Roald Dahl once said, “Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” My Lichen Series reflects many years of wandering around in those unlikely places. Hiking, canoeing, and occasionally living in wilderness cabins, particularly in Alaska, have given me the opportunity to experience the magic at a walking or paddling pace. I record it in sketches and through thousands of photos. I take most of the pictures on my hands and knees. The patterns, lines, and colors seen close up help define natural beauty into artwork.
Time, process, and change are persistent themes in my work while patterns and shapes and lines in the natural world fascinate me. Lichens, mosses, ferns, fungi: all produce organic structures that speak of the passage of time and the changing landscape over which we humans have much responsibility.
Sometimes in the field, I study tiny plant structures using botanical keys and a hand lens. Back in my studio, I relate my sketches and photos to scientific drawings, such as the work of biologist and naturalist Ernst Haeckel. I draw and sometimes trace individual plant and cell forms, often from field photographs. I audition them in various sizes using my copy machine to enlarge and reduce them to fit the motif I am constructing.
I like a mandala or medallion form. It speaks to the cyclical nature of the seasons and the variations in the shapes of the different species. While the science is interesting, the shapes, lines, and forms are what attract me.
I dye and print the majority of my fabrics, using a variety of mark-making techniques. On a regular basis I devote studio time to producing small pieces of cotton fabric in interesting, often experimental patterns and color combinations reminiscent of tiny friends from the field. Those fabrics form the color and pattern palettes for the quilts I make. My work is primarily hand-drawn and cut, fused appliqué, machine-stitched, machine-quilted, and often hand-embroidered.
I also have been influenced by my long-ago undergraduate job as a darkroom technician for a botanist who studied pollen and seeds of subtropical plants. I didn’t realize back then how those tiny structures would influence my artwork and how I would see the world.
ARTerrain Gallery by Charlotte Bird Organic Structures | Fiber Art
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About the Artist
Charlotte Bird has been working with textiles since childhood. She and her mother made her school clothes annually until she went away to college. Her high school graduation gift was a sewing machine.
In 1987, Bird and her husband took a sabbatical year. They spent the majority of the time in a small dry cabin inside Denali National Park. That fortified her love affair with Alaska and wilderness. When she returned to San Diego she decided to change careers. She left analyst and administrative positions in local government and became an artist entrepreneur. She has been creating textile-based artwork and exploring a variety of art forms—including art quilts, textile-based sculpture, and artist books—since then.
Over the last four years Bird has been part of an ongoing scientist/artist project focused on various topics specific to the Arctic region of Alaska. In a Time of Change: Trophic Cascades and In a Time of Change: Microbial Worlds have informed how she thinks about the images she chooses to use and the science behind them. In 2014, Bird was an artist-in-residence in Denali National Park, which was “another pivotal encounter with magic,” she says. She also belongs to a small Alaska-based artist group, Elements Artist Group, which provides critical support as her work grows.