Photography by Steve Parke
Models: Emily Merrill and Nicola Uatuva
Hair and Makeup: Nikki Verdecchia of NV Salon Collective
Dresses: Edye Sanford Nicola’s Hair: Solid Justice
Design consultant: Tricia Saroya
Accessories: Scarves loaned by Joi Brozek and Jennifer Muck-Dietrich
We’ve long been fans of the magical illustrations of Arthur Rackham, especially those from the 1908 edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the faerie play (and faerie queen play) par excellence. Our cover shoot was based on two of these illustrations—Titania sleeping, which appeared on the frontispiece of the edition, and the dreamy, blurred illustration of “Fair Helena, who more engilds the night / Than all yon fiery oes and eyes of light” from later in the play. Helena might not technically be a faerie queen but was a love-struck Athenian who spent one extremely faerie-struck night in the moonlit dew-bedazzled enchanted forest with all the nodding violets and woodbine canopies, so we thought she was close enough. Plus she spends the night tending two fae-struck suitors, and what could be more glamorous?
We attempted to re-create that silvery, dreamy vibe in the Baltimore woods, with a bit of help from some pale blooms, both real and less than real, as well as our two gorgeous models in diaphanous long gowns perfect for woodland frolicking. We loved the idea of two queens, side by side, reveling in the forest and (possibly) protecting each other from faerie kings, their puckish servants, and maybe an ass or two.
As it happens, both of these queens make strong protectresses. Model Nicola Uatuva has a background in coordinating youth health education and culinary nutrition programs in Baltimore as well as organizing lifestyle workshops and Black wellness-focused initiatives, with a strong emphasis on the magic of food—growing it, cooking it, being nourished by it. When asked what magical dish she especially loves, one fit for a faerie queen, she mentions the West African and Brazilian staple of akara made from black-eyed peas fried in palm oil. It’s a beautiful dish, she says, one that’s powerful with cultural and historical significance. It’s also a ritual food used as an offering in Afro-Brazilian spiritual practices. This is what she thinks a faerie queen might eat.
Model Emily Merrill has trained as an herbalist and has loved plants and their magic since she was a child visiting her grandparents’ West Virginia farm. How amazing, she says, that little seeds can grow to tall sunflowers. That plants can communicate with each other, send signals to each other in a language we can’t understand, and that we can so easily grow our own magical, nourishing food. She associates faerie queens with orchids, she says, a feminine plant that shows off beauty, love, and fertility.
Who would have thought that Baltimore was full of faerie queens, in love with the alchemy of plants, who can find each other in the enchanted wood?