Chris Maynard’s “Featherfolio” works at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art look like they’ve been cut from paper, but they’re actually from bird plumage. Also worth a look: “Revering Nature,” paintings and sculptures.
Say the words “feather art,” and people probably won’t know what you’re talking about.
Tribal headdresses? Ostrich-plume hats?
If you’re drawing a blank, head to the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA) and investigate “Chris Maynard: Featherfolio.” In his first solo art-museum show, the Olympia artist skirts the outer edges of what the eye and hand can do. His pieces look like incredibly detailed paper cuttings, but they’re actually made from the feathers of turkeys, pheasants, parrots and other birds.
‘Revering Nature’ and ‘Chris Maynard: Featherfolio’
10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily through June 4, Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, 550 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island; free (206-842-4451 or biartmuseum.org).
While there’s an eco-minded element to his work (his website, featherfolio.com, assures us his feathers are legally obtained), the biggest takeaway is astonishment that anyone can operate on this small a scale with these unlikely materials. His tools include “tiny eye surgery scissors, forceps, and magnifying glasses passed down through his family.” If these seem uncommon heirlooms, they make sense when you learn that his father was an eye surgeon and his mother an artist.
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Maynard doesn’t dye his feathers, but he does treat them with glues and pressure to make them more workable for his purpose. The variety of illusions he can create this way is startling.
“Ibis Reflection 3” (made from three male capercaillie, or wood grouse, tail feathers) portrays an ibis as it investigates itself in the concentric ripples of a pool. In “Transcendence,” two vertical rose-breasted cockatoo wing feathers, finely cut to resemble a roost for tiny restless birds, “dissolve” into a soaring flock at the top of the frame. The individual fluttering birds are pin-mounted on their white backdrop to create a shadow-box effect.
“Firmament,” using the same pin-mounted technique, evokes a whole sky-scape, with large and small bird silhouettes — snipped from a marabou stork feather at the base of the piece — creating a remarkable illusion of sky depth. Part of the pleasure of Maynard’s work comes from his poetic titles (“Moon Swoop,” “Flock a Lot”), while another part derives from his humor. In “Mousing,” cut from a turkey feather, a raptor gets ready to pounce on fleeing mice.
Other pieces are more philosophical in nature. “Give and Take” — created from an Argus pheasant tail support feather — evokes a whole cycle of birds departing and returning to their source of being. Along with Maynard’s framed artworks, there are several site-specific installations that make it feel as if his avian fantasias are wafting into the rafters of the museum.
“Featherfolio” is in fine company with “Revering Nature,” a group show in which the focus isn’t just on the beauty of nature, but on the force of nature and the artists’ concern for nature.
Highlights include the sculpture of Peregrine O’Gormley (“Scythe” is a startling claws-out view of an owl descending on its prey) and David Eisenhour (gus cast bronzes of natural forms — bee stingers, seedpods, thorns — read like idealized prototypes of what he found in the field).
Dion Pickering Zwirner’s paintings explore the border between abstract and figurative as she subliminally suggests mountain ridges and Douglas fir silhouettes. Becky Fletcher does something similar in her oils on canvas, especially “Bark Book” and “Nest.” Donna Leavitt’s graphite drawings of bare-branched trees pack a lot of power, not least because the multiple sheets of 8½-by-11 paper on which they’re drawn follow the form of the tree rather than forcing it into a square or rectangular framework.
Not everything is a knockout, but most of these Puget Sound artists catch your eye.