Feathered constructions

“Marsh Cattail Wrens” by Chris Maynard, wild turkey tail feathers, 20×27 inches.

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Chris Maynard always wanted to fly.

Not in a plane, but by himself.

Thus began an affair with feathers that has brought him to galleries and museums, eventually resulting in the coffee table book “Feathers: Form and Function.”

Maynard will show his feathered constructions at Santa Fe’s Gerald Peters Gallery beginning Friday, Sept. 17.

He says it all started when his mother died 10 years ago.

“She was a professional artist and I had been making art all my life, but never professionally,” he said from his home outside Olympia, Washington. “I was negotiating water leases in the Pacific Northwest.

“I just realized, ‘What am I going to do with my life’?”

Maynard buys, collects and trades for feathers ranging from Amazon parrots to colorful ocellated turkeys found in the Yucatan, Belize and Guatemala. They all are naturally shed.

He “carves” the feathers into shapes using the scissors and forceps used in eye surgery. He often slices the shape of the bird into the feather and arranges the two mirror images together atop cotton paper.

To Maynard, shed feathers symbolize gentleness, a refuge from the harshness of life. The birds grow, yet they retain their beauty. Feathers represent their essence.

But Maynard is more than just a bird nerd. Before he begins slicing, he carefully sketches out his compositions on paper. He retains the dimensional shape of the feathers as he works with light and shadow.

“En Trance” features peacock-shaped silhouettes sliced from the eyes of their feathers.

“My father was an ophthalmologist, so I have his tools,” Maynard explained. “I have these old Steampunk magnifying glasses.”

In “What’s Up Duck” he carved Amazon parrot feathers into ducks, complete with webbed feet. “Sparkling Sunangel” features oscellating turkey feathers sliced into the shapes of hummingbirds.

Maynard never uses feathers harvested from endangered species; he is also forbidden from using the feathers of migratory North American birds – including hummingbirds and robins.

“I raised exotic pheasants for a while, so I know the community of zoos and breeders,” he said. Lately, he’s been watching the swallows in his barn fledge, then migrate.

“They line their nests with feathers,” he explained. “I’ve read it increases their survivability by 45%. It’s not warmth so much as it protects them from pests. I just feel them flying. When they sweep and soar, I feel them in my body. I want to do that.”

He’s working on a second book and recently found inspiration from his agent. She walked up to his hummingbird feeder wearing bright red lipstick. The hummer flew directly toward her mouth. He’s been experimenting with using a black cut-out silhouette of a woman’s face and a hummingbird carved from his feather cache.

Pressed, Maynard reveals the roots of his obsession emerged when he was 12 years old.

“I went to the zoo with my grandpa,” he said. “He approached the zookeeper and asked if I could go in the aviary and collect feathers. They were flamingo. That was my start.”

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