Some time ago, in a dusty section of an old antique shop, I found a broken down book full of beautiful portrait prints. The book was getting ready to be heaved into a rolling bin headed for the recycling center, along with many other books that had been damaged by a recent leak in the shop. Still on the shelf, but tagged for recycling, the fate of the bird book didn’t look good. On the outside, it didn’t have much going for it. The spine was shredded, the cover splotchy with water stains, the dust jacket missing. But on closer inspection, with a flip through its interior pages, a little miracle had occurred. The bird bookplates inside had somehow escaped the water leaks. The images were bright and colorful and perfectly preserved. The birds fluttering among the pages, each depicted in their own natural setting with their mates and their foliage, were too beautiful to be tossed away.
Illustrated by Southern botanical artist Athos Menaboni in the 1950’s, these bookplate prints featured a whole aviary of birds. Many were familiar… geese, hawks, doves…but some were new like this handsome duo…
I liked their spiky head feathers immediately and thought they might be part of the woodpecker family. But I was wrong. Do you know what kind of birds they are? Here are a few hints…
They LOVE to fish.
They come from one of the few bird species where females are more colorful than males
A grouping of them is called is called a crown.
They have big heads and even bigger hairdos, not for vanity, but to accentuate their superior skills when diving for dinner.
Could you guess? Do You know it?! If you said the Eastern Belted Kingfisher then you are correct (and a wonderful birder). The kingfishers capabilities at mealtime know no equal. They are one of the best fishermen on the planet and can gather up enough aquatic life to get a fish fry started in a jiffy. Industrious, talented and always ready to get to work on planning the possibilities of their next meal, kingfishers are wonderful kitchen role models, happiest when engaged in the food options around them. See their expressive personality in this fun two-minute video…
Ever since I learned about these remarkable little birds I have been on the lookout for more of their images and information. Serendipity came calling the other day when I found a vintage 1970’s paper bird model of a kingfisher that had never been assembled.
How exciting! A new craft project – our very own paper kingfisher for the kitchen. Last Sunday, Bradley, the Vintage Kitchen’s resident builder of all things fun and functional, got to work assembling the new paper bird. The whole thing took 4 hours to come to life, but we shortened all that time down to just a 27-second video so that you could see how it all came together too…
Now the Vintage Kitchen has its own little symbol of industry, talent and enthusiasm flying around the kitchen and watching over all our cooking endeavors.
Usually, the birds most symbolic of the kitchen are chickens, roosters, turkeys and pheasants but I recommend the kingfisher any day. Aesop once said it is not only fine feathers that make fine birds. The effervescent kingfisher proves just that. Even though they are beautiful their abilities are even more so.
Look for more kingfisher magic coming to the shop this fall and winter. In the meantime, find their botanical print here along with others from the rescued bird book here.
May your next cooking endeavor be as joyful and as enthusiastic as any kingfisher’s catch. Cheers to the birds who make our culinary spirits fly!
Ms. Jeannie has this lovely friend Tuny who has lived one of those adventurous sorts of lives here and abroad. She’s fun to spend time with because she’s always got something interesting to say. Last time they got together they were talking about the royal wedding and trying to determine William’s last name. Tudor? Windsor? Wales? They were determined not to look it up online yet try to figure it out by going through the lineage of the royal family. They got about 20 minutes into that and then decided to consult Google. (In case you are interested it’s a hypenated name, Mount Batten – Windsor!)
Anyway, in trying to guess the right name, their conversation took all sorts of twists and turns. There were references to Tuny being engaged to a Spanish bullfighter, her years spent as a librarian, her travels, her books, her artistic endeavors and her love of cats.
Cats – yes most definitely. Tuny might just be one of the biggest collectors of cat art that Ms. Jeannie knows. Specifically she loves cat folk art, which Ms. Jeannie can understand since she is a big folk art lover herself!
Each August, Ms. Jeannie anticipates the Slotin Folk Art Festival held in Norcross, GA (this year it’s August 17th-19th). If you have never been – it is quite an experience of color and creativity – so much so – by the end of the day, Ms. Jeannie’s brain feels swimmy with pageantry. Tuny would love it here!
It just so happened that the first piece of folk art Ms. Jeannie ever bought was at the festival in 2008…a small 4×4 painting of a bird. Here’s a photo of it…
Ms. Jeannie loved the flowers and the colors. The fact that it featured a bird made it even more perfect. It is by far the most colorful piece of art that Ms. Jeannie owns.
