Soft pastel and ink on Pastelmat
Custom Framed to 13 x 15.5 inches
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I have long been fascinated with the tales of Swan Maidens. The Swan Maiden is the most widespread “mixed marriage” type of folktale. It is also considered the most primitive, since the Otherworld woman’s native form isn’t human. Swan maiden stories are found all over Europe, as well as the Middle East, Russia, India, China, and Japan. There’s a parallel water buffalo woman story in Africa. According to one researcher, the motif is 30,000 – 40,000 years old, as shown by a bison-woman cave painting.
Swan maiden tales are very similar to stories of selkies. In swan maiden tales, a man sees a flock of swans glide to earth at night. Removing their swan robes, they change into beautiful women who bathe or dance together. Enamored of one in particular, the man takes her robe so she won’t fly away, and eventually persuades her to marry him. Later they have children. One day the swan-wife hears her children sing of where her husband has hidden the robe, or they tell their mother when they see her in tears. The swan maiden puts on her robe and flies away forever, leaving the children with their father.
These stories to me hint to the “wild” nature of the feminine. There is always this longing within to return to some life less controlled by society and Patriarchal rules. I think it is what leads many people, both women and men, to feel depressed and often like they are not following their life’s purpose somehow. This archetype is very strong in many women today. Recognizing it and honoring that need for that connection to the “wild” is very important.
This particular work I entitled the Swan Keeper and not the Swan Maiden though. The reason being that I was also influenced by the idea of the British royal Keeper of the Swans. There has been an official royal office of Keeper of the Swans since the mid 13th century. It’s intriguing to me how swans are held up as an almost royal bird. Swans are prevalent in almost all world myths, and are thought to be another bird that is a gatekeeper between our world and the spirit world, or Otherworld.
I wanted this work to feel like it was right out of a fairy tale. My Swan Keeper is in charge of the royal swans, and most likely the swans she keeps are Otherworldly Swan maidens. They call to her to join them, to leave her provincial dictated life behind, and to fly away to a life more free.