When I was younger, I spent a lot of time with my husband’s grandparents. Her grandmother Margaret was an elegant and bright researcher who loved birds.
Whenever she heard a family member disagree at an otherwise civilian meal, she would announce, “Oh, look at him. birds.” She was pointing at a collection of hummingbirds outside her window, a sparrow or maybe even a crow. Any bird would do to distract us and prevent the conversation from continuing into the conflict.
During this truly confusing and heartbreaking time, I opened an exhibition of artists who love to watch and represent birds. The “Rare Birds” exhibition, on display until July 2, includes paintings, photographs and sculptures by 15 regional artists fascinated by the world of birds. Participating artists include Suzanne Adan, Paula Bellacera, Mary Czechan Coldren, Diana Coleman, Lynn Criswell, Chris Daubert, Natasha Dikareva, Anne Gregory, Mark Gleason, Sasinun Kladpetch, Nelson Loskamp, Katie McCann, Mike Stevens, Marsha Schindler and Sandy Whetstone.
Nelson Loskamp’s paintings center on childhood memories of pet birds, like Sam, a destructive cockatoo who swore a blue trail. For Paula Bellacera and Natasha Dikareva, birds are linked to spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions that see birds as a conduit to the heavens and a symbol of power. Katie McCann creates hybrid human / bird creatures to challenge the male-centric naming of birds, in her collage titled “Why Aren’t There Queen Birds?” Chris Daubert’s “Flock” features suspended buildings made of plexiglass. Local birds, as seen in his Dixon studio, fly over each of the small structures, lit by LED lights.
But even birdwatching cannot escape the broader societal issues of racism.
Bird watcher Christian Cooper, an African-American comic book author, was verbally attacked by a white woman in Central Park who went viral a few weeks ago. He said it wasn’t the first time this had happened, but his love for birds went beyond the incident.
“We should be here. Birds belong to all of us, ”he said. “Birds don’t care about your color.” Cooper, who has video documented the incident and is the New York chapter director of the Audubon Society, had told Amy Cooper to keep her dog on a leash. She in turn responded by calling the police to tell them that an African-American man was threatening her.
The incident is part of a month of racist attacks in America that have prompted many of us in the art world to critically engage with how our past and current actions, our work and in particular our treatment of people of color is linked to the legacy of racism.
It’s a conversation as relevant as any in our society, and it’s time for all of us in the art world to stop avoiding, denying or minimizing our role in direct complicity or indirect with racism. In other words, we must be prepared to engage in conflict and dig deep. I’m not good at this – most of the time, I do I just wanna watch the birds, but it’s really my white privilege to speak.
Last week I was in awe of the huge public art displayed in town honoring those who have been killed by acts of police brutality, like the George Floyd mural on the corner of Denali and Shasta streets. The series of serigraphs produced by the youth of TANA (Taller Arte del Nuevo Amanecer) by Floyd and others is also very moving, seen more recently as part of a community art installation in Central Park and evolving as we speak. It is an honor to be part of a community where grief, anger and hope can be expressed simultaneously, in a public way.
To visit during the month of June, please call us at 530-758-3370 or email [email protected] We invite groups of up to five people at a time for meetings, Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors must wear masks and a social distance of 6 feet from others. Entrance to the gallery is free, but donations are welcome.
Pence staff are still working to prepare the building, our staff and volunteers, to reopen after we close on March 13th. We place great importance on the health and safety of our public, so we will notify the public as soon as we have completed our preparations.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, we had to cancel the “Exhibit It” community art exhibit, but it will return next summer. We have also postponed our June Treasure Sale from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, July 31 and Saturday, August 1, and from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 2. We always accept donations. for sale, such as porcelain, jewelry, art, collectibles, clothing, small furniture, picture frames, books or the like. Our upstairs ceramic exhibit has been extended until June 28 for those of you who haven’t seen it online or in person.
Thank you for your support of the Pence Gallery during this difficult time. We hope you will visit us in July when we aim to reopen to the public with our regular hours, 11:30 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Sunday.
– Natalie Nelson is Executive Director and Curator of the Pence Gallery; his column is published monthly.