Monday, December 17, 2012

hummingbird feather
hummingbird feather

On Sunday I participated in the Audubon Society’s annualWinter Bird Count.  Each participating city has a five- mile radius circle where people divide up and count as many kinds of birds as they can. Being almost the darkest day of the year, at least in the northern hemisphere, it was cold, windy, and rainy.  I thought the birds would, like me, want to get to a warm cozy place. But then I looked closely and saw that their feathers were sheltering them. The curved body feathers were fluffed up. They were shedding the rain, and keeping the wind out. So elegant and cozy. When I went home, I took off my cumbersome and relatively ineffective clothes--my outdoor feathers. I sat under the roof inside my house by a warm fire--my indoor feathers. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

For December, my work will be at Zeitgeist and Row House in Seattle. 

Row House is a cafe/restaurant on Republican by the Amazon Headquarters offices. It is a nice and funky atmosphere and despite the low lighting in places, my work displays nicely there.  We hung 25 pieces December first.  They will be on display until at least the middle of January.  A reception is planned for early January--more about this later once the date is nailed down.

Zeitgeist is in the gallery district downtown Seattle in Pioneer Square on Jackson Street.  The artist reception at 6: pm on December 6th coincides with the first Thursday Seattle Arts Walk.  Work will be hung December 5th, up to 20 pieces.  This show will go until January 2nd.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself -- life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose? --Willa Cather from Song of the Lark (1915).

This was read to us this September by Robert Bateman after the Birds in Art museum show in Wisconsin.

..."the shining, elusive element which is life itself..."  Cather says it best.  It is often what I want to capture in my work.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I prefer to use molted feathers that a bird sheds.  It’s kind of like recycling.  Nevertheless, sometimes people give me their pet bird that died.  Often, an owner who treasured their bird wants to see the feathers put to use when the bird dies – as sort of an  honor the bird. So I have learned to pluck and do a bit of taxidermy-type work.  It was distasteful at first, but now I see it as just part of life.  So here are the wings of four parakeets.  They curve in a beautiful angelic way, smaller than the palm of my hand.   

Monday, October 22, 2012

Painting on feathers

I strive in my art to honor feathers and the birds they came from.  Some talented people paint on them but it is not something I am drawn to do. That said, I came across a man’s work that impressed me.  Super Regalia.  He paints mostly to imitate feathers that are otherwise illegal to have—like hawks and eagles; or painted to look like rare and hard to find feathers like the tails of Red-tail Black Cockatoos.  These feathers caught my eye because it is hard to tell them apart from the real thing. He sells them and uses them in Native regalia—fans, bustles, and such.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Feath, Feather, Feathest

I saw a cartoon in the New Yorker with three different pictures of Jupiter with a caption under each, “Jupit”, “Jupiter”, “Jupitest”.  Which got me to thinking about a piece entitled “Feath, Feather, Feathest”.   Once in a while an aviary bird dies in mid-molt, when its feathers are still growing and the owner gives me the dead bird.  This just happened with a Scarlet Macaw.  Its full grown feather would have been 20 inches or so long.  But this partly grown feath is just 7 inches.  When I take a full grown tail and cut some flying macaws out, it will become feathest.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Olympia Fall Arts Walk
October fifth, 5:- 10:pm  October sixth, 12 noon to 5:pm

chris maynard, feather art - peacockYoga Loft is a large, beautifully sparse space.  I am excited to show about feather shadowboxes there, more than I have ever hung at once. They go up Sunday night, October 1st.  Prints of my work will also be available for purchase.  See you there!

219 Legion Way--Near Capital Lake

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Birds in Art show in Wausau Wisconsin was spectacular, go if you can.  That town treats artists well and attracts talented and devoted artists who paint, sculpt, and in other ways visually honor birds. As you might imagine, people were interested in my work because they had never seen feathers used in the way I do.  I in turn, met many excellent artists and have new ideas for pieces that I can’t wait to begin. Robert Bateman is a Canadian artist who paints the natural world. He is starting an environmental education center in Victoria B.C. with a gallery that I hope to exhibit in one day—if I can successfully negotiate the legalities of importing and exporting the feathers contained in my works. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

I just returned from a week long artist business boot-camp in Port Townsend.  The program is called ‘EDGE Professional Development’ sponsored by Washington Artist’s Trust.  Fifteen of us were selected from around the state but only three of us were men.  I felt right at home having been far outnumbered by a lot of sisters. One benefit of this boot camp is to have the opportunity to collaborate on joint shows with some of these artists as well as work together creating artworks with feathers and other mediums.  For instance, Kara McGhee paints realistic birds sometimes using interesting lighting effects so a joint show makes sense.  Laurie Fronek 'draws' in 3-d wire sculpture and there may be an opportunity to collaborate on a 'wire-feather' piece.

