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A whole new world

  • Melanie Chouinard sculpts fantasy figures and makes masks at her Wilton studio, The Silver Branch. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Melanie Chouinard sculpts fantasy figures and makes masks at her Wilton studio, The Silver Branch. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Melanie Chouinard sculpts fantasy figures and makes masks at her Wilton studio, The Silver Branch. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Hawthorn Q Dashwood, Gnome Adventurer. Staff photo by Ben Conant



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, March 21, 2018 8:59PM

Melanie Chouinard’s Wilton studio is alive. Like the water nymphs and naiads she creates at The Silver Branch, Chouinard breathes life into inanimate raw materials and brings them from one realm to the next with a blend of natural wonder and fantasy.

“The light filtering through the trees, hitting the moss, I wanted to convey that through art,” Chouinard said. “To convey that mysterious connection, how you feel when you’re out there, the wonder. There’s scientific reasons for everything but sometimes you just want to let your imagination go. Sculpting fairies and mermaids and naiads and things connected the two feelings.”

Her life’s path started in the worlds of “Fraggle Rock” and “Labyrinth.”

“Jim Henson has a lot to answer for,” she joked.

In 2010, a magic door opened for her and she stepped through it. Chouinard was working as an assistant manager at Dunkin’ Donuts when she found her entrance to the realm of fantasy. A friend was looking for a “fairy door” for a project and couldn’t track one down; Chouinard set out to make one for her.

“I tried wood, I tried all sorts of things, and nothing really hit off,” Chouinard said, “and I decided ‘Oh, I’ll try clay,’ and I loved it. It just took off.”

Polymer clay spoke to her, the perfect medium, scales, skin, faces and figures flowing from her fingertips. She began a series of “art dolls” – mixed-media figurines – and soon discovered that there was a market for her creations. Within the same year, she’d also patented a line of fairy-wing earrings, and slipped into the cloak of a full-time artist.

“It started as a hobby,” Chouinard said, “and the hobby started taking more of my life and there was so much demand that I was able to just switch.”

Now, she conjures up her fantastic figures in her Riverview Mill studio, blending natural elements like moss and wood with the clay, opening a conduit for Cherie the fairy or Hawthorn Q Dashwood, Gnome Adventurer to step into our world.

All Chouinard’s pieces are handsculpted; she doesn’t use molds, which means each figurine is one-of-a-kind.

“More often than not, when I start off with ideas, they morph as I sculpt, and a whole new idea comes out and a whole different fairy comes out and it’s usually a lot better than I planned to begin with,” she said.

Chouinard is the featured artist at the Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library for the rest of March. In May, she’ll take her work to the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire in Fremont.

Aside from the figurines and sculptures, Chouinard also creates ornate beaded masks and papier-mache dragons, like Orchid, a three-foot purple lizard built to hug. When she has her work out in public at fairs or festivals, Chouinard said people often pick up Orchid, and before long, they’re cuddling the dragon, rocking it like an infant.

“It kind of jumps from being an inert piece of paper to something that somebody can connect with, and I love that,” Chouinard said.