Many people say my art is completely original but it is not. I mean I developed a technique using technologies already created, I use common accepted design practices, and I am influenced by other artist. Case in point: Maurits Cornelis Escher. He used tessellation to create many of his designs, repeating shapes that totally fill a plane with no space left over. The visible feathers on a bird’s body does it too, appearing like overlapping diamond-shaped shingles.
Out of the Box, installations continued
Much of July I spent designing, cutting, gluing and arranging prepared feathers in the silhouettes of gulls for an installation commission. These installations are different than most of my previous work in that they not restrained by the protection of shadowboxes. They are larger and can be more free-form, adapted to their environment, the walls where they are installed.
I was thrilled to create the first three large installations of my feather carvings at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art this March. They are out of the box, literally. No shadowboxes, so the feathers and cutouts are pinned directly to the wall without any protection.
The stabilized feathers are tough but the pinned feathers and cutouts could be damaged by leaning against them so they needed to be placed away from traffic and high enough to be out of the way of exuberant dogs and cats and kids. They are cleaned of dust with a strong stream of air. The feathers deter pests from eating them as their backing and stabilization treatment does this.
These installations can be large and made to fit any space. It takes a lot of time to prepare and cut the feathers but the installation on-site goes fairly quickly. I will go anywhere in the world to create these.
When a bird flaps its wing downward, feathers push on the air to keep a bird aloft, right? Then what happens when the bird moves its wing back up? Wouldn’t feathers push the air going the other way forcing the bird down? It would except for several things happening at the same time with the wings and feathers. Here are some:
1. The wing twists upward on the up-beat
2. The big flight feathers on the wing tips angle up so they aren’t flat against one another but are open like a louvered window shade opened so you can see out
3. Each feather lets a little bit of air pass through; a little more on the leading edge letting more air than the trailing edge. This is part of what allows feathers to separate from each other on the upbeat and helps them stick together on the downbeat. (Air Transmissivity of Feathers, Muller and Patone, 1998)
Wealth is not the same as having money. Certainly we can trade money for stuff and experience but what for? What we really want to mean by wealth is that elusive creature called happiness. Besides having enough for basic needs and in addition to having satisfying relations, happiness is in part, the ability to let in awe and wonder. And wonder is an ability to step outside oneself, if just for a moment. Wonder is fostered through a reluctance to summarize; a hesitancy to put observations into boxes. It is feeling safe enough not to judge.
June 23rd is the reception for my show at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe. The title of the show is Ascension, a fitting theme for the qualities inspired by feathers and flight. Part of why I want to fly, to ascend is to go somewhere else. Another goal is to be content, not to go somewhere else, not to even have a goal. I find that some of my most contented moments are watching birds fly, especially the swallows around my house and barn. I watch for hours, feeling part of them, banking, swooping, and soaring. Like I am wrapped in these birds. Soaring like the essence of hope, yearning to get to the impossible to reach goal of hope, to continual perfect balance, to peace.
During my April artist residency in Costa Rice, I got to know more about hummingbirds by watching them every day. These were the first pieces I made when I returned to the USA. Here is one of them, very small which I made for the September Woodson Art Museum’s Birds in Art post card sale with proceeds supporting museum activities. This title rhymes but I want to name future pieces partially from the names of the hummingbirds which are delightful:
Sun Angel . Marvelous . Comet . Sparkling . Emerald . Sapphire . Wood Nymph . Coquette . Golden . Hillstar . Fairy . Coronet . Royal . Gem . Ruby . Woodstar . Jewel . Sungem . Amethyst . Brilliant
This is something I can do. Launch myself off a tall tree or a cliff or a tall buiding. That wonderful feeling of lightness and flying would last a small moment and not be worth it. Because when I spread my arms, I’d be disappointed, then either terrified or resigned. Not sure which and I don’t want to find out. I just want that feeling of catching air, lifting, and soaring off.
The patterns on this argus pheasant feather looked like little birds wanting to fly away. So I assisted.
For my current museum show on Bainbridge Island (a 30 minute ferry ride from Seattle, through May, 2017), I made this as a large wall installation. It reminded me of the fantastical flight of huge flocks of starlings in this video titled Murmuration.
My creative ideas are inspired by birds, feathers, other artists, and themes of flight. Another major source of inspiration is kinesthetic. I see the swallow swoop and soar and I can feel it in my body, as a dance, like a partially realized longing to fly.
This sense particularly developed during years of downhill skiing. What they call “unweighting” can be a subtle change that lets the skis turn, like a bird changing direction in flight. I loved the small airborne weightless moments too. I don’t take the time to ski much anymore, especially after realizing that I can have the same light flying feeling by freeform dancing to music that I like. I do it in my studio.
For the past three months I have been excitedly getting ready for the opening of my solo show at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. From Seattle, take the ferry to Bainbridge Island and walk to the museum. It’s free.
March 11th through June 4th. artist talk Sunday March 19 3:pm . meet the artist 1:pm March 25, May 7, and May 21.
The museum will display 46 pieces, some not yet seen in public and some from private collections. It is not a sales event although people can purchase some of the art from me directly during the show as long as they agree to loan the art to the museum through May.
