86-year-old Theresa St. Martin creates “fairy village” for her great-grandchildren

Last modified: Friday, February 28, 2014
SOUTHAMPTON — When Reygan Horstmann, who is nearly 2, and her cousins, Jacoby, 2, and Delila Hodges, 5, walk the wooded path from her home to their great-grandmother’s house, they whisper.

They’ve also been known to leave gifts of raisins and pretzels along the short trail, too.

That’s because their great-grandmother, Theresa St. Martin, has created a fairy village there. This summer, the 86-year-old began carefully painting rocks and gourds to resemble tiny gnome and fairy cottages to line the path behind her East Street home.

Though the village is too snowy to add to now, she is often inside hard at work on more painted pieces. She has completed between 12 and 15, she estimated, including a recently finished horse barn. She is working now to transform a pointy rock into a church and will create fairy shops next.

“If it’s a village, it’s got to have shops,” she said.

St. Martin said she has been painting as a hobby since she retired from her school bus driving job about 30 years ago. She took a few classes and, ever since, has hosted a weekly painting get together with a few other retired friends.

Painting on things other than paper or canvas has always appealed to her. Many years ago, she ordered a book about painting raccoons, foxes and other creatures on round river rocks, and they adorn the house. “All her kids have them,” said her daughter, Patricia Estes, of Huntington.

Long, old-fashioned saw blades that St. Martin has painted with intricately detailed farm scenes are mounted on the rafters at the home she shares with her husband of 69-years, Arthur St. Martin, 95.

“It’s hard on my brushes,” she said, to paint on stone rather than canvas. “But it’s a lot of fun.”

Earlier this year, St. Martin heard about Mackworth Island in Maine, which is decorated with fairy houses like the ones she paints. She sent away for a book on how to make them, imagining setting the little houses out along the trail that connects her backyard to the home of her granddaughter, Theresa Horstmann, and her husband, Tyler.

The Horstmanns’ daughter, Reygan, and two more of St. Martin’s 13 great-grandchildren, Delila and Jacoby Hodges, the children of Rachel and Scott Hodges of Northampton, frequent the path.

The idea of the fairy house craft is to use only natural items, from rocks to sticks and pine cones, St. Martin said. “You’re not supposed to go out and buy wood for it,” she said.

St. Martin started by painting old bird houses and then gourds she grew to resemble fairy houses. Thinking that rock houses would last longer, she started painting small “gnome cottages,” on round rocks, using putty and paint to create the appearance of thatched roofs.

Now she has graduated to making bigger homes from rocks so large that she needs help moving them. She places each rock on a turntable on her kitchen table, so she can rotate it while she works without having to pick it up.

“Whenever we see a rock, we stop and see if we can use it,” Estes said.

St. Martin said it can take anywhere from an afternoon to a few days to paint a fairy building, depending on the size of the rock and how much planning and detail is involved. “When you’re 86, your hands are not that steady, but I have fun. I enjoy doing it,” she said.

The last step is giving the painted rocks several coats of polyurethane to protect them from the elements.

“I can’t wait to work on them every Tuesday,” she said, when she has her friends over to paint. “They say, ‘which one are you going to work on next?’”

Estes said the three children love checking in on their friends in the fairy village while walking to Mem’s, as they call their great-grandmother.

“They come and look in the windows,” she said. “They whisper when they walk through” so as not to bother the fairies. They leave pretzels and raisins on the path for the fairies, too.

“And then the chipmunks get them,” St. Martin said with a laugh.

They also hund windchimes along the path, “to make it feel magical,” St. Martin said.

Estes said it is a joy to watch her three young grandchildren collecting pine cones and pebbles to landscape around the fairies’ homes.

“They start working around here, too, collecting pine cones,” she said. “It’s amazing, what they believe.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.