- Lex Nelson
At precisely 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6, the doors to Ming Studios slid open, and a figure dressed all in white ushered in the half-dozen people waiting eagerly outside. Beyond the doors of the studio lay not the typical gallery display, but rather a kind of fairyland: tables wrapped in white paper and scattered with shells and squat green candles, and white-draped columns topped with clusters of tiny glass dishes in blue, ivory and sage. A half dozen white-shirted volunteers darted here and there to a background of disco-era music.
- Harrison Berry
These wacky and wonderful juxtapositions were brainchildren of an artist known only as “The Wondersmith,” a young woman who greeted guests at the door in a white crown and raccoon’s mask of purple makeup. Known (or maybe more accurately, unknown) for throwing free, magical parties for small groups of strangers across the Pacific Northwest, The Wondersmith uses wonder as her medium instead of paint, and keeps herself anonymous to so guests can “write their own mythology,” as she puts it, about the experience. Each piece of the night, from the quirky food-laden dishes to the dripping glass necklaces worn by the volunteers, was thoughtfully crafted by her.
Every Wondersmith event is different, but they all feature food and activities planned around a central theme—in this case, the theme was nostalgia, and the evening festivities included drawing favorite summer memories on sheets of velum and an ice cream party of classic summer flavors hand-crafted with foraged ingredients. The guests, although they didn’t know it, were handpicked to enjoy the experience, and the Wondersmith’s patrons made it possible for people to attend for free.
“One of the fun challenges of my art practice is figuring out how to attract the right kind of people to each event,” The Wondersmith said. Since her soirees differ widely in content, the style of invitation varies, too—to find guests for an introspective ash-and-ember themed forest tea party last year, for example, she hid invitations in self-help books. This time, she
said, that approach wouldn’t have fit.
- Lex Nelson
“The energy of [this latest event] was completely different, it was about adventure and play and nostalgia, so the best way that I could think of to invite people was to create a treasure hunt,” The Wondersmith said. “Everyone who attended were people who had dedicated half a day to going on this mad treasure hunt all over Boise, [and that’s] the type of person to really engage with an ice cream party.”
The ice cream, paired with sparkling water and rose lemonade, stole the show. Served in ceramic dishes handmade by The Wondersmith (including teacups sculpted to appear encrusted with barnacles and bowls shaped like seashells), the ice cream was dished up in flavors like “S’mores Over a Campfire,” “Evening in the Mountains” and “Smoothies by the Lake,” and featured ingredients like fir tips, cattail pollen, ricotta cheese and smoke alongside more conventional tastes like chocolate, vanilla and wild huckleberries. According to the Wondersmith, the flavors were the product of months of meticulous research.
“I’d been having a conversation with some friends about what flavors and symbols they remember about late summer as a kid growing up in the Northwest, and a lot of the same things kept coming up, so I put out a survey and had about 30 responses,” she said. “I asked everyone, ‘What are three elixirs of nostalgia?’ meaning a smell or a taste that reminds you of that time, and, ‘What are three artifacts?’ meaning physical objects that make you think of that. And that was the database that I pulled from in designing the event.”
- Harrison Berry
Guests topped their ice cream with an assortment of nuts, berries and candied herbs that they fished out of tiny glass vessels—all foraged ingredients courtesy of The Wondersmith, who, like a figure in a fairytale, once apprenticed under an herbalist and now uses that knowledge to connect her guests to nature. Each invitee ended the night with a tightly wrapped scroll from the artist, and a collection of painted stones they were asked to decorate with positive messages and leave around town to keep the wonder going.
“Looking around and watching adults start acting like children as they’re rooting around in glass barnacles for huckleberries, seeing that playfulness come out in adults who are usually much more guarded and reserved, was really, really rewarding for me,” The Wondersmith said.