So thrilled, Ms. Jeannie was, of her new acquisition, the artist wrote a personal little note on the back and signed her name. Ms. Jeannie’s glad she bought it that day as she hasn’t seen this artist at the festival any years since and she can no longer read the name of the artist’s signature. It’s one of those long scratchy, crawly names that she wrote upside down with a faded marker pen. This makes Ms. Jeannie cherish her folk art bird even more so. A special memento from a special day. Periodically, Ms. Jeannie will move Bird about the house to spaces and places that need a little extra brightening. Bird is good at offering that extra bit of light. Art is good at offering at that extra bit of bright.
So when Ms. Jeannie chats about cats with Tuny she can understand how her love of all things feline plays such an important part in her life. Read on as Tuny sheds some light on what it means to be a collector …
Ms. Jeannie: What is it about cat art in particular that appeals to you?
Tuny: Well…partly it is that cats themselves appeal to me; I like being around them, interacting with them, learning about their individual personalities, and enjoying their appearance, which brings me to a second, and perhaps more important, part, in this context: It’s a cliche that some people can toss a scarf or throw onto a sofa and have it transform the sofa, as if an experienced interior designer had done it. Cats are so well designed that no matter what they’re doing, it’s art. They can sprawl, curl up, stretch out, etc., and always look as if it were deliberate, because they form a pattern. But even more than the above, I love them and want to celebrate them.
Ms. Jeannie: How did you discover Etsy?
Tuny: MANY years ago, before I knew much about online activity, I must have been searching for “cat art” and came upon a kitty puppet that I wanted in the worst way–but it said to Sign in to Etsy, and I didn’t understand what Etsy was or how to go about that…especially as the only computer I had was my work computer, and I didn’t want to sign into anything on it. It wasn’t until several years later, when Etsy became better known, that I figured all this out.
MJ: What do you like best about Etsy? What do you like least?
T: Perusing Etsy’s like being let loose in a really cool art festival, in the comfort of my own house, where I have access to art from around the world–that’s the best. Least are two things: when searching for something, odd things that have no relevance often turn up in the results. I understand, in most cases, why this happens, but I wish there were a way to put in limiters, such as “no prints” or “no cat-eye beads.” The other thing isn’t a real dislike, but I wish one could purchase an Etsy gift certificate that would be good for a shop of the recipient’s choice.
MJ: How did your interest in art develop?
T: Because I come from a very talented family, I always thought that my own efforts in that direction weren’t worth the effort, as it were, but when I was in my late 20’s, living abroad in a country with a long tradition of leather book binding, I started making little illustrated books for a friend, and had them bound. When I discovered how much fun painting was, talent or not, I was hooked.
The bookbinding episode was in Portugal–I didn’t learn bookbinding; I went down to one of the binderies, which were small operations, and told them what I wanted to do, which was to paint some pictures and have them bound into a small book. They gave me the paper of the right size, and when I finished the paintings, I took them back and they bound them into a small leather book. I made several of those. What I did learn, also in Portugal, was to make what are called tapetes, or carpets, of Arraiolos, in a very simplified form…a sort of long-armed cross-stitch done in wool on a burlap-like background.
MJ: What type or types of art appeal to you most?
T: Folk art and illustrations in children’s books
MJ: If you could sit down and have lunch with any famous artist, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
T: None; I prefer admiring from a distance.
MJ: As a world traveler, exposed to many different cultures, how has travel affected your viewpoint on art?
T: Travel has enhanced my appreciation for indigenous/folk art of various countries.
MJ: What is your most favorite museum?
A. Honolulu Academy of Arts
and the Folk Art Museum in Lisbon.
MJ:As a painter yourself, what do you hope to express with your work?
T: As all I paint is cats, then, an appreciation for them.
MJ: Explain your ideal art buying experience. Would you like to meet the artist face to face, get to know them, understand their motivations and their inspirations, their back story, or do you like to buy art and imagine your own stories surrounding a piece?
T: I enjoy meeting artists, particularly if I encounter them repeatedly at art shows, etc., but I like their work to speak for itself.
MJ: If money was no object, name 10 pieces of art that would be in your collection.
T: I enjoy looking at, experiencing, if you will, fine art, but my affinity is with folk art, most particularly cat folk art–so an unlimited collection of that would be lovely.
MJ: Who is the most interesting artist you have met so far?
T: Hard to answer, because they all have something interesting to contribute.
(Ms. Jeannie’s side note: Incidently, Tuny’s niece, Diana, has an Etsy shop dVineArt which combines two of Tuny’s favorite mediums: cats and illustration! This must run in the family!)
MJ: As you transition through different stages in your life, do you find that your taste in art transitions with you or do you find yourself returning to the same artists, the same types of art, the same themes over and over again?
T: Basically I continue to like the same kind of art, see above, that I always have, but it’s exciting to see and learn about the many, many kinds of art that are out there. As I transition, I continue to meet different kinds of art, and it’s like stumbling on gold.
