In Fine Feather

By Karen Parr-Moody


Birds and their beautiful feathers have been on my mind of late, as robins swoop through the redbud limbs. Then I saw the oil portrait, photo right, depicting the 18th-century woman Dido Elizabeth Belle with a plume of ostrich feathers tucked into her turban, and I was reminded in another way of birds and their beauty.


Birds have been depicted in art since ancient times. Then, from the mid-14th century onward, birds’ feathers were worn across Europe, chiefly in hats. This were usually the feathers of the ostrich, a bird that was hunted almost to extinction in the late 18th century due to this trend.



The print in the photo, left, was created from an original painting by John James Audubon that he created in 1829 from looking at specimens ($65; Booth T-195). It is one of a handful of birds included in his “Birds of America” book that was actually not an American bird. Audubon mistakenly thought these birds were from the Columbia River region in Oregon – therefore the name on the plate, “Columbia.” This is actually a Magpie Jay (Calocitta Formosa) found in Mexico. It is shown in with its vibrant blue feathers, perching in a thatch of poison ivy.


When one thinks of Hollywood Regency, certain elements come to mind: Bright colors with vivid prints, Asian touches, faux bamboo. Then there are the birds. It seems that no Hollywood Regency room is complete without a small pair of brass birds, whether they be pheasants, quail or peacocks, like the one in the photo, below right ($42 for a pair; T-360).


If one looks at Mid-Century Modern art pottery long enough, one notices a preponderance of planters and vases that feature a bird motif, including the one in the photo, left ($14; T-195). They were made by companies including Royal Copley, Maddux of California, McCoy and Hull. A major trend of that era was the depiction of a pair of love birds in such planters. These look like more like the rosy-tinged breed called Cassin’s Finch, but they do appear to be in love, don’t they?

I have a toddler who still plays with some of my Fisher-Price toys of the 1970s, but this Fisher-Price “Roly Poly Chime Ball” from 1966 even tops those ($16; T-194). It makes a sweet musical sound when rolled about on the floor. Plus, the figures inside are adorable; they include two spotted horses and two charming swans, each with a red bow at the neck. The swans look like the famous Swan Boats that have graced the waters of the Boston Public Garden for 130 years.


Birds have a long history as a decorative motif, and these winged creatures can bring whimsy and elegance to any space. And these avian motifs also remind us of this beautiful link humans have to these fascinating, feathered creatures.






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