It’s all in the details

While it may not be actual surgery, scalpel lets artist turn feathers into artwork

Contributing writerOctober 4, 2013 

On the cover of the map for Arts Walk XLVII, more than 50 tiny gulls — all cut from one feather — fly.

Believe it or not.

The birds of a feather, created by Olympia artist Chris Maynard, are surprising enough that Maynard’s work will appear in the next edition of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

“It’s a dubious distinction,” Maynard said. “I looked at one of the books. They had this woman who drinks paint and throws it up on canvas, and that’s her art.”

Well, that — like Maynard’s feather shadowboxes — is one of a kind.

The artist looks through a jeweler’s loupe and uses a surgical scalpel to cut bird silhouettes from feathers (all legally obtained, which is no easy feat), then mounts the results in shadowboxes.

“Art is about problem solving and figuring out how to make an idea work,” said Stephanie Johnson, the city’s arts and events manager. She’s been a fan of Maynard’s work since he first exhibited his feather photographs at the Christian Science Reading Room for Arts Walk in the fall of 2010.

Maynard began making the shadowboxes in 2012, and since then, his popularity has taken wing. Online coverage in Reddit and the Huffington Post has led to international orders for his work. He had a solo show at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts last winter, and one of his pieces was selected for the 2013 Birds in Arts exhibition, an internationally renowned annual show at the Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wis.

In August, the Gerald Peters Gallery, with locations in Santa Fe and New York, began selling his pieces. “It’s my first major gallery,” he said.

Though his art career is soaring, Maynard still works part time for the Department of Ecology. He studied biology at The Evergreen State College and has always been fascinated by the natural world. His love of feathers began on a childhood visit to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. The zookeeper gave him a bunch of feathers and let him go in with the birds.

Before he began creating shadowboxes, Maynard photographed feathers. One of his iconic creations from that time was an alphabet in which each letter was a pattern on a feather.

“I want people to look at feathers in ways that they never have before,” he said. “Feathers are at their best on birds. They’re made to be beautiful on the birds; they’re made to be functional on the birds. But each individual feather is worthy of our attention, too.”

Most of Maynard’s shadowboxes depict birds — although some include only whole feathers arranged in patterns, and a few have depicted dragons, wasps or bees. The Arts Walk cover is the first time he’s created seagulls. They’re cut from a great Argus pheasant feather.

“I thought of the City of Olympia and the birds down there,” he said. “There are a lot of seagulls. You can see them flying around the lights at night. They always seem to be going somewhere at night, but where do they go?

“The piece is in the form of a question mark, somewhat,” he added. “They’re all flying into this dark feather with little dots on it that look kind of like the skies at night.”

Maynard delights in the mystery. “I don’t really want to know the answer, but as a biologist, I do want to know the answer,” he said.

Chris Maynard

What: Chris Maynard’s shadowbox “Where Seagulls Go at Night” is on the cover of the fall Arts Walk map. That shadowbox and more of Maynard’s work are on exhibit for Arts Walk.

When: Arts Walk is from 5-10 p.m. Friday and from noon-5 p.m. Saturday. Maynard’s work will be up all month.

Where: Capitol Florist, 515 Capitol Way S., Olympia

More information:

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