Artist Trust offers support to artists in many ways: grants, professional development, opportunities like shows, connection with other artists, and fellowships and grants.  And not just visual artists like me but writers and performing artists.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Swallows in Flight #1

I love watching the barn swallows fly and will be sad when they leave in September.  I made this piece in their honor.  They make their home in my barn and I get to watch their young grow up although a local Merlin falcon has been having its way with a few.  The feathers in this piece are from the wing of a Lilac Breasted Roller.

The strikingly colored Lilac Breasted Rollers live in Sub-Sahara Africa.  Their form is close to barn swallows in silhouette—with the forked tail.   I started out drawing silhouettes of the Lilac Breasted Rollers in flight but ended up with swallow shapes since I am closer to these birds.  In the piece, I wanted to highlight the blues of the sky from where the swallows swoop, eat, socialize, catch airborne feathers for their nests, mate, drink from my sprinkler, and frolic.   The small size of the feathers and hence the cutouts was a challenge.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Birds in Art

A piece of mine was accepted in the 2012 Birds in Art show, put on by the Leigh Yawley Woodson Art Museum in Wisconsin.  Each year they put out a nice full color catalog with accepted artists’ works from all over the world.  An Olympia artist, Judy Smith gave me several of the previous year’s catalogs  where I gleaned several ideas for new pieces, one of which I pursued.  One piece that gave me the idea for a new piece was a sculpture by John Richen titled Symphonic Flight. It is bronze and stainless steel and sort of looks like two feathers but one looks more like a bird in flight with some wind added.  It set me to thinking.  Just the shape of a flight feather suggests movement.  Since I strive to honor the qualities of the feathers I work with, I used a pair of matching flight feathers set as dual images and kept one uncut, whole.  The other I subtracted bits and pieces and ended up with the feathers shape but with a lot of connected bird shapes in flight. This may be the beginning of a series.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Many Eagle Feathers

eagle flight feathers

In just one mile on a remote Washington beach laid all these and more eagle feathers.  They were sitting on the sand and mixed in the drift at the high tide mark.  After being arranged in a circle, the tide redistributed them up and down the beach where they now lie.

Curiously, almost all of these feathers were from the tips of the wings, the primaries.  These birds more or less shed only two matching feathers at a time, one from each side.  Most small birds start their molt in the middle of the wing and proceed outward over a few months until growth is complete.  Larger birds like the eagle may take several years since it is harder for them to fly with even one feather shed from each wing.  I wonder where all these feathers came from since I only saw about half a dozen eagles all day.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Warm Feathers

Growing Goose Feathers are warm

My geese are molting their feathers.  Unlike most birds, geese and other kinds of waterfowl shed their feathers all at once.  So now, the goose feathers are strewn all around my field. Sometimes my geese get out which is where they were when I got home this afternoon. As I herded them back into the field, I caught one to see how its feathers were growing back in.  When I grabbed the bird, it felt warm as they always do since their temperature is 6 or 7 degrees warmer than ours.  What surprised me was that the growing feathers were just as warm.  

I had never felt warm feathers.  But it isn’t really so surprising when you know that the growing feathers are heavily supplied by blood.  So much that if I cut the bigger goose feathers off at the shaft, the bird could bleed to death.  So this is a time of their lives that try to treat themselves more gently until the feathers are fully grown.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Feathers for the Swallows

dead swallow and goose feather
Violet-green swallow on a big feather that he may have carried up to feather his nest if he hadn't crashed into a window.

A huge bag of goose feathers stands by my front door for the swallows.  They use them to line their nests.  When the swallows arrive in spring migration, they begin to build the nests and are on the lookout for materials.  In May and June, if it isn’t raining, I grab a handful of goose feathers from the bag every time I go outside.  Feathers scattered on the ground attracts barn, violet green, and tree swallows.  But they prefer to catch floating airborne feathers rather than swooping down face-first to grab them off the earth.  So I blow feathers from a ten-foot plastic pipe into the air for the birds to snap up.  The birds soon learn what I am up to when I pick up the pipe: they fly around and around, waiting for a feather to come out.  I notice that from the beginning to the end of the season, their feather catching skills improve.  They learn to grab them by the fluff at the front of the shaft and fly with them curved underneath their bodies.  So I give them bigger and bigger feathers, even larger than the ridiculously large size of the feather pictured under this poor bird that crashed into a friend’s window.    

