Winter Birds

Taking flight in Edison



WHAT: “Winter Birds”
WHEN: Through Feb. 29
WHERE: Smith & Vallee Gallery, 5742 Gilkey Ave., Edison

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

At the entrance to Edison, an eagle high up appeared to advertise the exhibit I had come to see: “Winter Birds,” at Smith & Vallee Gallery. 

Inside, a heron portrait by Kathleen Faulkner makes an outsize impact; richly detailed, with exquisite light/dark values, fine brushwork and subtle coloring. Another blue heron by Eve McCauley—this one life-size—guards the far wall.

Thirty-two artists have contributed paintings, drawings, sculpture and jewelry to the show. Herons are the overall favorite, accompanied by colorful songbirds—for example, Nancy Vogel’s line of six birds, “We All Live on the Same Branch,” with its earnest double significance. Even crows get a sympathetic appearance, imagined by Dee Doyle, in soft blue, brown and white encaustic.

A lovely surprise by Karen Blanquart is “Pileated,” a portrait of the dramatic woodpecker on wonderfully appropriate material. She has burned the image into a cedar panel and applied just enough paint to display the bird. 

Other artists who chose natural wood over canvas are Edison resident Toni Ann Rust, with “Flicker in my Yard,” and Gabe Newton. Although he may be better known for his football player portraits, Gabe offers two pelicans on found wood slabs.

Vikki Jackson is a bird imager virtuoso noted for originality, fine draftsmanship and interesting compositions. She and her sister, Lyn, were invited to bring two pieces: “The Last Leaf” depicts a magpie, which must have wandered in from the east of the Cascades. Their other treasure is (I think) a green heron named “Reed Walker.”

Kris Ekstrand Molesworth—a distinguished artist whose paintings, drawings and monotypes often feature in Northwest galleries—is a Skagit Valley resident who ponders the fragility of nature and of human settlement on land only recently stolen from the sea. Her large, yet restrained, charcoal on paper compositions, “Un Nid Casse’” (“Broken Nest”) and “Shelter/Loss,” provide a formal, minimal note to the exhibit.

Roger Small, of Burlington, returned to painting about 10 years ago. He’s developed a distinctive palette knife style, which shows to dramatic effect in his “Moondancer.” The alternate colors in the lower half spike upward toward a sky of soft, rectangular palette strokes, with a circular moon and silhouette of a cormorant in aqua blue.

In addition to metal owls and other fowl, Bob Prowda has twisted heavy steel wire into faux trees, which you can plant in your garden to attract birds. He livens up the exhibit with his humorous “Chicken 1,” made of woven and welded metal.

Another take on materials are sparkling glass mosaics by Catherine Thompson (“Wood Duck”) and Joseph Kaftan (“October Heron”). Kaftan, a second-generation mosaicist, often begins with a photo he’s taken from his kayak. He attacks each laborious project as a new challenge, cutting countless slivers of colored glass, themselves shaped to endow the final product with a unique expressiveness.

The exhibit is a refreshing burst of color for otherwise gloomy February days. And the bird portraits are set in a matrix of Smith & Vallee’s elegant wood tables and polished burl sculpture, a sprinkling of jewelry, wood, bronze and glass, a ceramic pot by Brian O’Neill (which some party-goers assumed to represent a nest or an egg), sculpture by Peregrine O’Gormley, Pieter Van Zanden, Karen Johnson, and Allen Moe.

Oh, and not an eagle to be seen.

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