August 2021

Bird Arts and Crafts II - The Artisans

Birds have inspired art from the earliest days, with cave paintings, Egyptian friezes, and the Audubon folio just some of the better-known examples throughout history. But the traditions continue, and in some unexpected and delightful ways in modern times. Unlike the first of this pair of reviews in June 2021, no links to craft patterns or instruction will be presented here. Rather, several examples of online galleries of unusual, engaging, and even surprising bird-themed artistic production are presented.

Featured here first are online portfolios of the work of two individual artist/artisans. Although both produce recognizably accurate depictions of avian species, their chosen medium of expression couldn't be more different, and their choices of birds are equally divergent. But their faithfulness to technical accuracy and respect for the subject of their inspiration is quite similar.

Diana Beltran-Herrera creates remarkable Paper Sculptures[1] of birds breathtaking in both their precision and their painstaking attention to detail. It isn't just that she chooses particularly stunning species - which she typically does - but their plumage and colors are rendered with uncanny faithfulness. As with many of the art/craft works featured in this review, it's hard to imagine the time, dedication, and skill required to sustain such production. The innumerable tiny cuts which turn paper into feathers exemplifies this inspired and committed perseverance.

Working with an entirely different medium, Hilary Powers creates a far broader range of creatures displayed in her Salamander Feltworks[2] galleries. Although also featuring what look like flying creatures that could have come from the Avatar world of Pandora, it is her collection of instantly recognizable, true-to-life, Earthling avifauna that warrants inclusion here. Like paper-sculpting, feltwork requires patient, planned construction with commonplace materials which become transmuted into bird replicas we would not be surprised to hear sing or to see fly. Not just museum pieces, these birds can also be ordered custom-made by contact through the website.

The next two collections of work are the efforts of groups of artisans, working under the direction of either a named designer or following a set of traditional patterns and practices. It is the quality of workmanship and inspiration which sets it apart, despite being "production" artistry.

For items suitable for outdoor display, it's hard to equal the unique precision-cut 2D garden decorations available for purchase online at Metal Bird[3] (a Favorite). Handmade in the US by several small family-owned factories, their tree-mounted, weatherproof steel bird silhouettes make striking garden art which blends nature with technical craft wizardry. Most readers of this survey do not need to have the name of each bird shown under its catalog image, so accurate are the representations, but the inclusion of the New Zealand Piwakawaka reveals the origins of the founder of the enterprise, Phil Walters. Affordable ($59-$69), with free shipping for larger orders, the suitability for gift-giving is manifest. Only the Kissing Cardinals were sold out at the time of this writing.

In keeping with the international heritage of MetalBird, take a look at the variety of collections from other countries listed on the foot of the About[4] page. Each set is made "sustainably" within each country, featuring birds appropriate for the region, including France, Germany, Australia, the UK, and (of course) New Zealand - cut metal Kiwi or Kakapo, anyone?

Returning to indoor decoration, the breadth of species carved in basswood by anonymous artisans for the Darby Creek Trading Company[5] is truly amazing. Eight kinds of Hummingbirds, seven varieties of Sparrow, five different Woodpeckers, an astonishing nine types of Warblers, and the list of 132 different birds has scarcely begun. While the proportions may not always be fully lifelike, the carefully painted plumages leave little doubt about identifications. A birding class could be taught with these as specimens, with even the European Starling, English Sparrow, and Brown-headed Catbird included to round out the presentation. Not surprisingly, the techniques and style are reminiscent of duck and waterfowl decorative decoy carvings[6], which Darby Creek also features, crafted by similarly un-named artisans.

The Bird Wide Web™ will be publishing a new article each month.

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