Celebrating the spring bird migration, it’s Bird Week in the NEMO Adventure in Place content series. We’re continuing with our mission to inspire your outdoor connection and creative projects, and this is a perfect opportunity for our next artist profile on Scott Lenhardt and his mixed media Good House Birds sculpture series. Enjoy!
“I like to think about this series right now as it’s been a bit strange living in New York City during these interesting times.”
This bird series was made during a short period when I was living in the country in upstate New York, taking a break from the city. The house was surrounded by beautiful pastures and a rural landscape expanded in the distance. There were birds all around me. We had bird feeders and binoculars and got to know a lot of them … and would just sit and listen to their songs.
My friend, Ed Schneider, had been taking these beautiful photos of birds and posting them on Facebook. I was struck by the stillness of each bird and how they had so much personality in just the tiniest twist of their heads — they were always listening.
Designed so utterly perfect in utility and beauty, I thought — maybe they are listening for someone to tell them that.
The process of making these sculptures had many chapters.
The first step was whittling the wood. The pieces I used for these carvings came from my friend, Creston Lea of Creston Guitars. They were offcuts he’d given me from the stock he used to build his custom electric guitar bodies. Sitting on a porch, whittling wood is a nice activity that I hope to revisit again soon. I love seeing the chips of wood that would pile up on my lap and feet. Dare I say, they were like little wooden feathers.
Once the shape was carved out and sanded, I painted the markings with acrylic paint staying as true as I could to Ed’s reference photos. The only time I strayed was in the eyes to give them a little character and seem a little bit off — in a nice cute-little-critter way, of course.
After the birds were painted, they were set aside. Next, I made oil paintings of background scenes on canvas that was glued to plywood. The scenes were meant to have the feeling of air and be slightly out of focus and a color palette that would accentuate the star of the show: the little bird.
I absolutely love oil painting — it is so hypnotic to me. It’s probably safe to say, these pieces may have only come to fruition as an excuse to paint some simple oil landscapes and still look cool. Once the backgrounds were done, I walked around and found some small branches of wood that the birds would perch on. The old lilac shrubs had the best animated limbs. After sifting through and editing my lot, I decided which branch would go with each bird and where it would land and become part of the background composition.
Then it came time to fire up my drill. This part was a little distressing because I had put some much time into painting the backgrounds and the birds, but now they needed some holes in them — some in the bellies of the birds for wire legs and feet and some in the paintings for dowels to attach the branches.
It was also during this time that I was discovering the benefits of meditation, and I used every bit of unfocused focus that I’d learned to get through this next step.
After successfully attaching the delicate branches that were very dry and brittle, I then had to wrap the wires around them to get the birds to sit just right. I can’t describe how precious those moments were. If during the wrapping of the wires I snapped a branch, the holes that I had strategically poked through the background oil painting wouldn’t work for a replacement branch. There was a lot of breathing and pausing … and not thinking too much.
The frames and roofs which house the lights were made by a woodworker in Vermont named Dan Mosheim who came up with the idea to insert magnets into the lid so that changing the lights out would not require taking the whole thing off the wall.
“I loved seeing all of these eventually come together in a dark gallery. It was so peaceful and quiet. The way the birds sat there, it was almost as if they were real and just staring back at you either frozen in fear or simply being their cool, delicate bird selves — frozen in time with the potential to blast off or whistle a pretty tune.”
Scott Lenhardt lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, creating works on paper, paintings, and sculptures — and is known for creating an extensive list of graphics for snowboards, rock album covers, and tomato sauce jars … to name a few. Check out his other work here.