A few months ago, I found a stick when I was out walking. It’s a good length for carrying and has little twig nubs left on it right up at the top, perfect for attaching feathers to. It is so smooth and light, I think it’s been in a river.
It has been sitting in a corner of my studio since then. These days I don’t worry too much about waiting for the right time to begin a new piece of art. Oftentimes the idea needs stewing time in my brain, dwelling time in my soul. I know now to wait for the little pinprick of a spark or a huge lightning bolt to set the idea on fire and into motion on the physical plain.
I’d already named it ‘flying stick’ but something happened about a week ago that made me decide to begin working on it. Well, two things really.
First off, the sky above my town has been filled with jackdaws.
Maybe there was a bumper crop of young ones this year; the last time there were so many was in 2009, the year that Steve and I moved to Moretonhampstead. Every day, a huge clattering of jackdaws flies from treetops to rooftops, up into the sky and back again.
I reckon the older daws are putting the young ones through their paces, showing them how it’s done, how to be a jackdaw. There’s probably courtin’ going on too. Jackdaws pair up before they’re sexually mature and stay together for life.
I’ve been gifted many feathers in the past few weeks and with each one I’ve gathered have thought, ‘Ah, here’s another one my stick’.
The other thing that happened was that I stumbled across the writings of Chickasaw poet and writer, Linda Hogan. She belongs to one of the five tribes that were removed from the American Southeast to what is now the State of Oklahoma. The others are Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw and my tribe, the Muscogee (Creek). Her words reminded me:
I also found this passage about feathers from her book ‘Dwellings’:
“There is something alive in a feather. The power of it is perhaps in its dream of sky, currents of air, and the silence of its creation. It knows the insides of clouds. It carries our needs and desires, the stories of our brokenness. It rises and falls down elemental space, one part of the elaborate world of life where fish swim against gravity, where eels turn silver as moon to breed.”
I remembered that my artwork carries the story of my people and I remembered about feathers and I remembered that my people have forgotten how to dance and how to fly.
I began by wrapping the quills with red thread, using sewing machine thread to begin with. I did two of them, then ran out, so the next day I bought some six strand embroidery floss. It goes a lot further and covers more ground too.
I decided that I might want to wrap beads around the stick, so I googled something like ‘how to wrap a stick with beads’. In the image search I found this amazing eagle dance stick. This one is cast in paper by an artist named Allen Eckman.
I had no idea about dance sticks, which are a part of nearly every indigenous North American and Canadian tribe. The Lakota have horse dance sticks, each made to honor a specific, cherished horse in ceremonial dances.
I loved the creature head and considered a wolf or a panther for the top of my stick. Then I asked the stick what it wanted to be. A flying stick needs a bird head, so I decided to make a stylized one based on a carving from the Mississippian culture.
I thought hard about how to do it for a couple of days. I have some rolls of plaster-infused gauze, leftover from mask making, but it would be difficult to sculpt. Then I recalled that I have a little package of paper clay I bought from Patricia Dibona, an artist I met in Georgia about 8 years ago.
I wrapped the end of my stick with the gauze to build up the shape and give the paper clay something to stick on to. Then I copied a the bird head from my book Hero, Hawk and Open Hand. The paper clay is great to work with, dries in 2 – 3 days and is durable and paintable. It s also very light.
I attached the feathers today in my Monday drawing class.
So far, so good. My flying stick is perfectly balanced. I may wrap some thread, fabric or suede around the top, near the bird head. I might wrap some beads around the base. Dunno yet. I’ll wait and see what the stick wants to happen next.