Look closer

Artisans display lifelike feathered friends at the Wildling Museum’s spring showcase in Solvang

Armed with a pocketknife he won during a Boy Scouts competition, Chester Wilcox first made his mark on the world of woodcarving at age 8.

Nowadays, the Sacramento-based artist uses X-Acto knives, chisels, and other tools of precision—even dental drills—to create his lifelike bird carvings, many of which can be found in one of the Wildling Museum’s latest exhibitions.

In celebration of the group show, titled Bird’s Eye View: Four Perspectives, Wilcox hosted a public woodcarving demo at the museum in March, during the exhibit’s opening weekend.

click to enlarge Look closer
DUCK SEASON Sacramento-based woodcarver Chester Wilcox, widely known for his duck decoy work, is one of four artists currently featured in a bird-themed group exhibition at the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature in Solvang.

“You could see him cutting the indentations of the feathers,” said Lauren Sharp, the museum’s assistant director, who watched along with guests of the grand opening as Wilcox worked on one of his quail figures in progress.

“He’ll work on multiple pieces at a time for several years. He’s super detail-oriented,” Sharp said. “He’s had folks argue with him and say there’s no way that’s wood, because they’re just so real. The whole goal of his art form is to strive for that perfection.”

Half of the group exhibit highlights realistic bird representations by Wilcox and fellow featured artist Shae Warnick—a passionate naturalist whose handcrafted bird doll aviary is featured in the show—while the other half focuses on conceptual, interactive artworks.

Viewers of the exhibit’s delicate art carved from feathers by Washington-based artist Chris Maynard, for example, are invited to alter their perceptions of his works with magnifying glasses and flashlights, Sharp explained.

click to enlarge Look closer
TAKE FLIGHT The walls of the Wildling Museum’s first floor gallery are currently home to Chris Maynard’s feather carvings (pictured, left), Shae Warnick’s handcrafted bird dolls (right), and other pieces featured in the venue’s Bird’s Eye View exhibition.

“Playing with shadow and lighting can really change the way that the work looks,” said Sharp, who stated that guests are encouraged to use the flashlights on their phones to shine on Maynard’s intricately shaped feathers and are free to use magnifying glasses available at the museum’s front desk for an even closer look at the feathers’ most precise touches.

“You can see the crazy detail work and different arrangements he’s cut out; the negative space that he’s working with,” Sharp said. “I keep getting questions about if he treats the feathers or dips them in anything, which I actually don’t know but I’m excited to ask him.”

Sharp will be asking Maynard that question and additional queries during the Wildling Museum’s upcoming Zoom talk, The Art of Feather Carving, on May 3. Maynard will also be taking questions from the public during a Q-and-A segment of the program, after offering Zoom attendees an inside look into his feather carving process.

Maynard often works with feathers from turkeys, parrots, peacocks, and other birds to craft his unique shadow box scenes.

“They’re all sustainably sourced, so he’s not going around plucking feathers,” Sharp said. “He has contacts with very exotic bird reserves, where they’re just naturally shed.”

As for Maynard’s pieces that incorporate feathers from heritage turkeys, Sharp noted that those turkeys “might have been prepared in a meal, and these were the feathers that were left.”

click to enlarge Look closer
WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN Artist and avid bird watcher David Tomb’s wetland environment installation at the Wildling Museum invites guests to spot and identify different bird species and other animals that inhabit the playful display.

Similar to Maynard’s showcase, fellow featured artist David Tomb’s immersive wetland environment installation—which includes birds, of course, and cameos from other special guest animals as well—offers an interactive experience for the Wildling Museum’s visitors.

“We have a guide at the front for bird watching,” Sharp said, “and for kids to kind of spot the different animals—the gray fox hiding, the butterflies, the tortoise, and lots of things kind of hidden in the mix.”

Sharp said that Tomb’s playful installation—which aims to immerse viewers both visually and audibly, with a motion-activated soundtrack of recorded calls and sounds of various bird species—has been especially popular with young guests at the museum.

The interactive bird spotting aspect of the display echoes Tomb’s own passion for the hobby, Sharp added.

“He’s an avid birdwatcher. He had just come back from Panama before the installation, and he’s off again traveling; he’s always out looking for birds,” Sharp said, “and that’s really part of his art practice—getting out there and referring to them.”

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood is a word watcher. Send words to [email protected].

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment