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The Wee Fairy Doors of Ann Arbor, Michigan

Susan Notes:
Don't miss the pictures of these enchanting doors. Be sure to click on each named door (click on number 7 first) so you can see where it is placed on the building itself.

I recommend bringing this idea to every school in the land. Bring enchantment in to counter NCLB.

WDET 101.9 FM describes what happens when fairy doors are present:

From little children wearing fairy wings to an elderly couple bending down on their hands and knees and peeking through. I mean, itís just all different types of people. . . . little kids and old kids, middle-aged ladies crawling around on their hands and knees, peeking in those windows

And then there are the gifts children leave for the fairies. . . . And think of the gifts the fairies give back, which is why every school in the land needs a fairy door.

by Celeste Headlee, NPR

Fairies are settling in the Michigan college town of Ann Arbor. At least, that's what artist Jonathon Wright would like you to believe.

All across the city, "fairy doors" are popping up. The miniature openings into imagined fairy homes are unsponsored, unauthorized works of public art that have captured the imagination of the city.

A six-inch white wooden door with a carved jamb framed by miniature bricks was the first to appear, outside Sweetwaterz Cafe. Since the spring of last year, seven more doors have appeared at businesses around Main Street.

The human behind the fairy tale is illustrator Jonathon Wright. In 1993, his wife ran a preschool program in their home. On a whim, Wright installed a fairy door in the house. The children's delighted response prompted him to build more.

Noting that businesses in Ann Arbor's downtown section were struggling to attract customers, he thought fairy doors might help. "I'd like to see them thrive, and that's part of what I want to contribute," he says. "Something that's lasting and fun and that can maybe revitalize some interest in the downtown area."

Now children are leaving gifts for the fairies: pennies, candy, hand-knit socks made with tiny needles, teeny felt hats and fairy-sized coloring books.

Ann Arbor Proudly Presents: The Doors
by Andrea Sachs
The Washington Post
Sunday, April 23, 2006

When walking around Ann Arbor, Mich., it's easy to miss the tiny doors with the tiny knobs and tiny hinges. And if you don't believe in fanciful creatures, you just might miss the point.

But what's certain is that someone -- real or magical -- is building what locals are calling "fairy doors," and the town is going all out for its new inhabitants.

The fairy door at Red Shoes is a mini version of the stores' real entryway.

Since last spring, the pint-size doors have been mysteriously appearing on structures around the University of Michigan college town: inside a coffeehouse, beside a grocer's steps, beneath a toy store window. The entryways are Thumbelina small and are so subtle and incongruent that they're easy to overlook -- or dismiss. At first glance, you might mistake one of the eight doors for an electric socket or a mismatched brick. But look closely and you'll see evidence that, yes indeed, something very little could live in there.

Forty-five miles west of Detroit, Ann Arbor is the ideal canvas for such a quirky display of art and imagination; its population skews young, liberal and bohemian, and one of its biggest annual events is the Hash Dash, which celebrates the liberation of pot. When the fairy doors starting popping up, curiosity grew: People wondered who built them -- and how they could get a fairy door in their own home. Maps were printed so visitors could, in the spirit of a scavenger hunt, track down the intricate, fragile doors.

Apparently, no one (at least those who are talking) will admit to having seen man, woman or fairy hammering away at the teensy doors. But Ann Arbor's resident fairy researcher, Jonathan B. Wright, has some intriguing theories.

At Sweetwaters Cafe, just a table away from a white fairy door built into a brick wall, the 46-year-old storyteller and illustrator explained that the woodland, forest and flower fairies had been living in nature but were being displaced by urban sprawl. Searching for a new domicile, the winged ones -- who count among their relations the Tooth Fairy and Tinkerbell-- ventured into Ann Arbor. (Yes, we know what you're thinking.) Wright surmised that, liking what they saw, they decided to uproot to specific addresses amenable to fairies.

How does Wright know all this? Seems he has a direct line to the fairies, or else he's been reading too much Tolkien. "They are carefully selecting environments that are appealing to them," he said. "They are taking up residence in unobtrusive places and mimicking them."

The urban fairies have clear favorites. Judging by the locations of the doors, and by the items sold in the related stores, they enjoy toys, art, candy, fashion, deli meats, theater and caffeine. Wright hinted that they may also have a yen for books and chocolate.

From the street, the fairy doors are hard to spot; crouching is required. All but two are outside, and some have interior doors or windows as well. A few models swing open, allowing civilians to peek into the fairies' private life. At Red Shoes, for example, you can see a mini vestibule with an upholstered reading chair on a tile floor. The Peaceable Kingdom's doors shield a fairy general store whose wares include baby teeth, a plastic monkey, hand-knit socks and other gifts left by fairy admirers. A few establishments also have guest books where people can comment on the doors and ask pertinent questions like, "If faeries could order drinks at Sweetwaters, what would they get?" On occasion, an elusive fairy with great penmanship and bad spelling will respond (for the question above: dewdrops and gummy bears).

"Fairies are everywhere, you just have to look," reads one musing. Written like a true believer.

— Celeste Headlee and Andrea Sachs
National Public Radio and Washington Post


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