Lessons Learned, to the shop, including the puppet, Grandfather: a fae creature who sits on a chair in a corner of the Brae (he moves from corner to corner sometimes, and occasionally needs a few months of quiet in the basement workshop room), often seen wearing a sign that says “I am sensitive, please refrain from touching me. Though feel free to sit and chat awhile. I do love a good story.” All those stories must have given him a touch of youthful vitality, as most recently he has been seen cheekily wearing a leather mask of roots and branches by Wing and Talon, ready for a night of faerie revels.
More recently, Toby has also given permission for his pirate fae creature, Sydious Rynholm, to spend some time among the magical beings at The Fernie Brae. He sits in a cage (with an open door…no trapped faeries here) in another corner of one of the gallery rooms, but never fear: Syd may have sharp teeth, but he mostly just uses them as he travels “the highest seas for the lowest cheese.”
Countless other small natural objects of magical importance to Bryonie and her employees can also be found tucked into places out of reach of tiny or large hands, enchanting the space even further. In one corner of the back room of the building, there is a giant display case, glass walls framed in chipped white paint. Inside, a stunning and impressively-sized faerie goddess manifested by sculptor Wendy Froud stands in a place of honor, reverently surrounded by other fae beings created by Wendy, large and small. At her feet, look closely to see various magical offerings of special significance to the people who work and spend their days at the Brae.
And of course, anyone who wants to bring a piece of the magic home with them can purchase jewelry, stones, tarot cards, books, and any number of other wondrous items for sale in the shop, have their tarot cards read by several skilled readers, or even have glittering fairy strands woven into their hair.
Bryonie has recently sent out the clarion call for her next gallery exhibit, entitled Ancient Tongues and Tales. And with this new show, she has a goal beyond the description of the theme. In a heartfelt and impassioned post on The Fernie Brae’s Facebook page, she explains how her gallery began based on the art she knew from her childhood, but she enthusiastically recognizes that magic and Faerie extend around the world in many cultures and societies. Toward that end, and to celebrate diversity, she offers to waive the gallery’s commission on any work accepted for this show by an artist of color.
The Fernie Brae continues, with this gesture, to lead the way toward a celebration of magic and wonder in all its many forms. And I am so very lucky every time I get to visit and be a part of this magic.
First image and call for submissions image from the Fernie Brae Facebook page, all other images courtesy of Grace Nuth!