The patron fairy of Raleigh


by Liza Roberts

illustration by Vanessa Mercante Boyd

When Vanessa Mercante Boyd, a native of Marostica, Italy, moved to North Carolina in 1997, the trained artist was working in technology, writing code, and enjoying a flourishing, computer-tethered career.

“I thought technology was fantastic. I almost forgot about art,” she says. For years, Boyd worked for her father’s Italian software company as a web designer. She also did graphic design for projects created by her technologist husband Richard Boyd, whose company created virtual, 3D worlds that found their way into computer game technology, military flight simulators, and movies like Mission:Impossible and Fearless.

In 2005, as the hard-working couple packed for a sailboat trip in the British Virgin Islands, Boyd considered how she’d spend her time afloat. “I was concerned about being in the middle of the ocean for so many days with nothing to do. So I brought along a sketch pad, an ink pen, and a pencil. And the fairy just appeared.”

Boyd found that drawing the fairy freed her mind and busied her hands. Technology, she realized, had begun to feel “claustrophobic.” Also, “I needed an outlet, something that was different, and human.” Every day on the trip, Boyd added a new detail to her fairy, eventually creating a character that celebrated Venice, the city where she’d studied fine arts, 40 miles south of her hometown. “Venice is one of the most wonderful places, where your imagination is fired on a daily basis.”

It turned out that the Venetian fairy was just the beginning. Today, Boyd, 44, a mother of two young children, has a whole gaggle of fairies, several inspired by the place she now calls home: there are fairies for North Carolina, Bald Head Island, Chapel Hill, and our capital city, shown here. There are also fairies for love, ballet, cherries, travel, and engagements. Her Halloween fairy inspired a self-published hard-cover children’s book, Nereena, The Fairy Queen of Halloween, illustrated by Boyd and written by her husband. They’re planning another about North Carolina, with our state’s “Caroline” character as the star.

To accompany her whimsical creations, which have a certain fairy godmother quality, Boyd’s husband came up with a motto: “to embrace and protect.” The motto “made me think of what patrons do,” Boyd says. “In Italy, it is customary for cities and towns to have patron saints to protect them, and we have big festivals and celebrations to thank them for their patronage. You know Italians – any excuse is a good one to party and drink wine!”

And so, Boyd decided, her fairies were not run-of-the-mill sprites. To the artist, they became “patron fairies.” She creates custom “patron fairies” for individuals and groups, filled with symbols of particular lives and loves. Part of the fun is in finding all of the symbols, hidden in corners and tucked into folds. She also customizes existing fairies with an additional detail or two. Her prices range from $49 to $5,000. And while she loves to draw, she hasn’t completely turned her back on technology. At the moment, Boyd is helping to create an app to accompany her husband’s latest technological innovation at a company called SZL, which is creating an “a small army of artificial intelligence minions” to make navigating the web even easier than it is today.

In the meantime, her “own little world that I escape to” in fairyland is alive and well.