Feather Sculptor: Artist Chris Maynard uses a surgeon’s precision to create delicate, intricate sculptures

By on January 31, 2018

Upon closer inspection, one will see that the sculptures of birds and branches are actually made of feathers. Neat, eh?

Even from a distance the sculpture seems intricate and delicate. A line of ravens on a branch are ready to leap off, and then they are falling — not flying — until their wings suddenly open and they are moving back in the air.

Upon closer inspection, one will see the birds and the branch are actually a skillfully carved feather.

Chris Maynard is a feather sculptor. The Washington-based artist uses surgical tools like scalpels to carve detailed bird scenes like the one seen in “Leap, Fall Down, Get Up” — featuring the falling ravens — from feathers.

Maynard was raised in Washington by an artist mother and an eye surgeon father, whose tools Maynard now uses in his art.

Maynard loved the outdoors, and the natural world fascinated him as a child. It was a childhood trip to the zoo with his grandfather where Maynard first fell in love with feathers. He doesn’t remember exactly when, or what it was about them. He just remembers that the day at the zoo was the day it all began.

Maynard went on to study biology and hydrology and work in the sciences while making art on the side.

About 10 years ago, Maynard started photographing feathers and making posters from the images, but he wanted to physically work with the feathers themselves. He started arranging them on backgrounds and cutting them.

He learned what glue didn’t bleed through the feathers or warp them. He discovered how to carefully cut them — they aren’t as delicate as they look — and soon he was making art full time.

From the start, Maynard said he wanted his work to foster appreciation and wonder for the natural world. He wanted to honor the feathers and the birds.

Maynard gets feathers from aviaries, zoos and people who find and send them to him. His favorite feathers to work with come from the great argus pheasant and turkeys. Neither are colorful.

Maynard works mostly with neutral colors, partly because the big feathers he needs to create his work usually aren’t colorful. The great argus pheasant feathers are large with a distinctive pattern.

“It blows your mind, they are so incredibly fantastic — more so than peacocks which they are related to,” he said.

Turkey feathers are also large, and since the birds don’t fly much, the feathers are thinner and easier to sculpt.

Sometimes Maynard will get a feather and hold and twirl it in his hand for 30 minutes. He enters an almost meditative state as he works out ideas he can create. Sometimes he has an idea and just needs the perfect feather.

“I have way more ideas than I’ll be able to do, and that keeps it interesting,” he said.

Each time he creates a sculpture, he learns more about feathers, he said. Feathers have incredible structure. They are the most complex of any feature on the surface an animal’s body. And feathers last forever, even once shed, he said. Feathers are not only fascinating, they are archival.

One sculpture he’s bringing to Jackson is made from a single turkey feather. It’s about 15 inches high and features three chickadees on a branch looking down at a pile of debris at the bottom.

It’s called, “Wait, What?”

It’s meant to be lighthearted and make people smile. Maynard finds himself drawn to incorporating humor in his work.

“Maybe it’s because life is harsh and one way to deal with it, perhaps is through beauty,” he said. “Life is horrible, but it’s also beautiful, but there is another way to deal with it that seems to come out of my work and that is humor.”

But the thing Maynard said he really hopes people get from his work and his talk is seeing feathers, and the entire natural world, in a new way. PJH

Chris Maynard’s art exhibition can be viewed at WRJ Design Showroom, 30 South King St. The show hangs Thursday through Feb. 15. A reception will be held Thursday at 3 p.m. and Maynard will speak about his work at 5:15 p.m. in the showroom.

About Kelsey Dayton

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