It was early winter, 2010. I was sitting back taking in the sights, high up on a shelf filled with porcelain elephants, pine cones, old plates, marbles, doll heads, moss and so on, when I was picked up with curious purpose and roughly examined, head swiveled, legs and arms twisted and turned every which way. I was plopped down, stood up, bent over, and given the once over from every direction. Finally, I was inserted right in the middle of a still life scene with a hot light bearing down on me, as if I was about to be interrogated. Again, my assailant couldn’t decide, should I stand, sit, lean or bend over? My little wooden head was swirling with questions and my body was sore from all the activity after years of inactivity. What was I doing here? Then, just as my eyes were adjusting to the light and I’d developed a tolerance to the heat, in swooped a frenzied flock of little acrobatic, inquisitive, feisty, noisy and somewhat obnoxious Pine Siskins.
Let me introduce myself. My name is BW, short for Bird Watcher. I come from a long line of mannequins, sometimes known as “dummies”. This is not my favorite term of endearment so please don’t call me that. Actually, my family has served as artist mannequins for decades, as a stand-in for the human figure and as far as I know I am no relation to the famous movie star CP30, I’d have to research this further. Until that fateful fall day in 2010 I had lead a fairly boring life in the studio of my artist friend Kara Krieger-McGhee, doomed to a life of inactivity amongst equally fated, once used but now discarded, artist props. I was the lucky one. What I thought was going to be a one time gig under hot lights and swarming birds, has become a full-time job with perks. No longer do I consider myself a lazy “dummy” but an adventurer, researcher and model. I have a job, a bird watcher!
As a fledgling bird-watcher I am amazed at how much information I can collect by just stopping for a few minutes, listening, finding the one who’s “chatting” and watching them. But because my job is serious, I have to look and act like a real bird watcher. Kara provides me with the proper tools for the job at hand, an old camera or binoculars, John James Audubon’s bird book to identify the species and jot down notes, (that’s a big book by the way, sometimes I just rip the page out since it’s impossible for me to carry without assistance) and a notebook to record further applicable and interesting information like what they eat and where they nest, etc. Then I report to Kara who uses the information and items I’ve collected to build a still life in the bird’s habitat. I consider all that art stuff boring until finally it’s time for me again. I get to model—it may sound glamorous, but trust me it’s not that easy to hold still for long periods of time, but I’m genetically wired for this.
My purpose is to illustrate how you humans can interact with that particular species so I am placed deliberately where the birds can approach without fear. Sometimes I can be right in the middle of the birds if they are not shy, like the Pine Siskins. Other times I have to be back further because the bird is skittish or they may possibly be dangerous to me (I’ve been told birds don’t eat wood but I don’t want to take my chances, especially when we get to the woodpeckers). Finally, when everyone has taken their place, Kara begins the job of recording the scene on canvas. Rabbit trail here…Did you know that Audubon painted all his birds their actual size? And did you know that Kara is doing the same? Not only is she recording a portrait of an existence but creating a life-size experience as well.
Our adventures have just begun. Please join us as we take flight into the world of co-blogging. It’s a place to learn about birds and art and whatever else comes to mind.