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why Feathers Are Curved Part 2


argus pheasant feathers
Great Argus Pheasant wing tip feathers
A mix of side-to-side and front to back curve feather curve lets each kind of bird fly in their own special way. 

How a feather shaft is shaped depends on what type of flight is important:
·         quick but short bursts of flight like seen in pheasants and a lot of songbirds. The first primary flight feathers of these birds are super-curved from side to side but not so much front to back.  This makes for a quick lift-off.  Think of a forest grouse that explodes off the ground, usually scaring the bejeezus out of anyone close by. 
·         soaring flight like vultures and eagles. The main flight feathers have some front to back curve or camber.  My sister showed me a huge Wood Stork primary feather from Tanzania that had so much front to back arc camber that five of them would make a full circle. 
·         Fast flyers like swallows, ducks, and falcons or gliders like seagulls.  Their feathers usually have less curve both side to side and front to back. 

Other aspects of wing flight feathers like their shapes let them do what they do in flight.  Which is a good subject for an upcoming series of blog articles: shapes of feathers.
There is way more to flight feather curves than what I have outlined here.  A good source to start with is the 2010 book, Bird Feathers: AGuide to North American Species by David Scott. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why Feathers are Curved. Part one.

floating goose body feather

Why the shaft of feathers are curved. Part one. 

Most feathers have some curve to their shafts.  One of the reasons is for warmth.  A front to back bend on a body feather serves to control a bird's temperature. 

Feather curves are the main reason I use shadowboxes rather than trying to make the feathers lie flat.  I want to honor their natural shapes.

The most consistently and intensely curved feathers I know of are the body feathers from waterfowl.  Many of the body feathers on a swan are so inwardly curved that it takes only two to make a complete circle.  On most birds, the curve allows a larger air space between the body and the elements.  It’s like the wider the insulation is in your house or the thicker the layers of your clothing is, the warmer you are.  A neat thing about birds though is they can control how thick the air layer is.  Through muscle-feather control they can flatten the flexible shafts, pushing them next to their body.  Or they can fluff themselves by letting their feathers naturally curl to their max like you see songbirds do on a cold winter day.  I wish I could do that with my clothes.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Swans and their Feathers

Mute Swan Feather Assemblage Cutouts Art
Swan Feather cutouts  --mute swan
Someone actually counted every feather on a swan and came to the conclusion that they have more feathers than any other bird on earth.  I’m not sure that is true although it is the generally accepted or at least most widely quoted figure:  24,000.  Take the numerous outer feathers away on a bird like this and you have essentially a  long underwear-like layer of soft down feathers.

Everyone knows a swan is all white.  The all-white swan is beautiful and often triggers notions of the meaning of white, like purity and angels.  But white feathers are weaker and less durable than black ones.  Why? It has to do with the protein melanin, the same stuff that makes light-skinned people tan and gives some people freckles.  Melanin in feathers strengthens them against wear and also makes them black or reddish brown.  Many large birds need their primary flight feathers to last a long time.  A lot of mostly-white birds have black feathers where they need the strength and durability—in the flight feathers. White pelicans, snow geese,, white stork, wood stork, and many seagulls are mostly white except for their primary flight feathers.   

So then why is the Black Swan from Australia is all black except the tips of the wings white?  I don’t know for sure but assume that it’s because swans just keep their wings folded in when they feed, so except for flying, they don’t have to worry as much as other birds about wear and tear on their wing feathers.

I have been working a little with Martha Jordan of the Trumpeter Swan Society whose work includes rehabilitating, protecting, and reintroducing Tundra Swans.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chinese Ring-Neck, Mikado, Copper, Elliots, Reeves

55 Kinds of Pheasants and their feathers

The world has fifty five species of pheasants, almost all from Asia.  One of the great things about these large birds is that the male of each species grows at least four different interesting types of feathers.   And half of the males and females grow totally differently colored and patterned feathers.  Let me see, that’s over 300 interesting different kinds of feathers to work with! 

