Krista is an embroidery artist, forest wanderer, fairy seeker, coziness lover, cat mama, and, overall, a whimsical lady from New England. If you're a reader of The Play House, you understand then why I needed to interview her. She is basically built of the aura that I am so attracted to and wish to share over this blog. If you're on Instagram, you may know her as The Owl And Her Bluebell. If you don't know Krista, check her and her photos out here.
I am always so curious about childhood, and especially in your case, given the way you seem still very connected to childlike wonder. Could you paint us a little picture of your youth?
I had a wonderful childhood. My parents both fostered a great sense of imagination in me and encouraged me to be creative. The clearest memories that I have of my childhood, oddly enough, revolve around the times that I would spend alone in my room or in the finished basement in the old house. I would spend hours making up stories and daydreaming. I always enjoyed being alone, which I think can be difficult for parents to understand right away, because they worry that their child might be sad or lonely. I would be playing and my mom or dad would come down the stairs just to poke their heads around the corner and make sure that all was well. My mom would say, “Krista, you were just in your own little world down there.”
I would also “play pretend,” as I used to call it, where my dad and I would act out different stories like Peter Pan or Pinocchio and make-believe that we were the characters. Later on in elementary school, I had a friend who had an older sister and we would act out “Little Women” or our own stories after school.
I had a big bin of costumes that my grandmother had made me and vintage clothes that she had found, and I would put on this old hoopskirt, and my friend and I would dance around like we were Jo and Laurie.
I spent a lot of time outdoors as a child. Both of my parents love being outside, especially by the water, so I remember that all of our weekends were filled with outdoor activities. They never said, “Oh they are too young for this.” They had a lot of confidence in my brother and I, so we became very quick learners.
Growing up in New England, there are so many seasonal traditions that become very much apart of your being.
Every time I think back on my childhood, I often think of the fall. The smell of wet leaves and raking them with my dad into pumpkin bags. And apple picking, of course. There is something very special about autumn time in childhood.
My parents also took us cross country skiing at a young age, so we spent so many winters visiting New Hampshire and skiing in the woods. A snow-covered forest is still the thing that makes me happiest. All of my family has summer birthdays, but I was born in February, and have always felt a kinship with the snow.
I have remained very close with my family. They really are everything to me. Within my family, I have always felt a bit “other,” I guess is how I would put it. Not to say that I do not have traits from my parents, because I certainly do. My mom, I’m sure, would say that she thinks that I am very much like my father! But I have always felt, a little bit, that I am set apart. My mom would say, “Krista, sometimes I don’t know where you came from.” However, fortunately for me, this is something that my parents nurtured and encouraged. My dad, who growing up probably never imagined himself playing make-believe, was the one pretending to fly off to Neverland with my Wendy and fight Captain Hook. And my mom, who is quite pragmatic, is still buying me little fairies to put in my garden, because she knows that that magic still exists for me.
What is the story behind The Owl and her Bluebell? What prompted you to start your Instagram account?
I began my Instagram gallery somewhat haphazardly. About a year ago, a friend showed me the galleries of a few makers that she follows, and thought that I would appreciate their work, so I decided to create an account after that. I am completely inept when it comes to social media and I have no other accounts, so even though this platform has been around for some time now, I had no experience with it whatsoever, which, ultimately, I think was for the best, because when I decided to start posting photos they were of things that I just personally enjoy from my own life.
It’s comforting to see that there are other kindred spirits out there in the world, but I certainly didn’t have an audience in mind when I created the gallery.
I suppose the name came about somewhat randomly as well. I was trying to think of a name that had a kind of fairytale quality to it, and birds, owls in particular, have always been very special to me. Really any creature that can fly!
I have always had flying dreams since I was a child and felt that I was meant to have wings. I could see myself flying over the tree tops by our house and it all felt very natural in my imagination. We have two barred owls that live in a dead tree in the forest behind the house, and some evenings we can see them flying overhead and hear them calling. And bluebells, well, they will always be my dearest fairy flower.
Is there a particular feeling you aim to bring to your followers with your photography?
To me, it’s just about sharing that feeling of coziness and wonderful, whimsical comfort that I get from being in the forest. It’s a feeling that touches every area in my life; in my embroideries and in my wardrobe.
Like wandering in a forgotten fairytale. It’s about warmth and rich color. Wrinkled linen dresses and dried flowers. Old books and mushroom-capped dolls. It’s not about living a fairytale life. That doesn’t exist, not even for me. It’s about finding those moments in between.
My dad always used to call me his “cozy girl” and I think that that has held true. I always wanted to be a gnome and live in a tree hollow, all bundled up with my pointed hat and acorn kettle.
It’s chunky knitwear and snow-frosted windows. It’s John Keats and black cats. It’s a glimpse into imagination using little snippets of my life. And imagination can be just as true as anything in the real world, in my experience.
What’s one of your favourite photos? What does it mean to you?
As much as I love creating the photos with my dresses and handmade treasures, the bird photos are really my favorite. The photos that I took this past winter of the titmice are very special to me. We had a very cold winter and there were times when I felt like I was the only human soul in the forest. And I may have been! These moments with the birds are so clear in my mind, because everything was so white and stark, I felt like we were the only creatures awake for miles. And the forest is so quiet in the winter; there is an amazing stillness that comes when trees and stones are covered in snow. That quiet is hard to capture anywhere else. It’s dream-like.
