2013. Egg tempera on panel. 31 7/8 x 25 1/8 in.
I discovered wood wives while reading a book on folklore of the forest. They’re mostly good-hearted souls who for some reason live in hollow trees, though they are only safe if the tree in which they secure themselves has a cross carved on it. Eating bread is their delight and the smell of a loaf or two baking in an outdoor oven is bound to bring them begging for a morsel. Payment is given in the unusual currency of wood chips, which most folks simply toss on the ground, too concerned with the intrinsic value of a gift to appreciate the gesture itself. Those who do value the recompense, wood chip or not, are soon rewarded when the chips turn into solid gold, which happens only if they’ve been retained. As with all Teutonic legends, blood and butchery are compulsory so enter the Huntsman, mortal enemy of the wood wives, who is often seen with a dead one slung over his horse, the way John Wayne hauled in the bad guys, though there’s something infinitely more disturbing about carrying dead women draped over your trusty steed than dead outlaws with tobacco spit running down their chins. Should you encounter a huntsman while strolling the forest, please be careful. While you should never wish to offend someone who can lob your head off without spilling their coffee, neither do you want to please him to excess, or you’ll find yourself possessing a wood wife carcass as a token of appreciation, ready for dressing and the stew. Even the most understanding spouse is bound to question the wood wife hanging from a hook in the barn, not to mention the authorities, whom we may assume do not know as much about wood wives and huntsmen as we do. After reading German legends and fairy tales, it’s not difficult to understand why children fed such tales of violence and cruelty would grow up to shove people in ovens without compunction.