Monday, May 8, 2017

Early Bird

Something that isn't knitting!  Okay, so you may as well know that I love taxidermy.  It combines art, craft, precision, understanding and love of the natural world, biology, a strong stomach for gross-out, scientific inquiry, and also, sometimes, the deeply creeeeepy, and I say that with the greatest respect and admiration.  The moment my young son realized that the life-size elephant "sculptures" in the American Museum of Natural History were, in actual fact, REAL elephants--he made a wide-eyed "mind=blown" gesture that gripped my heart--stays with me. He was bored, and then he realized, and then he was not bored.  So that's what an elephant looks like.  It was wondrous, the way he marveled. [I, like you, would like all the elephants in the world to live their quiet, peaceful lives beside the river, unmolested and raising their babies and endlessly chewing the grass in placid harmony, but here we have a taxidermied elephant, however possibly misbegotten, however potentially misguidedly acquired, and I believe we can learn from it.  It is okay to be amazed.] I like oddities, unusual things.  I like learning.  I like a rare discovery.  I sort of like things that are vaguely morbid.  I have a bittersweet appreciation for the old-time impulse for scientific discovery (and also the peculiarly Victorian impulse to collect all the things) that led 18th and 19th century expeditions to collect insect, bird, and animal specimens from around the world [though I certainly would not want someone to do such a thing now] and I was completely captivated many years ago by a museum exhibit of 18th century rare bird specimens from the Galapagos Islands.  Such a mixture of feelings, looking at something like that--wonder, sadness and pity, admiration of skill and devotion, eager scrutiny of tiny, long-dead creatures that would otherwise remain to me forever a mystery.  The cabinet of curiosities is such an enchantment, in its original form a way to gain and share information.  Happily, we now have ways of gathering information that are in general much healthier for the elephants and the birds, though I think science still sometimes runs afoul of our moral instincts, and also I think it might have to, for the sake of progress and discovery.  Hey, that's a deep conversation brewing...anyway, I love taxidermy.  So I've been working on some bird sculptures, because real bird taxidermy is for many reasons out of my reach [and in some cases, is also illegal] and also because I am a maker of things, so that's what I do.  
 
 
So a project was born.  Bird Work.  I started drawing birds and trying to figure out how they were shaped, and started trying to figure out how to make pattern pieces that might translate into those shapes.  I wanted birds that look ratty and crafty, with visible stitches, made from tweeds and calicoes, but real-ish. Real-shaped.  You guys, this is hard.  I made so many wrong-looking birds.  Many, many attempts at drafting a pattern later, and a whole box full of sorta birds, I am relatively satisfied with this guy, though he is unfinished, and there is much more tinkering to be done.  At this size--he's about three inches long, not including the tail--1/16" makes a pretty big difference. When I first had the idea some months ago, to replicate the bird taxidermy I cannot otherwise have, the search for supplies (and also the quest for beak ideas) led me to the incredible artwork of Ann Wood, who has since been an enormous source of inspiration, and to this book by Abby Glassenberg, from which followed, as usual, a whole fascinating rabbit hole of soft animal sculpture, and which made me scramble to my sketchbook, full of ideas.  You remember the mouse?  I still want to make more mice.
He's a study, still.  But it's getting there.  Bird work continues.  

13 comments:

  1. I am so glad you're here to put into words things which I don't know how to!

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  2. Oh this is such a great post! I want to sit down and chat with you about this over coffee! As a child I was both fascinated and freaked out by the animal hall in our city museum. It was huge and dark and Victorian in style with dusty glassy-eyed stuffed animals. I loved it. It gave me perspective. And more recently my daughter in law did an installation based around Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince for her final MFA project. Amidst the size and strength of larger conceptual pieces in the exhibit, the tiny paper sculpture of the little dead bird with quilled feathers on a large plinth gave me chills. Your fabric taxidermy reminds me of that. I've tried to be brief :/ but you have such a wonderful way of starting new inspirations, new conversations here!

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  3. Not a fan of taxidermy at all, so found your post a bit off my beaten track. I prefer living things and there are enough of them without turning my attention to the dead. Not loving all the stuffed animal heads that have been doing the crafting rounds for a while now either, be they knitted, crocheted or fabricated. At least yours has a body though.

    I would just have seen your bird as a sculpture had you not made a connection to taxidermy and I think I would have liked it more. I just don't like dead things.

    I do know how hard it is to draw up a 3d pattern. It's probably one of the most rewarding things to do though when it comes out as you hoped.

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  4. Fascinating post. I loved reading the story about your son. I've probably taken taxidermy for granted. I, at first glance, thought the bird on the twig was real. I really like the way the wings fold into each other at the back.

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  5. I find your bird work lovely.

    You may like a road trip to this museum (if you've not already been)

    http://everhart-museum.org/

    They have a large collection of early 1900's taxidermy, along with wonderful, rotating temporary exhibits.

    There's also a sweet gift shop & a lovely park that once housed a small zoo (long-closed)

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  6. Beautiful bird and I'm impressed by your skill. Thank you for all of the information.
    Blessings,
    Betsy

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  7. Well you clever thing. I think your bird looks very real and I love your neat stitching.i do find taxidermy a little creepy but also fascinating at the same time. The morals of the taxidermy society have not always been ethical (and I suppose even in today's society not always ethical now), but times have moved on people are more aware and respectful of all creatures. Keep playing I like the outcome and have to say loved your little mouse.

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  8. I found this post fascinating how you likened your beautiful creation to taxidermy. I too was impressed by your skill.

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  9. Great bird! This reminded me of an artist in NYC who crafts pigeons out of felt and displays/sells them in parks around the city.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/pigeons-nuisance-meet-new-york-citys-pigeon-whisperer-n445506

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  10. You clever you!
    (I probably shouldn't mention Rudolph, above the fireplace..? We did eat all, and the hide was used, as the innards and bones ;-)
    Lovely birdie.

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  11. What a wonderful bird! Since you mentioned Abbey Glassenberg, did you know that she also has a book on making birds? It's called The Artful Bird. I'm a big fan of her work, and also yours! I love your blog and check it daily for new posts- thank you for sharing your talents with us.

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  12. These are FANTASTIC. And very much with you on being drawn to taxidermy. It's an art, and it's an art of bone and skin and *body* in a way that I find really, really compelling.

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