Ephemeral Faerie

Ms. Tisha, the Chocolate Angel, lovingly hand-made by Adrienne McDonald, bears a serene countenance upon her embroidered face; her raw wool hair, muslin skin, lace apron and cotton dress all stained with coffee, the artist’s favorite dyestuff. Even the gloss on the buttons festooning the quilted wings is tempered by a coffee dousing. On May 2, 29 days after Adrienne posted this image to her Etsy site with the headline, Art Angel, she became one.

Adrienne Annette McDonald, born in Atlanta on January 5, 1962 was raised in Washington, DC, where she began her arts journey in high school, studying fashion design at the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts. She attended college at the Art Institute of Chicago (majoring in textile design) where she along with fellow students launched Gallerie Garb.

Upon graduation she relocated to New York with dreams of creating clothing for entertainers. Those dreams were realized with work done for Maya Angelou, Bill Cosby, Judith Jamison and Prince. A 1990 Hanes advertisement shot by photographer Matthew Rolston features an iconic image of dance legend Jamison in Adrienne’s dramatic portrait-collar jacket.

When she began collaborating on theatrical productions, Adrienne would create miniature costumes rather than sketch out her ideas. The fanciful miniatures she dubbed “Urban Faeries,” soon were collected and exhibited as works of art. She continued to put her fashion design skills to work on a diminutive scale by launching a collection of entirely hand-made dolls which took on the Urban Faeries moniker.

Though she’d explored several arts mediums, including glass blowing, she truly found her creative voice making dolls. She delighted in the magical and she could share her wondrous sense of whimsy through the “lives” of her creations. She tagged each doll with a hand-written note bearing the name she’d given it and sometimes an artist’s statement such as, “Inspired by decadent, whimsical, downtown New Yorkers, Urban Faeries are created from found objects and discarded clothing. One often thinks of faeries in the woods but they also dance among the city streets.” Cowrie shells, rusted safety pins and bobbins, even light bulbs found their way into her work.

from the collection of Cassandra Williams-Rush

She found inspiration not only in New York, but wherever she went. She came full circle and returned to the Nation’s capital, where she lived in recent years until her passing. The faceless Urban Faeries evolved into RawShuga Primitives, dolls with Adrienne’s signature patchwork, coffee stains, burned edges and funky soul, but with simple faces, partly drawn, partly stitched that bridged her unique style with the simplistic folk dolls of those outsider artists who’ve gone before her.

Her collectors are legion and I am proud to be one of them. I treasure my five very different dolls; a gorgeous grey, sunset orange and spring green-dyed, crinkled silk shirt she gifted me with as well as a beautiful tea-dyed silk scarf with a hand-embroidered organza panel that allows a glimpse at the treasures Adrienne tucked inside: cowrie shells, beads, pieces of crystal and fragrant chunks of frankincense resin–a veritable mojo bag I’ll cherish always.

Adrienne’s eyes had an enchanted sparkle seldom seen in anyone past the age of five. The welcome page of her Etsy.com shop sums up the source of her enchantment. “Welcome to Rawshuga, where everything is made by hand…Creating magic is my goal. Rawshuga is my gift to the world and I feel blessed to share it.”

The Adrienne A. McDonald Memorial Fund has been established at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church. Donations can be mailed to 3601 Alabama Avenue SE Washington, DC 20020.


9 Responses

  1. Words cannot describe the sorrow I feel hearing about the loss of such a great artist as Adrienne A. McDonald. Her work is incredible… magical! I had the honor of knowing her over the years and collecting five of her beautiful dolls. I cherish them everyday with all of my heart and I know that a part of Adrienne’s amazing spirit lives within each and every Urban Faerie.

    With love and light,

    Evolyn Brooks

  2. Adrienne’s creations were indeed magical. I was always in awe of what she could do.

  3. Adrienne inspired us all beyond what our material minds can comprehend, her craft and genius is sublime. The faeries she created for many of us showed us that magic still exist in a world of jaded dreams and aspirations. And that pleasure can be found in the smallest bead posing as a metaphor to the salt of an an artist’s life. She reminded us that we have wings, even in the myst of our confusion and amnesia to our greatness. A rare being that push us to our limits in many ways, Adrienne is all the things we love and hate within ourselves. She like us a paradox of artistic genius pressed against a world that can can barely hold the heaviness of our earth seed. Let’s gather and give her parts back to the ancestors, so she might complete her journey back to the full knowing of the Bloodline.

    luf me Ra Heru mestu-f n shery chet

  4. Bless your Full Hearted, Magical Soul Adrienne… Maybe… if we all believe strong enough… One beautiful day, we could all Chant you back Adrienne,… just for a Little Spell.

    Luv, Miss You & Always on My Mind


  5. I stumbled across Adrienne at the Atlanta Arts Festival in ’02. I bought “Ophelia”. Adrienne’s art moved me and she was truly gifted.

  6. […] he’s collected a few Urban Faeries, works of dear friend and fellow doll artist, the late Adrienne McDonald, he particularly treasures this one.  “I received “Nisha” from Adrienne as a […]

  7. […] The good old days. The talented trio of Johnetta Hamilton, (now Boone) Fran and the late Adrienne McDonald. […]

  8. Gosh, I am so sad..! i searched her out today to look for an addition to my collection! I am the proud owner of Simone! She is so beautiful….When I first met Adrienne it was in Philadelphia at the Black Art Show…I must have walked away a couple times before deciding I just had to have Simone! I’m so glad i was able to purchase her and wish I could get a couple more! gosh! Such an amazing talent, gift Adrienne was blessed with!

    • Yes, she was. Thanks for commenting, Francine.

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