Inspired by Reading: “My Mother she killed me, my father….”

I am always “Inspired by Reading”. But this month the selection was so… diverse, enchanting, haunting, original, epic in scope… 

This month’s book was “My Mother she killed me, my father he ate me” forty new fairy tales, edited by Kate Bernheimer. Its an amazing selection of contemporary authors with a magical foreword by Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked”. I will confess – I have not read them all. The book, to me, was like a box of chocolates. If I read them all at one time, I will over due it, and not appreciate the flavors and nuances. I think I have read 9 or so. And so many ideas sprang from those 9… 

Book group!

(Pictured here with “Hopeless, Maine” a graphic novel by Tom and Nimue Brown. A delightful dark, beautiful read.) 


The story I chose was “The Swan Brothers” by Shelley Jackson. The original tale from the Brothers Grimm is a familar one. Evil stepmother curses brothers to spend eternity as swans by day, men at night. Their only sister has to spin nettles to yearn and weave capes/sew shirts for them within 6 years to break curse. And she must not speak. Falls in love and marries prince, bears children. Accused and vilified by truly evil MiL, condemned to burn for murdering her children.  She completes all but one sleeve and transforms her brothers and saves herself in the nick of time.  This is already a potent tale for someone who works with archetypal images and icons full of symbolic meaning. Its a tale of transformation on many levels; not only the brothers, but the raw materials, the traditional woman’s work of spinning and weaving, a domestic alchemy, if you will. Its what artists do – transform raw materials into works of meaning, symbolism, beauty and power. 

This tale combined the transformative powers of the magic with the actual work of an artist – as the sister is a performance artist toiling away on said shirts for years in a storefront gallery! I loved the dark irony of that… The story is woven together with different threads of memory, dream, imagined events, and current happenings. It shuttles back and forth, weaving a mysterious whole from the disparate parts. What is truth? What is imagined? 

The themes are sacrifice, pain, and transformation. The artist/sister weaves nettles into shirts to replace feathers, and dreams all the while of flight. She climbs a glass mountain to retrieve her children, opening the lock with a finger bone. My sketchbook contains these words: spin/weave, yarn, nettles, feathers, wings, arms, bones, keys, locks… This is the feather shed by a swan wing, it is the wing of the last brother, its the wings denied the self sacrificing sister. The story has such a contrast, an interplay between opposing materials that I wanted to include the bones to ground the piece, to temper the prettiness of the feather. I intended to incorporate the resin wings, and found they were not suited to the polymer focal. 

Feathers and bones

Feathers and Bones – polymer feather cabochon, brass, polymer, acrylic paint, glass vial, bones, chain, sterling wire, & gems ( blue tiger eye, amethyst, sapphire jade, calcedony, crystal)

from the story: “…you find, pressed between two pages, a feather. It is white, it is black with an iridescent sheen, it is pigeon-grey…” page 85

Feather and Bones

Then the second necklace sprang to mind almost fully envisioned…  

Silver hands necklace

The Armless Maiden – antique clock key, vial of silver leaf, silver charm, porcelain doll hand, copper, cap, vintage minature pocketknife, vintage chain, garnets, silk. 

from the book – “Occassionally a woman with silver hands brings pears.” page 88. This single line – introducing the “Armless Maiden” as a friend to the protaganist, spoke volumes. The folktales tell of her life, hands cut off by her own father. Differing versions blame the devil, lust… Silver hands feature in the folk tales, and also bring to mind the Irish god Nuada, King of the Tuatha de Danaan.  This necklace is for her, a talisman of loss and transformation, blood and bone. 


But I still wanted to reference the wings and the swans that are integral to the story in all its incarnations. This piece will utilize the resin wings, and showcase  the swans in a more traditional fairy tale context. 

Swan's wings WIP

The Swan’s wings (in progress) – antique postcard, antiqued bronze setting. resin, antique book text, wire...

 This was a very fertile challenge for me – as I am drawn to fairy tale imagery and symbolism in my work. I can see other pieces arising from otehr tales as I savor the delights included in this book. Stay tuned… 

I look forward to hearing your feedback – whether you are familiar with Shelley Jackson‘s tale or the Brothers Grimm original.  The other artist bloggers participating this month will be listed and linked from Andrew’s blog. Please take a peak at the tales they have unraveled… I dont think they will disappoint! 



8 thoughts on “Inspired by Reading: “My Mother she killed me, my father….”

  1. Erin Prais-Hintz says:

    I knew you would not disappoint! I only got the stories late last week so I am a bit behind but I do have a start that I will share later today (hard with no camera!). I love the deep symbolism of fairy tales. The storytelling unit I used to teach was my favorite. These stories are so elemental and powerful. I look forward to reading this one. Thank you for sharing your passion and art! Enjoy the day! Erin


  2. Sarajo Wentling says:

    Jenny, as always, your pieces are so interesting and cool. I’m especially enamored with that first piece… just love that feather focal!

    I’m also intrigued to see where you take your work in progress. How did you connect the postcard to that Vintaj frame? Looks great!


  3. Andrew Thornton says:

    You always aim to fly higher with these challenges and I love and appreciate that about your approach. The pieces that you have created are simply stunning! You’ve really done an excellent job translating the imagery of the story into one-of-a-kind wearable art! They have such a wonderful talisman feel. Nicely done!

    I really love all the vials! They remind me of reliquaries.

    Thank you so much for participating! I can’t wait to see what you make next! These pages were rich indeed!


  4. Christine Damm says:

    Wow–so much amazing stuff going on here–where to begin?? You really explored all the symbolism in the stories and mined them fully for the elements in these pieces. There’s a delicacy and beauty to everything and yet they are bold in their storytelling ability. I’m in awe!Your polymer work is maturing in such a fabulous way.Bravo!


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