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T he first house Steve Rodgers built was for his wife, Jesse. It was made of wood and stone, with a little front porch and a roof of pine cone shingles. It stood about a foot tall—a fairy house, for Mother’s Day.

Today, Jesse’s “Fairy Godmother House” is one of about a dozen structures in Rodgers’s fairy village, on display alongside his elaborate miniature train winterscape at Bridgeport’s Beardsley Zoo through January 6, in the zoo’s outdoor, socially distanced Winter Wonderland Walk. Tickets to the zoo—$15, or $10 for children 3-11 and seniors over 62—must be purchased online in advance.

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Rodgers is best known locally not for his miniatures, however, but as the leader of the ’90s and ’00s band Mighty Purple and the founder and former owner of The Space concert venue complex. It can be hard at first to reconcile the foot-stomping, guitar-strumming Rodgers with the creator of the delicate, fanciful structures on display in Beardsley’s antique greenhouse. The contrast strikes Rodgers as funny, too. “The last thing I ever thought I’d say is, ‘I’m gonna go set up my fairy house village for Fairy and Princess Day at the zoo,’” he says, referring to his first gig at Beardsley back in July of 2019.

Still, a common thread of positivity runs through all of Rodgers’s projects. His 2019 album, Count It All Joy, takes its title from the Biblical book of James: “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” The album is replete with ethereal, uplifting lyrics like, “Hope is barely but a whisper / I can feel it desperate, tapping in my bones / pleading life into the darkness and calling me to come back home.” It’s not so hard to imagine such a scene on the gray, snow-speckled mountains that tower over the miniature railroad track.

Rodgers’s fairy houses are built mostly of elements found in nature. Walls of birchbark and cedar sport sea glass windows and round wooden doors with acorn hardware. Pinecone scales shingle the roofs, pebbles cover the chimneys, and tiny shells line paths and serve as birdbaths or boats. One structure is built from an abandoned hornet’s nest. On occasion, manmade objects make their way in, both as hidden structure and repurposed flair. Old wind chime bells, found buried in his home garden, edge a balcony in the home of the Bell Fairy, and the keyboard of a child’s piano is the focal point of the village. “This time in the world, we need to sort of imagine songs of joy and peace and hope,” Rodgers says, “and if little kids can imagine fairies doing that, maybe they’ll fall asleep thinking about those good things in a time where there’s a lot of turmoil.”

The fairies, a story at the entry says, find their recycled materials on the beach and in the forest. They also apparently found some in The Space complex of yore, which contributed tap handles for chimney structures, a cymbal for a roof and bells that once hung on the bar for cupolas. “I’m a collector. Right, Fable?” Rodgers calls out to his 17-year-old daughter, who’s helping him touch up the train scene. She confirms this fact. The only thing he’s purchased, he says, is moss, because he doesn’t want to take it from the natural environment. And lots of glue.

Building model trains was a childhood hobby for Rodgers, who started by covering one ping pong table and eventually “took over our entire basement when I was a kid,” he recalls. “My parents got divorced and I ended up really sinking into the miniature world. That was a world I could control, so I just got really into it.” Then, at the age of 12, he found guitars, and that “switched everything.”

Rodgers’s musical resume is well known. For 20 years, his “alt/rock/folk” band Mighty Purple toured the US and Europe. In the group’s later years, Rodgers also opened The Space on Treadwell Street in Hamden as an all-ages music venue, giving teenagers access to concerts they otherwise couldn’t attend. The Outer Space and The Ballroom at The Outer Space followed. All were “nationally recognized music venues and regular tour stops for bands of all shapes, sizes and genres,” as Rodgers’s website puts it.

In 2018, those businesses came to a bitter end amid financial and health concerns, and Rodgers found himself seeking a new direction. After years of working 70-hour weeks, he suddenly had time to spend at home with his family: Jesse, Fable and 11-year-old River. He retired to his Hamden back yard, where he and Jesse love to listen to the diversity of bird songs, and found therapy in the comforting childhood hobby of miniatures. “In the warm months I love to be outside, and this was a way to sort of incorporate getting really healthy… going hiking and collecting deadfall,” Rodgers says. “Then I’d come back and hang out with my friends in the back yard on a Sunday afternoon and pick pinecones apart to make shingles.”

He was just trying to find his way through to the next thing, but the pursuit took on a life of its own. Rodgers has since sold several fairy houses and set up displays at businesses, festivals and fairs. He’s also sold commercial layouts to the international expo Enchant Christmas. Now he’s offering four-hour classes for others who want to learn how to build miniature treasures of their own. Instruction gives people a head start, but Rodgers spent from 40 to 70 hours building each of the elaborate structures in the fairy village currently on display in Bridgeport. More commissions are in the works.

At the same time, Rodgers keeps making music. In the first four months of the pandemic, he says, “all I did was make music and write and write and write songs”—two albums’ worth. “They have a lot to do with what’s going on right now and how people can still come together, figure out community in the times of COVID.”

Rodgers isn’t the only artist at home. Jesse paints miniatures as well, Fable is currently restoring her own RV and River is starting to build models. There’s “no longer a living room,” Rodgers says. “It’s basically like a giant art studio.” Messy and chaotic as home—and life—can be, Rodgers encourages his kids and, indeed, himself to be who they are and to “count it all joy”—to see the positive opportunities that can open up when challenges arise.

Steve Rodgers
[email protected]
www.steveofficialmusic.com/visual-art

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1 and 3 feature Steve Rodgers.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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