Soaring High, Landing Hard: The Veneration and Exploitation of Birds
New Works by Rebecca Jewell
June 4th - July 6th, 2016 Alcheringa Gallery 621 Fort St.
Preview: Friday, June 3rd, 10am-6pm Opening: Saturday, June 4th, 2-5pm (artist in attendance)
Artist Talk: Sunday, June 5th, at 2pm
When Rebecca Jewell was 18 years old, she left her home in London England to live in Papua New Guinea for one year.
The experience had a powerful, far-reaching effect on the young woman. Three decades later, memories of that time continue to inspire her dual careers of artist and anthropologist. “I vividly recall the village men and women,” she recalls, “their dark-oiled skin glistening and bird of paradise feathers cascading from their headdresses.” The men hunted birds with magnificent plumage, hoping to acquire the special powers and beauty of the animal.
Returning to England, Jewell studied social anthropology, then completed a PhD in Natural History Illustration at London’s Royal College of Art. Her thesis involved many detailed water colours of birds in the British Museum. Spending time with collections that included many extinct birds galvanized the artist's resolve to protect the remaining species. Today, Jewell’s fascination with feathers includes the study of capes, masks, shields and headdresses from Oceania in the British Museum, were she is Artist in Residence.
Jewell adds historical context to the Deer Stalker's and Falconer’s headdresses (below) by using animal illustrations by John Audubon. For Birds of America (ca.1840) Audubon researched and painted many species of birds in their natural habitats. After killing the birds with fine buck-shot, he wired them into natural looking poses in their habitat. The historical penchant for killing and cataloguing is questioned by Jewell in the exhibition.
Jewell’s new works at Alcheringa spotlight her technical innovations and expertise in a variety of mediums: detailed drawing, hand-colouring, collaged materials and pulled prints. Several of the artworks are available as both an original with printed feathers and a limited edition archival print. “Process is as important to me as product,” says Jewell.
Jewell uses an etching press for her paper lithography prints. The images for her hand pulled prints come from a variety of sources: her own photos and drawings, historical illustrations from museums and naturalist field guides. On a laser photo-copy of the image she rolls on her inks, then puts the feather on top. If all goes well, the press transfers the image on to the feather. “This technique takes a lot of patience and planning,” she says. A successful final piece is photographed and made into limited edition archival prints. This printing technique celebrates the strength and delicacy of a feather and the marvellous design qualities that allow flight. Sustainably collected goose, swan and duck feathers are used. Her palette favours reddish-brown for historical subject matter and more flamboyant colours for the headdresses and capes.
Cape of No Hope is modelled after Hawaiian feather capes from the British Museum collection. The subdued palette of sepia and brown reflects the sombre message: all the birds printed on the feathers are now extinct. Their names are printed on the feathers. There are also photos of eggs from extinct birds.
“Making this image was very time consuming,” says Jewell, “as I could only print four feathers at a time.”
Malta has a long history of hunting migratory birds, as do several southern Mediterranean countries. Jewell visited Malta in 2012 with artists from Ghosts of Gone Birds. This group worked with Bird Life Malta to raise awareness of the issues. In 2015, a referendum to allow the spring hunting of protected birds (banned in Europe) was passed in Malta. “It is disappointing,” Jewell says, “but many Maltese view these activities as part of their cultural heritage and livelihood.”
Writing for National Geographic, American bird expert Jonathan Franzen described the coastal netting in Egypt. The nets capture birds along their migratory route from Europe to Africa - nearly 140 million birds each season or one in 20 migrant birds.
Below right: Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, died in 1914 and now resides in the Smithsonian Institution. In 100 years the North American pigeon population went from 3 billion to zero because of loss of habitat and hunting for meat.
Oceania includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the many smaller islands in the Pacific Ocean.
This 2016 sculpture is a 30 inch-high replica of a duck egg dyed blue. A photographic print was created from the original sculpture. The floating objects on the surface represent the migration of artifacts. On the egg are explorers, navigation tools, island maps, designs and treasures moving feely in the watery genesis. The barely visible feather outlines create texture on the surface.
Whitney was a wealthy philanthropist who funded expeditions researching biota of the Pacific Islands in the 1920‘s.
Jewell modelled her print on the 75-ton schooner used on the trips to collect plants, artifacts and photographs. In 2014, Jewell held an Artist Residency in New York’s American Museum of Natural History. She had access to to the 40,000 bird skins collected by scientists during the Whitney journeys. “It was overwhelming in many ways,” she recalls, “drawers and drawers of study skins. But it has to be seen as part of our history, and the history of science. Unfortunately, though, some species were brought to extinction due to excessive collecting.” The artist suggests another way to satisfy our human predilection to collect and classify. Why not create a “paper museum” with drawings and photos of living plants and animals? “This type of museum could be easily transported and displayed” she says, “and put an end to killing and preserving the actual species.”
Rebecca Hossack Gallery in London and New York represent the artist. Elaine Monds and Rebecca Hossack are colleagues who both exhibit artists from Australia and Papua New Guinea. Director Monds is delighted to present Jewell’s first solo show at Alcheringa.
“Rebecca is a gifted artist with an important message,” she says. “Her exquisite details draw attention to some disquieting truths about our relationships with the natural world.”
The opening on Saturday, June 4th, 2-5pm with artist in attendance was an exciting event.
Below, four guests eloquently share their impressions about the exhibition.
Alcheringa Gallery is open 7 days a week and located at 621 Fort Street, Victoria.
For more info call (250) 383-8224 or visit Alcheringa Gallery
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*Photos of artwork courtesy the artist, photos of artist in studio via Web.
Kate Cino previewed arts events for 18 years at Boulevard magazine.
She has a History in Art degree and Public Relations certificate from the University of Victoria.
In 2013, Kate was nominated for a Women in Business “Above and Beyond” award, hosted by Black Press.
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