It started with the rabbit, who was made right here in nearby Gibsonton within the last decade or two. Also the elaborate Corinthian capital in the lily garden, from the same company. I am slowly getting to each of the “antiques” with props and photographing them, editing and sometimes painting the resulting images.
I had to really douse the rabbit with bleach when I came back to Florida in the fall…he was black with some kind of mold and moss that looked furry. Of course the weeds were so high that you couldn’t even see him. After careful and “artful” cleaning, he seemed somewhat alive. But it wasn’t until the clock and the antique wooden croquet mallets and balls, the giant key, and birdcage were used to “dress the set,” that he really started speaking to me. Not in words, mind you, but in recollected phrases written in my mind by having read Lewis Carroll’s very adult story about a little girl he adored…”Alice.”
But it wasn’t until I created a “tableau” with a motorcar and sailing ship in a little village of birdhouses the boys painted when they were quite young, and a tiny bust of George Frederick Handel, with silver goblets and such, that the theatre really began. I could hear Handel’s “Water Music” in my head when I placed the model sailing ship in the set…and while I was painting the “sea” behind the village, where the birdcage on top of the Corinthian capital suggested a lighthouse ( I had put candles in it to hang in the “garden room,” my favorite spot in the house for eating, sleeping, and dreaming).
Two days later I was back with Ceres, and the decaying trompe l’oil painted wall that has survived over 20 years of sun, rains, and creeping fig, miraculously. I call her Ceres because she holds a cornucopia, and reminds me a bit of Botticelli’s Venus. She came with a really great baroque base, but it made her too high against the illusionistic wall, so that is hidden in the bushes. I also wasn’t sure the workmen could have gotten her safely up on the base, and was not prepared to cement her to it, when the statues were delivered and placed in designated places.
I decided to do a “tea party,” and hauled out an antique dressmaker’s dummy we had brought back from a barn in Maine many years ago. I brought out one of a pair of candelabra I had recently de-lacquered and polished. And an ancestral tea service on a tray. Two of Jill’s vast hat collection (she’s a third generation Floridian) were on an indoor trellis in the garden room, so I grabbed those. Two parasols, one from Aunt Hattie, and a Queen Anne chair I had gold leafed and painted for a charity auction. The late afternoon light was slanted with great shadows. After I had worked very hard to film the set up, I added some gardening implements, and the croquet mallets and a ball. Two or three hours later, a basket of artificial fruit and sunflowers literally fell on me in the studio and then in front of the dressmaker’s dummy. That’s when I heard them. It was pure deep South. Ceres was so “hoity toity,” and in an accent I hear in Alabama and Georgia, absolutely ripped Bessie to shreds. She whined, in a drawl, “Why Bessie, I just don’t know why you won’t play croquet with Lily Mae and me. Just look at you. That hat is abominable, and that aint all, neither. Put the shovel and hoe away, and…oh Bessie, you were sposed to have brought roses for tea, not sunflowers…whatever were you thinking of. Why, if people saw this– Ashley Wilkes and the other plantation owners would…I’d be mortified!”
I thought, “can this be going on in my garden?” These shades of the Old South. They weren’t whistling Dixie, for sure. Before it got dark, I asked Jill to help me get all the props and silver back into the house. Little did she know what had gone on in broad daylight in our garden in the woods. Pity the Rolls-Royces had to be sold; they would have loved the drama. But then, all’s well that ends well. But as my Yankee mom used to say, “it isn’t all beer and skittles, you know.”