Published December 06. 2013 4:00AM
Enter the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, turn right and behold a herd of unicorns, all aglitter and seemingly in mid-gallop. Step into the room and be surrounded by 20 of the shimmering creatures in a gallery glowing with an otherworldly light. Music plays softly, and the unicorns stand atop a pillowy whiteness that seems part snow drift and part cloud bank.
It's no mirage. It's the latest exhibition at Lyman Allyn.
This "Unicorn Stampede" is the creation of Camomile Hixon, an artist who works with glitter. She designed the pieces in her studio in Lyme, using hundreds of pounds of plastic glitter, but the inspiration began back in Manhattan.
Hixon, who divides her time between New York City and Lyme, was riding the subway around the time of an economic downturn and noticed businessmen heading to Wall Street who seemed none too happy.
"I thought, 'If I'm an artist, if I'm somebody who's supposed to help people or move people or reach people, you've got these businessmen obviously suffering ... How do I reach somebody like that?'" Hixon says. "It occurred to me: everybody has an opinion about unicorns, even if it's just to say they don't believe."
So, in 2010, Hixon put up 2,000 posters throughout the Big Apple about a missing unicorn ("Large female with friendly disposition," "Last seen entering Central Park at W. 72nd") with a phone number for people to call with sightings.
The project went viral, and people around the world began dialing in. Her website got millions of hits. The New Yorker featured a unicorn in the cartoon it runs that asks readers to come up with their own caption. One isssue of New York magazine included in its map a notation that a unicorn had been seen heading into Central Park.
Hixon realized she had hooked into something on a level she hadn't anticipated. She says she discovered that people love unicorns and that it opens them up and makes them "want to talk about beauty and kindness and acceptance, tolerance."
She then created the Unicorn Stampede as a response to that earlier Missing Unicorn project.
"The idea of people looking for one unicorn, I decided, was wrong. One is just too small," she says.
While the unicorn was always a singular figure in mythology, Hixon says, "I had this idea that if the power is exponential of the goodness of the unicorn in the world, then there can't be one. There needs to be a stampede to show that the possibilities for beautiful life on this plane is infinite."
The unicorns in the "Stampede" are all on cut-out, free-standing pieces of board. Hixon drew the horse image onto the board, adding shading for its features. She puts glue on in the shape of the muscles and then throws plastic glitter at it. She throws it rather than putting the board down on a flat surface because, with gravity, the glitter would build up too much.
While the Unicorn Stampede is set up in one gallery at the Lyman Allyn, another spot downstairs explores Hixon's "Missing Unicorn" project. A boombox plays voicemail messages that had been left from callers as far away as Ireland and Germany. Posters blanket walls, printed in languages from around the globe. Pictures that were sent to Hixon - unicorns photoshopped into various locations, for instance - are displayed, along with notes from people. Museum visitors can tuck into a glitter-covered phone booth to call into the unicorn line and leave their own recording.
Hixon has answered: why unicorns? The other obvious question is: how did she decide to use glitter as an art medium? Hixon - a Milford native who had previously studied filmmaking and music - began delving into drawing and painting and went to art fairs to see what other people were doing. She noticed that no one was using glitter.
"I thought to myself, 'This is something I could do.' If no one's doing it, I'm interested because why not have it be something that nobody's seen very much of?" she says.
She recalls walking past her first glitter painting and seeing that it "twinkled back at me. All of a sudden, I had a dialogue with the painting, where it changed. It changed moreso than other paintings I'd seen, just because of the material. ... In the evening, if there's no light, it's an entirely different painting than it is when it's lit or (when it's) just under regular daylight. The medium became so dynamic for me that I knew this was it."
She now has a stockpile of 10,000 pounds of glitter in her studio, all from a glitter factory in New Jersey.
Hixon used her stash to create glitter versions of stalagmites and stalactites for a recent environmental installation called "The Glitter Grotto" in her solo show at Tria Gallery in the Chelsea section of New York City.
Her other works have included pop-culture examinations of words and paintings of fireworks and flowers where, her website says, she seeks to "expand moments in time where ephemeral beauty becomes something more tangible."
Her Unicorn Stampede is making its debut at the Lyman Allyn. She hopes the exhibition will travel after this stint, perhaps to Tokyo, where she has shown her art.
Hixon says, "The art that I do is about trying to push people in the direction of great joy, of greater peace for themselves and for the world. It's not a small idea that I have, and I don't want to ever seem naive. But I feel if everyone does their part, we can get there, or get a lot closer sooner."