a somewhat long (but rather interesting) story in which an unusual friend commissions me to make an unusual wedding gift for an unusual couple

I’m not quite sure how to begin this story.  I guess I’ll begin by telling you that I have a friend named Jenna.

That's Jenna Bean Veatch, right in the middle.

She is a bit unusual.

Jenna is a brilliant dancer and choreographer and person.

We met over ten years ago, studying abroad in Senegal.  Our host families lived a couple of blocks apart from each other (HLM 6 pride!), so Jenna and I rode the bright and unsteady car rapide together across the city of Dakar, where everything glows with a beautiful coating of dust.

And during our months in Senegal, we were paired together and sent to stay for a week in a village called Coura Mouride.  It can only be reached by people who know how to get there, by driving many miles through the dry, scrubby landscape–literally, driving through it; there’s no road. The driver has to recognize the landmarks to turn the right direction: a certain termite mound, maybe, or patch of scrubby bushes. (You could probably have guessed that we didn’t drive ourselves.)

While there, we were fully humbled: because of our inability to communicate in Wolof; because we had to get comfortable with unfamiliar things, like going to the bathroom in the wide-open outside, in a hole in the ground, privacy provided only by patches of squash plants (actually a wonderful experience);  and not least because of the generosity of our hosts.  We were treated kindly (which we repaid by complying when ordered to perform Senegalese dances for the entertainment of the villagers, who found our attempts riotous).  We were fed well:  boiled eggs, fish stew, rice.  We were taught, upon our request, to “wugg” (which means, in Wolof, “to draw water from the well.”  It does not mean “to milk a cow,” though that is what we thought we were asking to learn to do.)   We entertained ourselves by writing songs about our lost loves.

When we got back to the U.S., we stayed friends.  Though we have never again lived in the same state, we’ve managed to see each other with some frequency, at first travelling by bus between New York and Virginia to visit each other, and now by car between Seattle and Santa Cruz.

We also now have some mutual friends.   One of those friends, Maria Sonevytsky, and her fellow, Franz Nicolay, decided to get hitched not so long ago, and Jenna commissioned me to make a wedding gift for them.  We mulled over the possibilities: matching octopus brooches?  a decorative box?

To understand the gift we ultimately decided on, you have to know a bit about Maria and Franz.  I’m not sure I can really sum them up other than to say that they are both musicians of an unusual sort, and to show you a couple of pictures of them:

That's Maria, on the left.

This is Franz Nicolay.

I guess I would say that they are both interested in what one of my college professors called “the patina of time”–the glow of the past.  Franz waxes his mustache.  Maria sometimes performs in an old-fashioned bathing suit and swim cap.  These things fit with the music they make.

So, after a couple of months of mulling and stalling and mulling, I proposed to make a diorama and Jenna was excited about the prospect.  I sketched and researched and experimented and made prototypes and went back and forth to the hardware store about 78 times.  I enlisted the help of friends and family.   I stayed up until 4 am every night for a week and took over the kitchen table when my workbench got overloaded.  I sewed and sawed and sanded and went to the hardware store and drew and glued and sanded and went to the hardware store and made parts and took them apart and fell into despair and sanded and felt the heavens smiling on me and went to the hardware store.

In the end, here’s what I made:

The wedding gift.

I love dioramas.  Ever since second grade, when we were assigned to make one depicting a dinosaur of our choice using modelling clay, they have made my heart flutter.  I am not quite sure what gives them their power–maybe it’s their depth and detail, that a diorama is a small box containing a fantasy world, and you can hold all of that imagining in your hands.

This diorama is about five inches tall. Maria and Franz and a seahorse play their instruments on the ocean floor. (But somehow they’re also on a tiny wooden stage, flanked by tiny red satin curtains.  That’s the magic of dioramas.)


By the way, I didn't have my fancy camera yet when I took these. Nor did I have a clue about how to photograph my work. How I would love to retake these pictures with my Canon T2i!

It took about a hundred hours to make.  (Literally.)  The figures are etched (in sterling silver), as is their underwater environment (in copper).  I used a combination of photoshopping and drawing to get Maria and Franz into their old fashioned bathing suits.  Their faces and instruments are etched directly from photos, so they’re true-to-life.  The underwater scene is my modification of an actual Victorian woodblock print.

The figures move back and forth in the scene when you slide the little pearl knobs on top.  I had planned to make the curtains open and close, but they are so small that they don’t have any weight to give them a nice drape, so I had to put wires into the top and bottom seams and bend them into the appropriate shape.  Otherwise, they would have had no decorum.  They would have looked like Barbie skirts.

Since I don’t really know how to sew, my friend Christine helped me with the curtains (among other things).  She stayed up into the wee hours with me a couple of nights in a row, for which I am forever grateful.  I’m a last minute person, even when it comes to hundred hour jobs.  But I always get them done…I shipped this diorama to New York overnight two days before the wedding.  Jenna picked it up in Brooklyn, the day before the wedding, and presented it to Maria and Franz at the appropriate moment on the wedding day.


Here it is, just before I shipped it.

Jenna requested a plaque on the back.  It says:

Made with LOVE for Maria and Franz by Ingrid Moody.  Comissioned with LOVE by Jenna Bean.

Yes.  Indeed.


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