Birds of a Feather Art Exhibit

The Dana Hall campus is full of wildlife. From the mischievous squirrels to the honking geese, life can be found wherever you go. The Dana Hall Art Gallery, however, was focused in November on just one of the creatures that we see here everyday: birds. The Birds of a Feather exhibit opened on Tuesday, October 16th 2012 to present the work of four artists from the Boston area whose interests lie in the life and death of nature. Suzette Jones and G. A. Scattergood-Moore are former Dana Hall Visual Arts faculty, both of whom taught here for over a decade and hired several of the current Visual Arts Department faculty members. Scattergood is also the founder of the Dana Hall Art Gallery. Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein have exhibited in many exhibitions, both together and separately, in the Boston area. Many of their  exhibitions have displayed their work with birds as well as other wildlife..

Suzette Jones taught a variety of classes in the art department at Dana Hall for 18 years. Her pieces in the exhibit present close up paintings of the birds of Maine. “I’ve just been on a bird kick at the moment,” she said, when discussing the inspiration for her work. Birds are important to her because of her awareness about the disappearance of many natural habitats. Her response to this is, “I try to paint them larger so people appreciate them before it’s too late, since many species are in decline.” She added that it’s important when painting the birds to make each of the feathers the perfect shade because “people chew you out if you don’t get the markings right.” Suzette paints directly from the hills of Maine where she and her husband, Tom, hand built a cabin on Vinalhaven Island. Because they don’t have electricity, she is “always listening to the birds outside.”  When the time comes to paint the birds, she “looks for the energy, where you feel they might move any minute.”  Working everyday for three months, she created a five-panel painting, each panel displaying an egret paddling in water. “It can be seen as one bird in different positions, or all different birds,” she said, explaining the various interpretations of the piece. “It’s funny because I woke up in the night and thought, ‘they’re fishing. They need a fish!’” The next morning she carefully added a fish into the mouth of one of the bird’s reflections..“For me,” Jones says, “birds are beautiful and full of life.”

Mr. Scattergood, or Scatt, as his friends call him, highlights a very different set of bird qualities. Unlike the other artists in this exhibit, Mr. Scattergood’s paintings focus on dead birds. Although this may sound dismal, he says, “I work from life,” gazing at one of his paintings. “This one I found on the side of a road,” he points to a dead, black bird. Then he laughs showing a wry smile. “I had to scoop it onto this pizza plate I found.” After bringing the dead birds back to his studio, Scattergood transforms his discoveries into pieces of art. The dirty pizza plate ended up in his painting with the black bird flopped on its side.

Donna Dodson creates wooden sculptures of birds, presenting them as strong, human-like figures. Each bird is at least three feet tall. Dodson’s work is inspired by the characteristic of women, so her pieces have very feminine figures, including distinctive breasts. She said, “since I am a woman, I know more about being a woman than being a man, so making sculptures of women is something that comes natural to me.” For example, one of her pieces in the show depicted Red Riding Hood in bird form, with big black shoes and a large, pointed, red beak. Dodson describes the character as “anything but little. Her big feet threaten to stomp on any wolves, or predators that would dare to cross her path. Her big shoulders allude to her inner strength.” Dodson wants to convey a positive image of women, which guides her sculpting process. As she is sculpting the birds, her “imagination just runs wild.”  She sometimes re-starts a sculpture if her second idea is stronger than her first. “It’s a welcome surprise,” she said about coming up with fresh ideas. After creating her wooden sculptures, she paints on the bird’s features, such as eyes and wings. “I painted these and then wiped some of it off so that the grain is still visible underneath,” she said, expressing her love for the natural beauty of the wood. Donna gets her wood from various different people she knows who have cut down trees on their property. “Obviously if wood has fallen by itself, it’s because it’s rotten,” she said, laughing, “and I can’t use that!”

Andy Moerlein’s bird sculptures are based on his own personal experiences and observations. “My work is an effort to show, physically, what I experience,” he says in his artist statement. His recent focus on birds comes from his fascination in “the parallels between avian and human.” As he introduced one of his pieces, ‘Small Talk,’ he showed how the birds represented the small talk between humans. Two branches hold up a perch on the top of the sculpture, and four simply shaped birds are sitting on it, two on the bottom and two on the top. Pointing to the pair of birds on the top on the sculpture, he said, “It’s just like being at a party and wandering around, talking to people.”

Julianna Miller, a senior attending the opening, pointed to the base of another of Moerlein’s sculptures. “Wow, where did you get that cool piece of wood?” she asked, indicating towards one of the bases that had many layers and shades of dark wood. “Isn’t it amazing?” he replied. “It came all the way from Home Depot!” He had made the base himself with layers of thin wood. He also uses interesting pieces of wood that he finds while hiking. “I had to work with a lot of the wood to make it the way it is now,” he said. He pointed out a hole he had created in one of the pieces so that a bird could perch inside the sculpture. Every detail contributed to his goal of recreating his own person experiences.

 Whether they reflect real life experiences or the natural cycle of life, all of the pieces in the Birds of a Feather exhibit were created with very different sources of inspiration. Although Dana Hall’s campus has a wide variety of wildlife, this exhibit proves that an individual’s personal experience of nature colors their interpretation. Imagination has its own way of seeing. 
By Natasha Hampton


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