Wednesday Mar 28 2018
Gardner Village’s Display Coordinator, Careen Densley, may look like a mere mortal, but she simply must carry a magic wand in her pocket or something. How else is she be able to transform sheets of foam into an enchanting fairy island?
“Ever since we started planning the fairy displays, I thought an island would be really unique,” Careen said with a twinkle in her eye. “In our fourth year doing the fairies, it’s so neat to see this big project finally taking shape!
A big project, indeed. Careen and her team set to work on this mountainous task in early February! And while they have a long way to go to get it ready before the Fairy Festival kicks off on April 14, the hardest parts seem behind them.
“First, we glued the foam together and got the basic shape of the structure,” Careen said. “Then, I drew the face and set to bringing our vision to life using various tools.”
“My favorite tool is this grinder. It has this handle, so I can hold on and really get at it,” Careen said with a laugh.
And get to it, she did! No, it’s not snowing. This is merely a typical day behind the scenes of your favorite Village displays.
It’s clear that Gardner Village’s guests are the motivation behind Careen’s work. Especially the kiddos. I had my daughter Maggie with me on this interview, and it wasn’t long before Careen’s attention had shifted entirely to my five-year-old as she described every well planned island detail, from the captivating caves to the wonderous waterfalls. My daughter, like every child who visits The Village, was captivated!
“We’re going to have special binoculars set up so you can look inside and find a list of hidden surprises on the island,” Careen explained, as my daughter hung on her every word. “Like this watering can… You’ll be asked if you can spot it. Won't that be fun?!”
Absolutely! We can’t wait for the fairy find to be unveiled next month. You’ll find it set up on the deck by the river (across from Georgell’s back patio).
“Oh! She’s so nice. And FUN!,” Maggie said later, when she saw this photo on my computer.
She IS fun! And her coworkers would agree. Keri Taylor has worked with Careen on and off since Careen started at The Village 24 years ago. It’s clear they have a great time together and make an outstanding team. Together with Debbie Sampson (the artist who paints the faces and brings the fairies to life) and Wayne VanVulkanburg (a fellow craftsman behind the intricate displays), this team has created more than 60 handmade fairy displays!
"Much trial and error goes into every idea" Careen explained. "Take the rock windows we're going to add to the island. Wayne tried at least six different approaches before he found the right approach."
Once the team finds that secret sauce, the outcome is something to be seen. Every detail is so special. Here's a sneak peek at the hand-carved doors Wayne has been working on. Aren't they gorgeous?!
There's something new to discover every year at the Fairy Festival.
“The first year, we set up the pond area,” Careen explained.
“The next year it was the Elm Tree house and the Wishing Bridge.”
“Last year, we added the hidden fairies and the hotel.”
“And this year, it’s the island!”
In four short years, Careen’s talented group has taken an idea and made it a free reality for everyone to enjoy. Well, free on our end as visitors. On the back end, the cost of supplies is significant. In fact, there’s nearly $2,500 into the island alone, and that’s without the labor, making it a true labor of love on the part of The Village.
“I’m not sure I could pick a single favorite project I work on,” Careen said. “My favorite part of my job, whether I’m working on the grounds, planting flowers, or setting up displays, is simply being out with our guests and overhearing them comment on how beautiful or funny or unique something is when they have no idea I’ve had anything to do with it. I love knowing what we do brings happiness and joy and fun to people!”
Boy, that’s the truth! If there were a Happiness Fairy, Careen would be it. She is so full of imagination and love for what she does. When she and her team aren’t developing new displays, they’re busy maintaining the existing inventory, keeping it at its best from year to year.
“We oil all the wood surfaces and update the moss and touchup paint and do whatever else is needed,” Careen explained.
A peek inside the crew’s workshop gives you an idea of the work they do. In it, you’ll find full tubs of moss, piles of paint, and row upon row of twinkle lights, extension cords, and more!
Here, witches mingle with elves while fairies chill out beneath giant wooden palm trees. It’s like a whimsical Where’s Waldo of seasonal celebration!
The highly anticipated Fairy Festival runs from April 14 - June 23. It's when you can see the full island reveal, which you won't want to miss! Read all about everything going on at the festival here. In the meantime, don’t forget to get in on the Easter Brunch action this Sunday. Happy Easter!
Megan Hoeppner (and Maggie) ;)