Saturday, August 27, 2011

Skulls & Feathers

If you open my freezer looking for ice cream, don't be surprised if you find a dead bird in there. I have this odd habit of collecting roadkills and assorted gifts that my cat brings home. When time and inspiration collide I harvest the feathers and skulls from these creatures to add to my collections. Maybe a little odd, but I was inspired by museum collections like Chicago's Field Museum, the Smithsonian Institute of Natural History, a collection for academic study at Colorado College and displays at many national parks that I've visited over the years. Some of history's most noteworthy naturalists contributed to these kinds of collections in the days when harvesting creatures for scientific study was the norm: John James Audubon, Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace and Olaus Murie all collected hundreds of birds as well as multitudes of other creatures, carefully preserving their skins and bones so that they could be observed by other curious naturalists. So I started my own little museum.

There's nothing very scientific about my collection. I keep them because I am an artist as much as a naturalist, and am enamoured with the delicate curves and details in the bones, the patterns and textures of the feathers, the way the wings spread. The process of curing a skull teaches me about anatomy. Plucking feathers teaches me about insulation and flight. I figure it's better than throwing the carcass into the bushes, or letting it get flattened by traffic into a totally unrecognizable smudge on the road. My kids are used to the fact that I'll stop in the middle of a highway to pick up a dead bird, and even back track if I've noticed something interesting while moving 65 miles per hour. It keeps the contents of our freezer interesting!

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