Here are two more reasons why feathers from these birds are great.  First, the males use feather size, pattern, form, shape, and color to attract their mates.  Second, pheasants are large, so their feathers are big and showy.  Here are a few:

·         Long-tail pheasants have long tails – like the ringneck pheasants people hunt and also pure black and white stripes tails from Mikados that live only in Taiwan, and a Copper that live only in Japan.
·         Peacock pheasants are perhaps an ancestor of the peacock but a lot smaller and with  bright round eyes on their tails
·         Tragopans have little round spots all over, some are a bright red with round white spots and one is black with round white spots.
·         Junglefowl are the ancestors of chickens
·         Three species of peacocks, the Java Green, the India, and the Congo which looks a lot different and is the only pheasant originating outside Asia.  It is from Africa.

I had a male Impeyan Pheasant, a stocky species that lives high in the Himalayas.  It escaped my cage one day and flew into a neighbor’s grass hay field 1/3 mile away.  A normally colored bird would disappear, blending in with the deep grass and I never would have found it.  But the Impeyan’s brilliant metallic feathers showed like a beacon.  I imagine that this bird’s metallic and reflective feathers led to the demise of many of its kind.  So its advantages of attracting mates must outweigh this major disadvantage. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Most Beautiful Bird on Earth

Number patterns 0-9 found on Argus Pheasant feathers
It’s not the color; it’s the patterns on the feathers that make this peacock-sized bird so awesome.   How can a bird that grows only black, white and brown feathers be so attractive?  It’s because the patterns vary so much.  The bird sports eyes on some of its wing feathers that look exactly like the eye spots on some moths.  And there’s not only one or two eyes on each feather but 10 or more!  At 30 inches long, these impress me as the most wondrous feathers on earth.  The female wing feathers show reticulated markings like Arabic writing.  The male’s five-foot black and white spotted tail feathers, of which the bird grows only two, twist curiously into spirals at the tips.  Even the feathers under the tail differ in unique patterns and sizes.  The longest 13-inch top ones grow downy filaments half-way up the shaft and then turn into yellow-brown top feather with large black spots.  Then under the tail and with the same markings as the tail, are feathers that look like Ping-Pong paddles cut in half but grow up to 18 inches long. 

When I was in my early 20s, I worked on a family friend’s grape vineyard during Spring Breaks.  They kept a few large  Argus wing feathers displayed in a jar on their counter.  I think I can trace an increase in my obsession with feathers back to those.  Now, a good portion of my work with feathers is with the Great Argus Pheasant.  I’ve made an alphabet just from the patterns in the different feathers of the Argus pheasant.  Actually, there were so many patterns I discovered, that I had to decide between at least three choices of each letter for which one to include in the alphabet poster.  Here is a two-minute Argus Pheasant video (on ARKive) so you can get to know the bird

OK, I admit, peacocks are equally beautiful in a different way.  But they much more common and therefore can sometimes seem a bit, well, too common for use in artwork, though I do and I love them. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Keeping Feathers and the Law

It surprises most people when they find out that it is illegal to pick up or have even a Jay feather. Why? The main law in the USA is the Migratory Bird Act.  The Act  doesn’t make a difference between picking up a molted feather and shooting a bird for its feathers. The Act is a broad brush tool , easier to enforce when someone is found with a feather rather than having to prove they killed a bird. It is not easy or possible to tell the difference between a feather from a road-killed bird from one that was shot or trapped.  However, a molted feather should now days be easy to distinguish from a plucked feather by looking at it under a microscope.   I think it would be nice if there was an exception for molted feathers from songbirds – but not to sell them. 

So, having any feather from almost every bird in North America is illegal.  Crows, pigeons, starlings and game birds being the exceptions.   That's why I started out my feather obsession just photographing feathers.  That way I didn’t need to have them.  Since now I work more directly with feathers in shadowboxes, I just make sure that the feathers I get are either not from birds native to the USA or are from the few kinds in my country that I can use.  Fortunately for me, some of the most beautifully feathered birds are not migratory and are kept in private aviaries and zoos and these birds naturally shed their feathers each year.   I even raise a couple pairs of my own: Impeyan Pheasants, native to Nepal and Black Francolins, native to Pakistan.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The creative process: On to completion