In most of these photos my hands are absolutely freezing, because it was about 5 degrees Fahrenheit out, but the birds were freezing too. Their feathers were puffed out and we were all bracing ourselves against the wind. I can’t speak to birds (though I do talk to them!), but sometimes I feel an understanding. They don’t need me. I visit them for the simple reason that it makes me happy.
You seem very much like a proponent of play, which I adore. And so I'm wondering, how do you recommend other adults who may have lost that sense of their inner child find it again, so they may play too?
Certainly! My greatest fear growing up was growing up. Much like Peter Pan, I associated it with losing that sense of play and imagination. Especially imagination. It’s something that is so sacred to me that I was always desperately worried about leaving it behind. I would tell my mother this and she was quick to reassure me that my imagination and creativity is something that is intrinsically part of me, and that it would not just cease to exist because I am no longer a child.
But growing up does change you in many ways. I have worries and responsibilities today that I didn’t have as a child. I often say to my husband that I feel like we are playing house. But so many adults feel that way. There isn’t a hard line delineating when someone is no longer a “child.” I always say that I think it’s odd that for years growing up, you go to school, learn so much, play sports, act, sing, dance, and then you get to a certain point (usually around college or right after), and all of a sudden most of those things stop very abruptly. You spend your whole life developing these passions and hobbies and then many times they just completely leave your life, and it can be very devastating in sometimes unseen ways.
For me, I didn’t realize it for years after I had graduated from college. It wasn’t until I started actively trying to reincorporate some of the things that I loved as a child, really embracing those joys, that I started to feel more myself again.
To me, the best way to capture some of that child-like magic is to seek things out that truly excite and amaze. For me, that’s being in the forest and spending time with wild animals. I love learning. I walk through the trees and say things to my husband like, “Oh we are in the mushroom kingdom now or we are in King Toad’s land now.” It’s fun to let some of that childhood, lack of inhibition come through a bit.
I think it can be incredibly healthy for the adult mind to let itself explore more places of imagination. It has taken me a long time to realize that that is not something that I have to sacrifice as an adult. I am not necessarily going to be able to do everything that I enjoyed as a child or at least it won’t always be in the same way. But, those needs are still there and need to be nurtured!
What are some of your favourite ways to be creative? What mediums?
Truly, my favorite way to express my creativity is through dance. I was a ballerina for most of my life and performed for years. It’s something that I miss greatly. Ballet requires a tremendous amount of discipline, but I am a perfectionist, so I enjoy that aspect of it. It’s the perfect marriage of artistry and athleticism. For me, ballet translates my emotions in a way that no other medium could.
Writing would be a close second though. I started writing creatively probably when I was around 10 years old and have tried to continue the development of my writing throughout the years. I used to write a lot of poetry, which I still do on occasion, but not like I did in my late teens/early twenties! My day job requires me to write quite a bit, so I am able to stay sharp fundamentally, if not creatively.
And, of course, teaching myself to embroider has been a wonderful creative outlet for me. I never thought that I could do anything with my hands that required great skill. I am left-handed and, at least when I was growing up, there was still that lefty stigma of writing quite messily or not being as dexterous as right-handed people. To be fair, my handwriting is atrocious! But I really got it into my head that I had no skill for that kind of work. It wasn’t until coming into my thirties that I decided to just give embroidery a go. I have a lot of artistically talented people in my family, so I always thought that ballet was where I excelled and that I ought to just stick with that. But you need those creative outlets, especially as an adult. People ask me all the time about trying embroidery for the first time and I always tell them, “Yes, give it a try!” Creating beauty, even if it feels like it may take time to create something beautiful, is always worth the endeavor.
So now I have to ask you, what’s your favourite book?
Goodness, so difficult to choose just one. I suppose that the first book that comes to mind when I hear that question is “Little Women,” so it must be the one. Jo March has perhaps had as much influence on who I am today as any living person in my life. And by extension, Louisa May Alcott.
Everyone has a character that they read about and feel an overwhelming connection to. That feeling that the story is happening to you, was written for you. Jo is that person for me. Her intelligence, determination, fierceness, and undying love for her family ring as true for me now as when I read the book as a girl. I am fortunate to live very close to Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, where the Alcott family lived for many years. I remember walking through the house when I was younger and hearing that Louisa had been determined to support her family, by herself, without a husband, by her own pen, and I just thought that that was extraordinary. Even as a girl, it really struck me that she made a vow to herself to take care of her family.
I suppose, too, I felt a lot like Jo March growing up. I certainly could relate to her outspokenness and temper! But I especially could relate to that fact that she had another side, an imaginative and softer side, if you will, which some people in her life, like Beth, recognized. I had people like that in my life too, who could see that other side of me.
Books are so intensely personal. You are taking words from a page and creating a world up here (taps on temple). You are letting something into yourself in a way that is very different from meeting a person in real life, but more intimate, because it is your creation. Yours and the author’s.
Finally, what does a “fulfilling life” mean to you?
A fulfilling life for me comes in very simple terms, I think: my family, my forest, my home, my cat, all safe and surrounding me; hearing the birds sing every day; feeling the softness of my cat’s fur against my cheek; smelling the February snow on the pine trees in our forest; stitching French knots in the sunroom as Tchaikovsky plays; wearing a linen dress and twirling in the wildflowers; making someone happy.
Perhaps not so simple after all, but dreams are always worth chasing after.
For more from Krista, find her at @the.owl.and.her.bluebell on Instagram.