Feathers are considered the most complex integumentary structure found in vertebrates and indeed a premier example of a complex evolutionary novelty. They aid in flight, thermal insulation and waterproofing and, additionally, the colorations helps in communication and protection from damage. The American artist Chris Maynard only works with feathers as his medium. He cuts them into bird-themed shapes and makes the most beautiful creations with them in his studio in Olympia, Washington. “Ever since the head bird-keeper let me pick up pheasant and flamingo feathers at the zoo when I was twelve, I’ve seen feathers as reminders that I share the world with other creatures.”, said Chris Maynard. With a strong background in biology and conservation, it is no wonder that ecological themes are prevalent in his work.
In 2010, Chris Maynard began to show his works, which have been successfully recognized by the art world. The sources for his materials are mostly private aviaries and zoos and he only uses feathers which are legal to have and sell in the United States. Chris Maynard’s favorite tools are tiny eye surgery scissors, forceps and magnifying glasses (some of them inherited from his father and grandfather). His artworks are enclosed in simple wood framed shadowboxes with glass, while his larger artworks with acrylic.
For Chris Maynard, working with feathers means that he can explore the world focusing on just one thing at a time. Each feather reminds him of the big natural world and, at the same time, of the existence of beauty in a smaller scope. When we focus on one single thing, looking at it in different ways and from different angles, entire worlds open before our eyes. Focusing on just one issue makes barriers and limits fall away, and ultimately opens the world to us.
Feathers are usually seen as very delicate items but they are actually quite though. They have to protect a bird from the weather and bumps and scrapes for a year or longer. Maynard honors the feathers and the birds they came from. He wants to communicate to people just in how many new and different ways you can see feathers, and what they can tell us about birds and the natural world. The intricate detail is astounding and mesmerizing. The images of his artworks come to the artist from the feather itself. Every feather has a certain shape and color that the artist wants to exploit. Finding the perfect feather with the right design within can take a long time. Maynard said: “I sometimes blink, finding that I have been holding a feather and staring at it for the last half hour. I might drop the feather to see it swirl, spin, or flutter to the ground.” He sees them as unique with a complicated and beautiful structure; a gift given by nature and discarded by birds. However, getting the feathers can be a challenge. He has to be well versed in law, as some feathers are not legal to own. For example, he can’t use feathers from eagles, seagulls, songbirds or crows because those birds are highly protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty and CITES acts. Besides that, after gaining the experience to work with these special materials, he knows exactly how to cut them. He has to intimately know their structure or they will just fall apart in the process.
The artist cuts away something from their perfection in order to give the feather a new meaning. He places the little cut-out pieces on pins to give them shadows and to bring more depth into his artworks. People always enjoy them because few have ever seen something like this. The artist intention, therefor, is for the audience to take a break from their regular routine and see the world in a different way. He sees feathers as a universal symbol for flying, escaping. A bridge between here and heaven. Nevertheless, everybody can find their own meaning in them. It is indisputable, however, that Chris Maynard reminds us of the wonder of the natural world all around us in a beautiful display.