I am especially excited for the three large installations. At 6 to 12 feet, they are installed on walls with no protective glass. I spent a good part of December cutting the many birds for this. Above is the result of my cutting efforts for one of the installations.
As children in North America we ate sandwiches made from white flour and added vitamins and minerals. It was called wonder bread which came in a white plastic bag designed with lots of red, yellow, and blue circles. Their advertising slogan read, “…helps build strong bodies 12 ways.”
We hunted for wonder bread in the grocery store. A hawk hunts mice in the field to build its strong bird body and feathers. The mice reconstitue into body and feathers. Is this what is meant by reincarnation? A mouse gets eaten and reappears as a feather? Does a mouse ponder its fate?
Life is harsh. We come into the world with one guarantee: that we will die. And creatures have to die so we can eat and live. More die for us to have things and go places. Feathers to me are a kind of gentleness amongst all this life and death. After the birds wear them, they gently let them go as they shed. And yet the feathers retain their structural complexity and beauty. I love that. At the same time, the cycle goes on. Each feather grows as a result of what the bird eats.
I am continuing to carve pieces of birds and what they eat. This series is of raptors—hawks and falcons. A cooper’s hawk hunts birds and a kestrel, a tiny falcon, hunts mice.
Consider that a bird’s house is its feathers. They provide all the creature needs for transportation, warmth, and shelter from rain. If we had feathers, we wouldn’t need our houses, fireplace, clothes, or cars. Our world would look a lot different because our needs would be a lot less.
Eyes--sight is important to birds, even more than it is to us. For one, birds often see color and distances better than we do. Everyone knows we don’t see as well as owls at night.
Colors are also important to birds as mate attractors. So it makes sense that nature has combined eyes and mate attracting colors into beautiful (even to us) feathers. The reflective tail feathers colors of a peacock and, as pictured here, a peacock pheasant are called eyes. As a woman or man makes eyes at us to attract, these birds do the same but with their tail feathers.
But it wasn't mate attraction that led to me making this piece. Seeing iridescent shiny eyes in the woods inspired me. I coasted down five miles of logging road at night. Several times, spooky green eyes stared back at me and then broke off amidst crashing in the brush. They were deer eyes, a close match to the color in these feathers. Then a pair of red eyes stared out. Stopping and on close inspection, it was a small owl sitting on a low branch.
When my daughter was four, she drew a picture that I fell in love with. It looked like a flying angel and reminded me of my yearnings to fly, both in my conscious thought and in my dreams. I liked the drawing so much that I recently created this stylized version in feathers. When I showed my now older daughter what I had made along with her drawing, she said, “Oh, there’s a story about that, it was about Mr. Poop Man!” I guess four-year-olds can get obsessed with this sort of thing. So instead of naming this piece “Dreams of Flight” or “Mr Poop Man”, I will settle for “A Feeling of Lightness”.
Did you know that the word “pen” is closely related to feathers? Penna is “feather” in latin. Since feathers were used to write, now we have pens and pencils.
Sharon Carter wrote a page about feather pens on the North Carolina Reenactment Society website. The author, in one paragraph, outlines the history of feather pens from the 6th to 18th centuries. Then she covers where to get quills, how to clean and harden them, and how to cut them so they work well. http://www.6nc.org/quill-pens-the-18th-century-way/
We filter much of how we see the world through our language, both spoken and written. Words paint a picture in our minds of, say, a feather or a bird. We may think we know a feather or a bird after reading about it. But the picture in our mind is not the thing itself. We don’t really know a thing only through reading. Nevertheless, we often confuse words with what is real. This piece attempts to portray a feather pen that is writing the word “plume” in feathers. Except when the little feathers form the word, it is upside-down. As the little cutout bird flies, it spews small feathers, also forming the word “plume” but right-side up.
Birds are what they eat. What birds eat while growing feathers contain isotopes, trackable portions of hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen which vary in predictable patterns around the world. Enter feather analysis.
Finding the chemical isotopes in a feather can tell approximately where a feather grew and what the bird ate.
This is a new way to learn more about birds because chemically analyzing feathers is easier than banding birds. Though scientists discover information about a bird’s exact location and time by banding, they have to catch a huge number of birds since only a very small portion of the bands are recovered. It is an inefficient process yielding only limited information: where and when the bird was recaptured.
Placing small electronic radio signal devices on birds can tell us more such as exactly where the bird travelled and, depending on the device, data like temperatures along the way. However, these devices are expensive, don’t work well on small birds as their batteries have to be lighter, don’t have much range, and soon expire.
Collecting fallen, shed feathers is much easier than capturing live birds and it is kind to the birds. The information gained from isotope analysis is not specific to an exact location but more generally associated with a region. Since feathers grow in a very short time, the isotopic content of a feather will reveal the bird’s diet when the feather grew, and therefore the area where the feather developed.
https://www.aba.org/birding/v36n2p142.pdf general information about feather isotope analysis from the American Birding Association
http://isomap.rcac.purdue.edu:8080/gridsphere/gridsphere This university site is a good place to begin if you want to delve into the technical aspects of how it works and think about using it as a tool.
http://sirfer.utah.edu/tour.html The University of Utah provides training in isotope analysis, lab analysis, and more information through their programs and websites.