Wren Fest

For many years, all I knew about wrens could be summed up in a whack-fol-riddle-i-day.

That's because I learned it at Renaissance Festivals, where the wren only shows up in English folk music, usually between Christmas and New Year's, when gangs of youths hunted it through bush and briar, or paraded its poor feathered corpse from house to house, or at least sang about doing so, hey nonny-nonny.

This never made sense to me. The wren is inoffensive, elusive, and the drumsticks are tiny, for pete's sake. If you've got to sacrifice some critter in connection with your ancient pagan past, why not a ham? There's plenty of meat for sandwiches, and you can always use the bone in soup.

I get some great ideas in special orders--this one was at least a two-fer, an e-mail from a fellow in central Washington state. He'd been in Eugene to watch the Olympic Trials, saw my work, and wondered if I could do a set of plates with birds from his part of the world.

"Sure," I said, "Send me a list." And a-googling I did go. I found images of two different kinds of wrens, a house finch, a yellow-front and a Stellar's jay that's also started showing up in my work.

I learned that, aside from the house wren, which hijacks bluebird nests and destroys their eggs, wrens are indeed inoffensive and elusive. With its big head, tiny body and even tinier tail (held perkily upright), the marsh wren in particular is incredibly cute and fun to paint. I started with them on serving bowls, but they rapidly flitted onto pasta bowls, pie plates, tureens, vases and tall mugs.

A wren-tin-tiddly-i-tay!