Flights of Fancy

Even the birds are excited

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Five bald eagles watched me turn off Highway 11 on my way to see “Flight of Fancy,” the new show of works by 50 artists at Smith & Vallee Gallery in Edison. So, even the birds are excited. 

What better place to mount an avian art show than in the Skagit Valley, where you can count as many as 362 species, plus 50,000 migrating geese and swans?

Vikki Jackson’s heron portrait, “Sentinel,” stands watch at the entrance. Jackson is a professional ecologist as well as a wildlife artist. Except for her grumpy heron, the birds in the show appear to be lighthearted.

The eagle in Anne Schreivogl’s acrylic painting, “Light as a Feather,” might be chuckling as it perches on a clothesline between astonished songbirds. 

Cheri O’Brien puts delightful images of nuthatches and chickadees into her gouache compositions, “Under the Winter’s Moon” and “Winter Sun Breaks Through.” The birds are realistic and the background imaginative, with rays from both the sun and moon depicted as rippling breath or song.

Dedrian Clark gives us “Ruffed Grouse Peek Hole” in pastel. Leo Osborne’s wall sculpture of a house wren on a branch won him the honor of “Best in the World” some years ago. He was bitten with the love of nature as a child in the forests of Massachusetts, and has been an artist ever since, living and working in his studio on Guemes Island.

Curt McCauley brings whimsy to his Oriental-style portraits of birds in watercolor and sumi ink—“5 Little Birds” and “Yakity Yak, Don’t Talk Back.”

Linda Okazaki’s cheery “Party in the Palouse” features festive women with bird-heads—and a real wolf. The Port Townsend artist has for years created portraits of humans, animals and disturbing dream sequences, all in a vigorous style which hovers somewhere between Munch and le douanier Rousseau.

Human/animal hybrids fascinate sculptor Sandi Bransford too. For her, they allude to the dual spirit nature of all human beings. “Nested” sports a woman with a ruff of feathers and a nest on her head and “Swarm” depicts one with birds for hair and a crown. 

Barry Herem’s sandblasted glass sculpture, “Flight Fall,” will require careful study to find the eagle in the Native American “form-line” style.  He adopted this tradition in the course of investigating indigenous artwork in more than a thousand sites in Southeast Alaska.

The abstractions in the show deliver much of the visual “punch.” Keith Sorenson’s “Songbird,” orange and yellow, streaks across a green/black background. His “Avian” is a grey smear, outlined in black, on an orange/yellow field—more like its dinosaur ancestor than any living bird.

Don’t leave without a visit to hidden treasures in the back room, including two abstractions by Julia “Joules” Martin: “Raptor Spiral” and “Rise to the Flight.” Move close to study her fascinating swirls of color—she textures the paint with hair picks or a fork—then step back and watch the hawks appear.

If you’d like to see even more birds materialize, time your visit for Sun., Feb. 25. It’s the final day of the exhibit, and the date of the town’s annual Chicken Parade. Are the birds excited for it? Find out for yourself.

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