When Chris Maynard talks about birds, his ardent fascination wraps around every word he uses to describe the winged creatures. His affection dates back to his childhood. He recalled fond memories of going to the zoo with his grandfather and watching the birds. Maynard said the bird keeper would let them pick up feathers that had fallen to the ground, a practice he acknowledges would likely not be allowed today.
His fondness didn’t wane over time, and now Maynard is creating alluring works of art out of found feathers, which he carefully cuts into shapes — birds, most often — and pins into shadowboxes and onto gallery walls.
“I discovered this new path when my mother died in 2008. She was an artist. I said I really want to have that art part in my life, so I started pursuing art,” Maynard said. “I feel like I’m a kid again because I have this new direction in my life even though I’m older.”
For a while, Maynard kept his day job as a biologist. Then a few years ago, he became a full-time artist. He’s attracted fans along a spectrum that includes hunting clubs, natural history museums and members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
The art exhibition “Featherfolio” at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA) is his first solo museum show. It shows Maynard’s skill in transforming feathers into intricate works of art.
In “Give and Take,” a swarm of tiny birds circle a single male argus pheasant tail feather. Much of the tail feather itself is made up of meticulously cut birds created by an elimination of the negative space. Their wings are in varying positions as they glide in the air. While stationary, the birds appear to be in motion. Maynard uses pins to prop them away from the white paper background.
Maynard said he uses feathers because it’s his way of capturing life and flight. He doesn’t flatten them against a background as a way to honor their form.
“Feathers mean something to people, and when they’re shed from the birds they keep an essence of the bird they came from,” Maynard said. “If I’m trying to capture the essence of a bird it just made sense to use feathers as my medium.”
In “Penguin Swim,” a penguin glides underwater chasing a school of fish. “Rain Ducks” recreates a familiar scene for folks in the Pacific Northwest out of turkey feathers. A feather above mimics a cloud with feather raindrops falling onto a feather below holding three ducks. The Olympia-based artist found inspiration during a particularly wet couple of months.
“All these ducks in the lake just seemed like they were happy being rained on,” Maynard said. “They had no problem with it.”
In the installation “Beauty on the Move,” birds ascend up a wall in serpentine pattern from a single peacock feather.
In “Crane Dance,” three separate sets of cranes are flapping their wings. The work resembles individual frames of stop-motion animation. The appearance of movement in his work is no coincidence.
“I love to dance and I love this idea of flight,” Maynard said. “I have this feeling like I’m soaring — watching the bird just soar — and I have this feeling in my body. So a lot of the feeling of movement is an aesthetic feeling in my own body.”
Maynard works in his studio to the sound of upbeat salsa music.
He first sketches out his design on paper then uploads it into a computer program. He’s able to create a template by shrinking it down to the size he needs. When he’s ready to begin cutting, Maynard opts for a number of surgical tools. A magnifier and scalpel get the most mileage. He uses a backing on the feathers to keep them intact while he works.
BIMA Chief Curator Greg Robinson said the exhibit has received an overwhelmingly positive response since the opening in April.
“People come in and they’re just really amazed and surprised. None of us have seen this kind of work before,” Robinson said. “This ability that he has to cut these very fine pieces out really make the difference with his work.”
Maynard’s artwork is also included in a group show on the second level at BIMA called “Revering Nature.” Combined, they show the beauty, power and diversity of nature.
“What I’m really pleased about is the chance to show him in the context of contemporary art,” Robinson said. “And not just the material he uses.”
Maynard also depicts woodpeckers, owls and a wasp nest in the exhibition.
He breathes new life into feathers that come from private aviaries. Because certain types of birds are protected by the federal government, Maynard is careful not to violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It protects living and dead birds as well as any bird parts such as their nest and eggs. For instance, he’ll never use a feather from a robin in his show.
“I always want to have a conservation ethic and message in my work. I want to respect the laws for having feathers,” Maynard said. “I love it when I’m using shed feathers; that has the best story.”
Maynard wants to foster an appreciation and understanding of the natural world. “Featherfolio” accomplishes this goal, and it also brings his sense of wonder and admiration to wildlife.
What: "Chris Maynard: Featherfolio"
When: March 11 - June 4, 2017
Where: Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, 550 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge Facebook
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