Ephemera: A Magical Event
I've been feeling nostalgic lately for, well, the nostalgia of late summer! About a year ago I designed a magical event around that very theme, and I thought I'd write about it here since I didn't have this blog yet at the time!
What if you could distill a Collective Pacific Northwest late summer nostalgia into a few elixirs and artifacts to conjure up sweet memories of times long past? One last trip to the beach before the warm nights of summer give way to the chill of fall. One last time poking in tidepools, collecting shells. One last ice cream cone. One last day of blissful freedom. That’s the experience I shared with the guests at “Ephemera”. Guests found their way to this interactive event by participating in a city-wide treasure hunt to search for clues to a secret password to RSVP to this event. When they got there, they foraged the contents of a nostalgia ice cream sundae from a tidepool-inspired art installation. Volunteers served up ice cream with “elixirs of nostalgia." After the treats were consumed, guests distilled their own nostalgic memories further with some writing activities. They wrote snippets of their own youthful memories on translucent vellum, which was hung to create a collective installation, available to the public for viewing the next night. All of this was conducted through an artful ceremony. Together we shared a wonderful evening of storytelling, ice cream, and nostalgic memories.
The event started with some research: I wanted to come up with a few key flavors and symbols that represent late summer's nostalgia to a lot of people, so I put out a survey to my followers on social media asking them to list some of their favorites. I mapped these out in a sketch and looked for patterns. Some ones that stood out were ice cream, collecting rocks or shells, campfires, and freshly-cut grass. These gave me the inspiration to develop my event around them!
The next step were the invitations. Guests were selected by their willingness for playful adventure: they had to go on a city-wide treasure hunt to get clues to spell out a secret password to RSVP. I hid clues all over the city - up in trees, down by the river, tucked in amongst toys at a toy shop, and so on. It was so fun to hear the guests' recounting of the adventures they'd gone on to find their clues!
I created an interactive art installation in the local Ming Gallery, filled with handcrafted ceramic and glass art. I sculpted big clusters of glass and ceramic barnacles and displayed them on white pedestals. Then, as a finishing touch, my volunteers and I hid little treats like candies and nuts in the display for guests to later forage to top their sundaes.
Guests were eager to sample the homemade ice creams, with flavors like: "Making Wild Jam", a wild blackberry sorbet infused with pineapple weed (wild chamomile); "Orange Dreamsicles on the Beach," a vegan coconut and orange ice cream flavored with elderflower syrup; "Grandma's Garden," a ricotta-based ice cream flavored with honey, wheatgrass juice, and wild rose petals; "S'mores over the fire," a sweet ice cream made with the usual s'mores ingredients, plus hickory-smoked cream and pine nut whiskey; "An Evening in the Mountains," creamy custard ice cream spiked with fir tips and plenty of wild huckleberries; and finally "Smoothies by the Lake," cattail pollen and peach frozen yogurt made with goat kefir. (You can see more pictures of the individual flavors on my Facebook page.)
After the guests filled their bowls with fantastical ice cream flavors, they foraged their toppings out of the interactive installations. I loved seeing how playful they got with flavor combinations - everything from candied elderflowers to pecans!
After the guests enjoyed their ice cream, they were asked to write/draw/express their own nostalgic late summer memories to be incorporated into an art installation. I had set out crayons, pastels, and pencils along with vellum circles for them to write, draw, or color in.
The memories were then hung up to expand upon the existing art installation. I loved watching the wonder in guests' faces as they read the memories of others and recounted their own sweet childhood memories. There was a lot of laughter and play during this stage of the event!
I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to share such a wonder-filled evening with such a willing group of adventurers. I had tears in my eyes by the end of the night - both from laughing at the funny stories shared with me, and from joy at seeing a group of adults slip into child-like wonder. (The ice cream helped, I'm sure.) I'll feel nostalgic about those sweet memories for a long time.
A lot of love went into designing this event, from scrambling around the city hiding invitations to hand-crafting all of the cups, bowls, and spoons used for the event itself. (I still have some of the artwork left, like these gorgeous barnacle cups which you can find in my etsy store.) I have to say, though, that the weeks/months of work that went into it were absolutely worth it as I watched the light in my guests' faces as they, too, tasted the sweetness of nostalgia.
I've been too sick this summer to do another free surprise event like this one, but I'm hopeful that my chronic health condition will improve soon so I can get back to making and sharing magic like this - it's absolutely magical to be a part of these experiences, and I'm passionate about sharing that wonder with others. Huge thanks to my Patrons for making that possible! Their monthly contributions support me in my mission, whether it's writing blog posts, sharing recipes, or gifting these free surprise events to lucky strangers. Until another day comes when I'm healthy enough, I'll dream and plan and create. Like the waves on a beach on one of the last sweet days of summer, life ebbs and flows and you just have to let it flow.
Big thanks to Chelsea Santiago for being the photographer and Craig Crist for being the DJ for this event and to all the other volunteers for their help as well! Also huge thanks to MING Studios for hosting this magical evening! If you'd like to see more pictures, take a look at my event page or facebook page.