After 35 years as a working artist, doing commissions in watercolor, acrylic, oil, and pen and ink, Laura Richardson had every intention of retiring. She closed her art studio, and at the end of 2018, she, her also-retired husband Bruce and their two dogs moved from northern Indiana to a mountain home in Waynesville, where they parked the RV they take to Florida every year.
“The thing about art, though, is you can’t really retire from it,” Richardson says. “An artist is not what you do but who you are. When we moved to these beautiful mountains, the first thing I wanted to do was paint mountains. Then we went to a fundraiser for the Blue Ridge Parkway which had commissioned local artists to do en plein air paintings … and they were so fabulous. I realized there were a whole lot of people here who can paint a mountain much better than me.”
With the freedom of being able to create whatever she wanted, she contemplated how to incorporate her love for feathers and her exploration of the wildlife in her new home. She turned to the idea of the feather as a canvas — and more. “My thought was, ‘How to make the feather … as important as the image I’m painting on it?’”
The answer proved challenging: Rather than mounting the feather to a surface and making it stationary, she lightly clips it and allows it to move as she paints. “What happens is I’ll be painting a tree limb and the feather will just open up. Sometimes the hole will work, and other times it might deter from the image, so I’ll put another feather on top of that one. I never know how the finished product will look; it develops as I work. The feather dictates how things will go for me.”
The feathers also determine the size of the work. “I’m not doing anything that will fill a wall,” she admits with a laugh. “All my pieces are relatively small. A whole turkey feather is just nine inches tall, and framed it might end up 12×15 inches. The owl face is on a single feather and the piece is only 6×9 inches.”
Even finding the feathers is not a free-floating task. “There are lots of laws and regulations regarding the collection of feathers from migratory birds,” she explains. Because any bird that has a hunting season is fair game, she has friends in Indiana send her turkey, pheasant, geese, and duck feathers, which lend themselves well to her unique genre.
Richardson uses acrylic paint and tiny brushes. Mounting the finished feather, she stitches it to the matboard, sometimes adding decorative feathers or painting on the board itself to finish the piece.
She focuses on wildlife indigenous to the area, such as owls, foxes, hawks, and even a bear. “As much as I love Florida wildlife,” she muses, “no one wants a pelican in their mountain cabin.”
Laura Richardson, Waynesville. Richardson’s work is carried by Seven Sisters Craft Gallery, 117 Cherry St., Black Mountain. For more information, call the gallery at 828-669-5107 or see sevensistersgallery.com.