The New Jersey Devil: left, as it's usually imagined, and right,(as visualized by Marisa DiPaolo and myself) in the Pine Barrens show. Marisa and I met at a Peters Valley residency many years ago. Marisa creates fantastic knitted art:
Even though she and her husband Mohamed and baby Marmelade were then living in Austria, I wondered if we could pull off an overseas collaboration. We did! We spoke once, in person, when she was visiting the states, then communicated online.
Here's a picture of the plan she drew (don't remember if she told me that the dog or the baby chewed it), with the feet and little Marmelade modeling one of the caps.
Marisa knitted up all sorts of wings and caps and other parts that I couldn't quite identify as body parts, and shipped them to me. I assembled them (with some added baby clothes) and sent her the image. She told me I had the tail backwards (right! three pronged). I reassembled, and it came together.
The legend of the NJ devil is based on a mother and her unfortunate child. The only actual fact is that Deborah Leeds & Japhet Leeds (from the Leeds Point section of what is now Atlantic County) named 12 children in their 1736 will. Here are some of the conjectures:
After 12 children, Mrs. Leeds said if she had one more child, "may it be a devil".
The child/devil was the result of a family curse.
Mrs. Leeds, a Quaker, refused to be converted. An angry clergyman said her next baby would be a child of Satan.
The child was born a monster. Mrs. Leeds cared for him until her death. He flew off into the swamps.
People in the 1700s still believed in witchcraft and many people of the period felt a deformed child was a child of the devil or that the deformity was a sign that the child had been cursed by God.
I sewed these legends onto the clothing, using the type of alphabet beads that hospitals (long ago) strung around infants wrists for identification.
Marisa and I are both mothers. You can't be a parent, working on a project like this, and not be stung by the cruelty in these legends.
And that's it for my story of the Pine Barrens! It's a wonderful place to visit, but please - don't go looking for the bizarre and the monstrous. And stick to the paved roads.