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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Feather Art

Feathered art circa 1950s
Feather art has come a long way since the 1950s
More than half a century ago, during the early 1950s, my mother purchased from a door-to-door salesman a couple paintings of birds rendered on a heavy black cardboard. Actually, the bird images weren't painted. They were real feathers. Only the decorative branches and foliage were painted. They featured hand-carved frames (hand-carved with a router, that is), and in retrospect, I'm sure they were made in Mexico. One was a pheasant, the other possibly a peacock similar to the two above. I always loved to touch them and "pet" their feathers. I'm also sure they must have been dirt-cheap or else my frugal mother would never have spared the cash. Great art? Probably not, but something of a novelty in the backwaters of southeastern Ohio at the time. They hung on our living room wall for something like twenty years. I don't know what ever happened to them but I wouldn't mind having them now as keepsakes.

Michelle Morin. Birds of a feather...?
An endless variety.
When we begin to talk about feather art, there opens up a broad realm of permutations. We could talk about art made of feathers, art inspired by feathers, art painted with feathers, even art painted on feathers (above, right). Artist have likely played around with feathers since the discovery that birds tend to discard those which they don't need either while living or dead. As a material used in creating art they have a number of features to recommend them. They are plentiful, thus, as I mentioned above, dirt-cheap. They are versatile, in that they can be cut and dyed, also shaped and sharpened (into quill pens). They're wonderfully tactile--soft to the touch, and naturally colorful in their hundreds of different varieties. However, as they age, they become quite fragile, and like anything colorful, tend to fade over the years.

Feathered wall art. Pound nail; remove nail; insert feather (with a little glue).
Painting inspired by feathers
Because of the wide variety of shapes and colors, feathers may well be second only to flowers in their natural ability to inspire artists. In fact, it's likely there have been far more paintings of feathers than any of the other "feather factors" involving art. Today we find everything from feathers painted on faces (right), feathers painted on walls, and feathers stuck into walls (above). Likewise, feathers have long been a staple in the female fashion industry, everything from hats to hairpins to handbags while also including bras, shoes, dresses, and jewelry. On the male side of the apparel aisle, uhh...not so much. I found a bow tie made of feathers, though (below).

A brackish bow tie.
Blue Zebra, Natalia Turea
Painting on feathers
It's a bird looking for its feathers.
When it comes to feather art, Native Americans have long had almost what you'd call a patent on their use. Over the centuries, they've used them to decorate their heads, their hair, their horses, even their weapons, both spears and arrows, even tomahawks. An enterprise called Bradford Beadworks paints eagles etc. on newly created Native American headdresses (above, left). And lest you think only avian motifs lend themselves to fathers, wildlife artist, Natalia Turea, has painted a zebra (above, right) utilizing feathers. It's unclear whether she also used feathers in applying the paint. If she didn't, many other painters have. Those working in an abstract expressionist mode find feathers especially expressive (below). And for some reason I don't totally understand, they seem to be a favored painting tool to put in the hands of children (above, left). Painting with feathers isn't easy--downright cumbersome, in fact, especially if attempting to paint with an degree of realism. I realize children, by definition, paint abstractly, but painting is difficult enough with traditional brushes. It would seem to me somewhat adverse to make it more difficult by giving a child a naturally awkward instrument with which to daub around. I guess, if you're willing to clean up the mess...

Painting with feathers--abstractly and awkwardly



  1. Very interesting! I never thought of doing any of these things with my parrots' discarded feathers.

  2. Keebler--

    That's what I'm here for, to spur creativity now and then. Keep in mind, you could also use them to stuff a pillow. :-).