Brillo, a ten-foot-tall puppet snail, has been making its way around Albuquerque to visit families and children in quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic. Creator Ashleigh Abbott is an Albuquerque local that attends the University of New Mexico.
People can leave virtual “rainbows” to request a visit from Brillo. Currently, the snail is mainly visiting around the UNM area.
Diliana Ovtcharova, Abbott’s sister-in-law, is the author of “Brillo the Snail on the Rainbow Trail,” a short children’s story that explains the concept of the coronavirus in a way that children will understand and what Brillo does in response. Daniela Ovtcharov, Abbott’s mother-in-law, will illustrate the story in the future.
Abbott recounted her own daughter’s confusion and sadness when she couldn’t celebrate her fifth birthday with friends.
“Kids seem to be having a much harder time now than ever because things are so uncertain, and that’s not really something kids deal with very well,” Abbott said.
Abbott said she’s considering the idea of reaching out to local authors to create more stories that help children understand complicated but important topics, such as Black Lives Matter and racism.
“There seems to be a need for people to have more materials, especially to explain what’s going on right now,” Abbott said.
There are coloring pages available on the website, as well as a promise of future craft ideas.
Abbott said the idea for Brillo came during a UNM biodesign course with Professors Andrea Polli and Amy Piling. After spring break, Abbott abandoned her original project and started making the giant puppet.
“I was racking my brain about the necessity to make something that was topical, to make something that really fit the time,” Abbott said.
Polli and Piling continuously checked in on Abbott throughout the process of the snail’s creation.
Abbott debated what animal the puppet should be but decided on a snail because of the wonder in “the idea of making something so small into something really big.”
Brillo was made entirely at home within a month, with Abbott’s personal funds. Abbott approached the city for a grant but was turned down because the grant program was looking for premade projects.
Abbott’s husband, Vlado Ovtcharov, and their daughters both helped in the design and making of the puppet.
“I was mainly just emotional support,” he joked.
The puppet is attached to a bicycle to move around Albuquerque. Abbott said locals can reach out to ride the puppet to families themselves.
Abbott said she hopes to expand the distance for visits once technical issues with the bicycle are resolved.
“Once we get the snail fully functional and we can take it farther distances, I want it to be as democratic and available as possible,” Abbott said.
Abbott has been reaching out to schools and churches in the hopes of more community participation. Her goal is to spread the joy around the city as best as possible.
“We’re doing it as a gift for the community,” Abbott said.
The snail will be donated to an organization in the future that can further expand the use of Brillo in the Albuquerque community.
Megan Gleason is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fabflutist2716