Each of my pieces, after conception, goes through a careful series of six steps before it is completed:    
1.       Obtain feathers. Which can takes years.  I like molted feathers rather than from aviary birds that have died.  I am fortunate to have a dedicated group of people who take the time to pick the feathers up and send them to me. Some feathers are harder to come by than others.  Also I have to pay close attention to the laws about which feathers are legal to have and to sell in artwork.
2.       Select feathers. By far the most time-consuming part. Damaged plumes are not usable and often, the majority of feathers I get are in some way damaged.  Each bird’s say 10,000 feathers are of all different sizes and colors and I need the exact right size, pattern, and color.
3.       Prepare the feathers.  The feathers in good shape get washed and sanitized.  Each feather gets preened, kind of like the bird does it to make sure the barbs are all interlocking.  Most body feathers have a little plume called an aftershaft which I usually, but not always remove.  Shafts may need a little cleaning.  The cutout feathers are backed with an archival paper; then I cut out the shapes with a small surgical knife blade.  I find the much used exacto-knife blades unsuitable.  
4.       Design the layout. This happens throughout the process but it helps to have the feathers ready in hand to get a feel for the dimensions.  Not all concepts fit the most common dimensions I use 11x14” and 16x20”so I create larger custom sizes.  I am pretty much a stickler for being exact, following well-proven design space relationships in my arrangements.  I mark the places on the piece exactly where each feathers will lay.
5.       Make the background. Involves selecting and mounting the right paper or color wash.  Often white is perfect for highlighting the feathers.  If not, it is a a matter of what color, texture, and pattern brings out the qualities I am trying to emphasize in the feather.  It has to be subtle not to overpower the feathers.  Virginia Sarsfield, papermaker in Maine will make feather-paper if I send her some feathers.  A family business in India, Under the Sun, has a small selection of papers that I like.  I even used wasp nest this year to make my own paper but the wasps really did most of the work..
6.       Mount the feathers. This is the second most time-consuming part.  I abhor laying naturally curving feathers flat on a board.  Their form must be arranged to rise from the background in a natural curl.  I mark the exact place where each feather gets placed.  Cutouts are glued onto tiny pins, inserted and glued onto the background; feathers inserted shaft-first into the background; or whole or partial feathers glued or pinned according to what is needed.

Finished shadowbox pieces are much sturdier than they look although they need protection from bumps with a good frame.   

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Artist creative process: Conception and inspiration.

Gang Gang Cockatoo Crest Feather
 Inspiration comes for me, from at least fivesources:
1.       Out-of-the-blue
2.       From feathers
3.       From birds
4.       Concepts and meaning
5.       From other people.

I can sit down with a pen and paper and roughly sketch out ideas from out of the blue for at least ten pieces in an hour.  Notebooks full of new ideas sit on my bookcase.  Maybe half of the ideas have potential and one comes to fruition.  This low ratio is because there is only so much time, some ideas are just unworkable, and some need more development.  Well, all need more development and the final piece may end up quite different from the original idea.

But if I sit down with a pen and paper with feathers in hand, ideas come much faster and they are better.  The curve of a shaft as well as the shape and size are primary factors in the designing.  The Capercaillie, the largest of the world’s grouse that lives from Siberia to Scotland, has large flank feathers that half twist down the shaft in a lovely sort of way.  Playing with two matching feathers, I noticed that they fit together like the two halves of a tennis ball: they made sort of a sphere.

What birds do and how they look also assist me. The way a male golden pheasants bright orange triangular neck cape coils forward when it displays is sort of a golden spiral.  Woodpeckers  peck.  Pigeons sit on wires.   

Concepts and meaning.  Take crows for example.  They are loud, live amongst us and we know them…sort of; they are social, and fly.  These things can communicate strong meaning.  Their black feathers lend themselves to stark expression.

Inspiration from other people.   Since ideas and inventions are built on older ones, I draw inspiration from others' work--like M.C.Escher’s themes for instance.  When I wanted to express the general idea of change and transformation which he seemed captivated with, the kind of feather I found didn’t matter too much.  So the one I used, from a Demoiselle Crane, ended up informing the size and background of the finished piece.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Destroy a Feather

If you are a bird, your feathers are only alive and supplied by blood when they are growing.  Once fully formed, the feathers are clinically dead and the process of decay begins.  Fortunately feathers are mostly pretty tough. 

One type of feather function is meant for decay: powder-down. This tiny type of down feather is always converting the tips into fine powder.  The purpose of these feathers are to be spread when a bird preens where the powder soaks up grime and waterproofs.  Kind of like what some of the conditioning products do that we put in our hair.