14. What book are you currently reading? What is your most favorite book?
Currently re-reading Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill;
all-time favorite: Pride and Prejudice.
MJ: As an avid reader, what art books would you most recommend?
T: Right now, my main interest in art reading is to learn how-to’s; I tend to review the myriad of books one can find by searching under “collage,” ” paper making,” or whatever, in Amazon, and then reading the reviews to see what’s worth pursuing, purchasing those that seem appropriate.
MJ: What is your favorite way to view art? Online? In a gallery? On the street? At a craft show? At a museum?
T: All of the above.
MJ: Explain a situation where art has directly affected your life.
T: When I retired, I joined one of our local art groups and have been busy ever since, volunteering, teaching, occasionally entering the art challenges–in effect, acquiring a whole new life.
MJ: What is one of the most interesting displays of creativity that you have seen in the last five years?
A. In our art group was a young man, an excellent artist, who had been in the group for some years before I came, and had, evidently, grown considerably in his talent during that time. By the time I came along, he was still developing, constantly experimenting and pushing himself, in all sorts of exciting directions. And then it was discovered, too late to do anything about it, that he had cancer. Yet he kept on with his art, pushing and experimenting, in the few months he had left.
MJ: If you could travel to any city on the globe, solely to view a piece of art what city and what piece of art would you choose?
T: The Terra Cotta Warriers!
The Terracotta Warriors are indeed fascinating! Ms. Jeannie would like to see them for herself as well. To read more about how they were discovered by a Chinese farmer who was digging a well and to see more photos of the thousands of them in them unearthed and reassembled for display, click here. Ms. Jeannie wonders iof there are any warrior cats in there?! If so, I bet Tuny would find them!
This interview is part of an ongoing interview series, that Ms. Jeannie is orchestrating about artists, writers and musicians and their inspirations. To read other interviews in this series, simply click on the following links:
BLOG UPDATE: So it seems my dears, in one of these fabulous conversations with Tuny something went awry. There was no love of a Spanish bullfighter in her life – how could Ms. Jeannie have b4en so confused?! Although Tuny did have an experience with a bullfighter, as she tells here
“The closest I ever came to one, except at a bullfight, was on a train that did a night run between Madrid and Lisbon. Whilst in Lisbon, I went to Madrid to visit some friends, and on the return journey, established myself in one of the little compartments with facing seats. Shortly thereafter I was joined by two lower-echelon members of a torero’s entourage, and we dozed from Madrid to Lisbon.”
Okay so it’s not a Romeo and Juliet love affair but it’s interesting just the same:)
You know the saying…one thing always leads to another? Well ever since Ms. Jeannie wrote a blog post about the history of starlings she has been noticing the variety of birds that live in and around her garden. Not that she ever didn’t notice the birds before – but now she REALLY notices them. Their colors, their size, their nesting habits, their songs…fascinating! Her blog post also spawned similiar noticings and conversations among her friends, so much so that that they have sort of formed a little bird observation club of sorts. An occasional picture here, some observations there, a musing in-between.
One such friend, just yesterday, brought a nest to Ms. Jeannie that needed to be removed from the underside of his portico. Here it is upon arrival at Ms. Jeannie’s…
After seeing a family of birds hatch, grow, and leave the nest, and seeing no further activity over the next 2 weeks, he figured the nest was empty and ready for demolition. But to his surprise, upon careful removal, he discovered…
This bird’s nest belongs to the barn swallow, which like the starling, is one of the most common birds. So common in fact, that swallows can be found on every continent except for Antarctica.
Lying somewhere between the shades of cobalt blue and windsor blue, barn swallows are made up of beautiful blue feathers along their back and wings with white to orange belly feathers and long pronged tail feathers (like those extra long meat forks!).
Back in the 1800’s, because of their bright colors, barn swallows were hunted exhaustively for use of their feathers in the millinary business. Ladies hats were big business back then, which led artisans to continuously try to one up each other in the creativity department. Seeking more and more exotic inspirations, birds proved just the ticket to create hats both remarkable in size and stature. Other common bird feathers besides the swallows included egrets, bobwhites, herons and terns.
Here’s a millinery supply catalog page from 1901. Note the starling (whole bird) offered for sale in the bottom left corner.
Understandably, hats were an important staple in every women’s wardrobe. In an era where women dressed in similar colors and clothes, hats were a creative outlet for self expression. Like the artists who created them, women continuously sought the most unusual arrangements. Dead animals included. By the 1870’s, whole birds were being perched on top of women’s heads with wings fanned out in all sorts of elaborate stylings. Here are several feathered hat examples…
By the late 1890’s – early 1900’s, plume trading was a very lucrative business bringing at times $32.00 an ounce and esculating as high as $80.00 an ounce during peak trading. And it wasn’t just for women’s fashion, either. Men’s fedoras were also being embellished with feathers as status symbols of economic prosperity.
