Erda resident Elizabeth Carter saw her first wire fairy in 2014, in a photo that had gone viral on Facebook.
The fairy was created by Robin Wight, an artist in the United Kingdom. The photo Carter saw showed a piece titled “Wishes.” It had just been installed in the Trentham Estate gardens, and Carter was captivated. She found Wight’s website, fantasywire.co.uk, and was amazed by all the different fairies he had created.
“I thought they were amazing and beautiful, and I wanted one,” Carter said. “They just give someone a feeling. I don’t know how to describe it.”
Wight refers to the feeling as whimsy. In the written history of his company, FantasyWire, he remarked, “The popularity of FantasyWire took us by surprise. Clearly there is a need for good old-fashioned whimsical fun mixed with some art and photography.”
Wight never set out to make a living as an artist. However, he always enjoyed the creative process, and he used his creativity in his career as an engineer and designer, as well as on the side creating art.
One day while mending a fence, Wight realized metal wire had potential as an inexpensive, moldable medium. For his first wire project, he felt inspired to create fairy sculptures. Demand for his sculptures gradually grew. He sold the Trentham Estate several small fairies to put in its gardens, and in 2014, the estate added his life-sized sculpture, Wishes, to its collection.
For Carter, it was love at first sight. She was determined to have a wire fairy of her own — even if she had to make it herself.
“I thought, ‘I could do this,’” she said. “I got a Barbie doll at DI (Deseret Industries) to see the body shape. … I just kept trying until I got it to look right. I just looked at the pictures and figured out how to do it. It took a long time to get it right — I’d say it took me a good year and a half to figure out the right way to do it.”
Like Wight, although Carter has always enjoyed expressing herself creatively, she never expected to begin making a living through art.
Fiona Kahlo, a local artist and a friend of Carter’s, remarked on Carter’s ability to see herself as an artist. When Kahlo first met her, she said Carter “knew she liked art, but didn’t really fancy herself an artist.
“Then after making one wire doll and posting it on (Facebook) and getting all kinds of great feedback, she became the artist she is today!! Living the dream because she believed in herself,” Kahlo said in a Facebook message.
Carter’s first fairies were small, between 12 and 17 inches. She started selling the little fairies through her Etsy shop, WireFairies, in 2015. Since then, she’s sold more than 200 sculptures.
“I started doing this for fun, and I actually make more money at this than my full-time job,” she said.
People from all over the world love Carter’s sculptures. She’s sold pieces to people in Australia, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, France, Denmark, and throughout the United States.
“Some people put them outside and take pictures of what they look like out in their gardens,” Carter said. “Somehow, after I started making them, one of mine went viral and that’s when I started selling them.”
Carter later began making larger sculptures. A few months ago in October, one of her life-sized fairies won “Best in Show” at a community art exhibit organized by the Tooele County Arts Guild. The show was judged by several professional artists from Salt Lake City.
Nila Jane Autry, guild president, was impressed by Carter’s dedication to building the five-foot-tall piece.
“She has put in a lot of effort and passion into doing some pretty amazing work,” Autry said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of us that are willing to work as large as she does. It was a huge challenge to even get her work into the library. Her husband had to come with her and they had to have special equipment to get her work set up and show it. I think it shows an extra level of commitment to work that large.”
It took Carter about 80 hours to make the life-size sculpture displayed at the show.
“She was my first big one,” Carter said.
The smaller fairies take about a day and a half of straight work.
“I order my wire from a company in New York … in five-pound stools, and it’s just plain 32-millimeter stainless steel,” Carter said. “When you know it’s only 32 millimeters, that tells you how much wire it takes.”
None of Carter’s projects require welding. Instead, she spends hour after hour molding the wire with needlenose pliers or even her bare hands.
“I don’t wear gloves because you can’t get the detail,” she said.
In the future, Carter would like to take her fairies to more art shows. However, she’s not yet sure how often she’ll be able to do so since her two big fairies are now permanent parts of her yard and the small fairies sell fast.
“I want to go to more art festivals but I can’t keep enough stock,” she said. “I had to pass up 20 orders this Christmas season, which wasn’t good, but I just didn’t have time. … The wire’s pretty inexpensive; it’s the time that costs money.”
Autry enjoyed meeting Carter at the community art exhibit, and hopes additional up-and-coming artists will attend Tooele County Art Guild events in the future.
“We hope that more artists like Elizabeth will come out of the woodwork and come and join us,” Autry said. “It’s fun to discover great artists that live right in our community — that’s what we’re all about.”
The guild’s next event will take place on Jan. 22 at Coulter House, located at 175 state Route 138. A professional portrait artist from Salt Lake City will do a presentation. All interested people are invited to attend.