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.