Otherwise, only when the feather cells die are they ready to perform the function of flight, warmth, protection,, waterproofing, and display. 

Feathers begin wearing down immediately after they are grown.   As this process goes on, it can change the bird’s appearance. Male goldfinches for instance, look quite different at the beginning of the breeding season and the end simply because the colorful tips of the feathers have worn down.

Birds try to slow down the process of decay so they can look good and function well.  They preen to arrange their feathers to keep warm and fly well.  They take dust baths to slow down feather-eating mites.

When feathers are shed, they keep their structure for a little while at least, until they decompose, are eaten by bugs, and become dirt.  

How do birds throw out their old feathers?  On schedule. Except for a few birds, they don’t shed all at once or they couldn’t fly or keep warm.  They shed once or twice a year in a pattern to let new feathers grow in.  More about this later in another post.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How to Make a Feather

Since most birds shed and regrow feathers year to year, it is helpful to know how to make them.

Both feathers and hair are made with the same thing: a protein called keratin.  To make a hair, you more or less start by just stacking one protein on top of another.  It all happens in a follicle embedded in the skin

To make a feather, the process is more complex.  Follow the process Thor Hanson describes in his recent book Feathers:

“Imagine people in a crowded sports arena doing “the wave.” As it passes, each individual stands up and raises his or her hands at precisely the right moment to keep the wave moving fluidly around the stadium.  Cells at the follicle collar behave the same way, but instead of standing and waving, they add keratin to the growing feather barb.  It’s called helicle growth because it progresses like a spiral (or half spiral) around the rim of the follicle.”
Route a small blood vessel to each follicle to supply the nourishment to each feather as it grows.  Make sure you cut off the supply when the feather achieves full growth or else the bird could bleed to death if a large feather is pulled out. 

Once the feather is grown and blood supply is cut off, the feather is fully functional.  If it should get pulled out, just start the process of making a new feather all over again, immediately.  If the feather merely breaks but the shaft remains in the skin, you will have to wait until the year’s next feather pushes the shaft out. 

When you get really good at making feathers, please tell me how you get the same pattern and color in each feather every time they shed.  And how do you get the same matching feathers on each side of the bird?  No matter how much I read about feather growth, it still seems like a wonderful mystery.

Animation of Feather Growth by Matthew Harris, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lorra Lee, Sculpture in Feathers

Lorra Lee Rose creates life-size human forms clad in feathers.  She has been at this for a long time and has a devoted following of collectors throughout the USA.  Each large piece incorporates many many feathers.  Since the feathers she uses are often hard to come by, collecting enough for one piece can take years.  And since the feathers have to meet high quality standards, sorting through them to pick out the right ones and the best, is a hugely time-consuming phase.  But she loves it.  Like me, she prefers molted plumes and pays close attention to using only what is legal in the U.S.A.

Here is a quote from her home page, “Inspired by tribal art, old movies, belle epoque costumes—and especially by her deep experience of the materials themselves—Lorra Lee develops complex patterns that feature vivid color, contrast, movement and symmetry. The resulting works are exquisite creations that will delight anyone fortunate enough to witness them in person."  It is true, the photographs of her work on her website are stunning, but in seeing them person is better, an entirely different and enhanced experience.

Also I have a new feather-art facebook page where you can see my latest work. Be sure and click the 'like' button so you can stay updated.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Meaning of Feathers

What do see see in the image of this sharp-tail grouse feather?   

The mystery of meaning is in part what keeps me going.  Some of my favorite feather patterns remind me of the human form.  And strangely, they tend toward either paleolithic, like images of people in cave paintings, or some alien humanoid race.
The way patterns in a feather mean something to me doesn't have much to do with  what the feather does for the bird.  Example: the feathers on the back of a ruffed grouse show delicate heart shapes that remind me of valentines.  I might go on to think that these birds must be more devoted, affectionate, and tender creatures than if they didn’t have heart shapes on their backs. This is mistaken pattern identification—thinking that how I perceive the world uses the same reality as the one an animal experiences.

So I am wary of thinking that my perceptions of  an animal based on its visual qualities is really what that animal is like.  Think of grinding up rhinoceros horns to enhance male potency. Killing the animal and sawing off the long, upright, slightly bent Rhino horns for my own procreation-related ends because the parts look slightly the same is bad for the rhino. But probably giving meaning to a molted feather is a harmless pursuit.