Local artist creates a tiny world

As a working artist, Megan Jeffery’s latest installation has taken her to a tiny scale. But there is nothing trifling about these creations.

The Trumbull-based illustrator and fiber artist has created one of 26 installations at the Florence Griswold Museum’s “Wee Faerie Village in a Steampunk’d Wonderland,” open now through Nov. 2 in Old Lyme.

The installations — elaborate and minutely detailed scenes tucked into the landscape of the museum’s 11 acres — depict scenes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with a steampunk twist.

Modern artists who dabble in steampunk make a fantasy out of the machines, fashions and materials prevalent and popular in the Victorian era. Carroll’s 1865 story of the girl who fell down the rabbit hole is a perfect fit for the museum’s annual faerie-sized literary twist.

Jeffery’s scene, “The Croquet Game,” depicts — among many other details — dapper flamingos as the croquet mallets and spiked hedgehogs as balls, with “living” playing cards bent on all fours as the wickets. A shrubby Humpty Dumpty sits in an egg cup, gazing on the scene through welding goggles.

“It is mind-boggling how much she has done,” said David D.J. Rau, director of education and outreach for the museum. “She blew me away immediately with how she approached the work. She’s not just telling one story, but many, with lots of extra elements that clearly show she has been thinking about and working on it in her studio.”

Installed at the base of a sweeping cherry tree, Jeffery’s scene is enclosed with white wire garden fencing decorated with handmade stained “glass.”

“The scene takes place on a furrowed, rutted ground,” Jeffery said. “There are roots coming up all over. It is challenging to get these pieces to stand upright in the outdoors with these roots to contend with! Even though I made a bazillion tiny sand bags, they still occasionally fall over.”

A native of Trumbull and a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Jeffery has been whimsically minded since her art career began in 1989.

She started out illustrating children’s educational publications.

“In second grade I decided to become an illustrator,” Jeffery said. “That was the year I started seeing that books were drawn by someone and that I could be that someone.”

She supported her early freelance business by working at a day care center.

Her fiber creations, whatever their size and fanciful quality, are serious work. The teeny characters are felted, glued and stitched by hand, with careful attention to speck-sized details.

For the two-inch-tall military gnomes featured in her 2010 exhibit, she pays extra attention to the eyes.

“With gnomes, it’s a fine line between ‘cute’ and ‘creepy leering old guy,’ and that all happens in the eyes,” Jeffery said.

Despite the size of her creations, Jeffery has never seen herself as anything other than a working artist, and she eschews the stereotype of artists as flighty.

“I don’t think people realize how much you have to work when you are a freelancer,” she said. “The whole pajamas, slipper-footed stereotype has nothing to do with people who are serious about making a living with their art.”

In 2004, after she moved to a vital artists’ community, near Providence, she started to feel a pull toward the handicraft she’d put aside since college.

“I felt a need to start stitching again,” she said. “My senior project at RISD was a book of banners illustrating the parables of Jesus. I was influenced by my mother’s banner-making for church.”

Jeffery had solo exhibition called “I Live in a Small Town” in 2010 at the Providence Children’s Museum, then participated in the 2011 Star Wars-themed group exhibition “Stitch Wars Strike Back” in Florida, felting tiny Jedis and Ewoks with astonishing expression.

This summer she was invited to attend the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in Waterford.

Jeffery, a member of the Stratford Arts Guild, still freelances in illustration, but the market has declined. This dovetailed with her desire to focus more on her fiber work.

“I don’t remember why or when things started to trickle off for illustration,” she said. “For me, I had a need to start working with felt again. And it became, well, let me see how I can get my stuff in a shop or a craft show.”

“How do I make a living with this? I am really good at making stuff. I probably have other skills, and I could do that, but I choose to do this, because this is what fills me up.”

This is Jeffery’s second year at the Wee Faerie Village. Last year she wowed crowds at the “Land of Oz” display with reclaimed sycamore bark painted green and transformed into the walls of the Emerald City.

More than 17,000 people visited the museum for the monthlong event last year. This is the sixth production of the Wee Faerie Village, said Rau, and audiences are growing each year, he said, because of the popularity of the faerie theme and the quality of the installations.

“Wee Faerie Village in a Steampunk’d Wonderland” will be at the Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme Street in Old Lyme, until Nov. 2. For more information: florencegriswoldmuseum.org.