Fortunately, thanks to an 1886 editorial printed in Forest & Stream Magazine by naturalist, George Bird Grinell, the devasting effects plume trading was having on barn swallows and other birds was brought to light for the American public.
It seems women really hadn’t thought through this whole bird business. Being blinded simply by the sheer beauty of the fashion, they forgot to consider where these feathers came from, how the birds were treated and why they were winding up on their heads. Thanks to the editorial though, women all over New York City roused to the cause. Through boycotts and informational tea parties, word spread and awareness eventually led to the founding of the National Audubon Society in 1905. Today the Audubon Society is still dedicated to the conservation of birds, wildlife and healthy ecosystems. Fantastic!
Ms. Jeannie is thankful that people were watching out for the barn swallows a hundred years ago. Without their valiant efforts, she might not get to enjoy them in her neighborhood now. It’s lovely to see bright flashes of blue zip through the air before you and always so unexpected. Every time, she sees one – it is like the first time. A little extra thrill in her day!
Barn swallows have been a source of inspiration for many areas of art, not just the hat industry. Check out the following swallow themed items, Ms. Jeannie found on Etsy. These are some of her favorites…
If you notice barn swallows in your area, snap a photo and send it to Ms. Jeannie! Please include your location so she can share your sightings with everyone.
Have a birdy day!
A reader from the Palm Beach Gardens area of Florida wrote in about this phenomena that occurs in his neck of the woods…
“Something confusing you would be interested in. About every so often, at lest once a month, A huge , I mean huge, flock of birds of all varieties gather on the lake and ring the shore. It consists of birds from pelicans to herons to cranes, etc. As if they are holding a convention. I’ve tried to research this phenomenon to no avail. Any ideas?
Ms. Jeannie is on the case to see what sort of gathering this might be. She’ll keep you updated on what she finds, but in the meantime, if you can help solve this mystery, please share!
A family of european singers has moved in with Ms. Jeannie!
Tucked into the side porch – they chose to reside in a rotted out hole on the underside of the roof eave. Ms. Jeannie didn’t even know there was a vacancy there until she heard these vocalists warming up one morning. It started with two of them, but soon after came three babies chirp, chirp, chirping.
All black with bright yellow beaks and iridescent feathers, Ms. Jeannie identified these singers as European starlings with her handy bird book.
They are one of the most common birds found in the US, with over 200 million of them occupying all 50 states.
Interestingly enough, starlings were first introduced to America by Eugene Scheifflin in 1890. Eugene, a lover of all things Shakespeare, wanted to bring all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to America. The starling is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1:
“I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him
To keep his anger still in motion. “
Eugene released all the birds in Central Park in 1890, but only the starlings survived. Wondrously 30 pairs of starlings turned into 200 million just a hundred years later. Simply amazing!
A fascinating documentary was also done by Penny Lane about Eugene and his flight of fancy, called The Commoners. Here’s a clip from youtube…
Some people think that starlings are irritating because they are so vocal and can mimic many different types of birds. But Ms. Jeannie loves her new roommates. They can be destructive in the garden- pulling up newly planted seeds, but luckily Ms. Jeannie’s garden has remained untampered with so far.
The average lifespan of a european starling is 5-7 years but the oldest one on record in the US was 15 years old and in the UK, 22 years old. In general, they can lay up to 10 eggs a year. The babies get kicked out of the nest when the mom deems it appropriate so that they can learn to fly, forage and protect themselves on the ground for up to 5 days before they fly off.
Both parents teach the babies how to survive during this time. Not all babies make it though. Since they can’t fly yet when they are kicked out of the nest they become vulnerable to the initial fall, predators like snakes, house cats, etc or they succumb to dehydration or malnurishment. It is definitely tough to be a baby bird. Knowing this information now, it seems EXTRAordinary that birds ever even make it to adulthood.
Once starlings reach maturity, they are acrobatic flyers, reaching speeds up to 48 miles an hour. They can be aggressively territorial and dive bomb other birds if they feel threatened.
Male starlings choose the nesting sites and then go in search of a mate. The male starlings are also the primary nest builders, but the females like to come in at the end of construction and look the nest over before settling in. The females will even remove certain types of nesting materials if they don’t suit!
The poet, Mary Oliver, wrote this beautiful poem called Starlings in Winter…
Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.
Ms. Jeannie found some gorgeous starling art on Etsy. Take a look…
Starlings are cavity nesters. If you want to attract some starlings in your yard, Twig & Timber offers several styles that starlings would love…
Or if you want to start identifying the birds in your yard, these items might be helpful…
If you have any starling pictures from your yard, send them in. Ms. Jeannie would love to see! Until then…happy birding!