Editor’s Note: Nancy Overton is one of many talented artists whose work is featured in Golden Gate Audubon Society’s first-ever online bird art auction, which runs from May 17 through June 1, 2020. We hope you will support Nancy, all of our artists, and GGAS by purchasing their beautiful work.
By Nancy Overton
Though I graduated with a fine arts degree in painting, my art life turned three-dimensional in 2008 shortly after I joined the Backyard Bird Count, co-sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon. Counting birds involved knowing whom you were counting, so I bought myself The Sibley Guide to Birds. Suddenly my feeders were not just full of birds, but full of Dark-eyed Juncos and Chestnut-backed Chickadees and House Sparrows.
I made a little wire bird and decorated him with some of the papers I used in my collages. He felt at home on the drawing board and in the house. He inspired me to make more birds—learning species, and investigating sizes and shapes and colors.
For over ten years now I have been a maker of paper maché birds, creating three-dimensional likenesses of a little bit of life and nature that can live indoors on a shelf or desk.
I “weave” my bird armatures of floral wire using my fingers and needle-nose pliers. I cover the armature first with newspaper, then with colored papers, sheet music, and other ephemera to create the feathers. Depending on the size and complexity, it will take four to fifteen hours to complete a bird.
I’m indebted to those nature photographers who post their photographs on the web. My field research is mostly vicarious. I have not trudged miles and my feet are dry. “Images,” I type into the search engine, “back view of horned owl.”
My favorite bird is often the commissioned bird that I am not yet acquainted with. Such a request requires research about habits and habitats, feather colors, height, and wingspan. It is a new adventure.
Though I have made some 25 species of mostly local birds and probably 500+ models of those species, I never tire of making birds. In crafting a bird, I hope I can inspire a smile, inspire an awareness, a thought about the importance of a bird in the natural world.
Nancy Overton is a graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, Ca. 1965. She lives in the Oakland hills on the edge of the Hayward Fault. See her work at nancyovertondesign.com.
Golden Gate Audubon’s Online Bird Art Auction runs from May 17 through June 1, 2020. You can view and bid on all the auction items, including Nancy Overton’s sculptures, at http://goldengateaudubon.org/auction.