Yesterday represents a triumph of the first order in the acquisition of art! Feast your eyes on this masterpiece of arts and crafts:
Pictures like this are more rare than you might suspect. After happening upon a similarly embroidered cockatoo picture, carefully framed under glass, in a furniture resale shop last year, I have checked every thrift store, every antique mall, every used furniture store I’ve encountered since in the hopes of finding more of these kinds of images. Some of them may be made with yarn, others with silk threads—the process is more akin to that of the Bayeux Tapestry than a homemade cross stitch, and the framed cross stitches you find in thrift stores are frequently labors of love cast aside when that love is outdated or over, not pictures made with the intent to perfect each stroke of thread and display them on walls.
I love having these pictures on my walls because they enliven the bare white plaster more than flat posters. I always I hated white walls because I grew up in a log cabin, so textured walls feel warmer and cozier to me. The only other piece I’ve found (and did not buy) that came close to the skill shown in these owls and the cockatoo presented “advice” like a more traditional needlepoint sampler—with a border of stick figures on grass and under schematic stars, it proclaimed that one should forgo books to find true education in nature. And so another clear problem in selecting needlework to grace your walls is that you may not agree with the sentiments it professes, and there is only so much irony one can include in home furnishings. Even so, I cannot explain the prevalence of birds as subjects in the best of their works, except to guess that it it’s a matter of form following function with embroidery lending itself to the mimicry of feathers.
Texture distinguishes these owls; it gives them character. This unknown artist knew how to pack threads together as an expert visual artist knows to vary shading and line to shape forms. Darker brown stitches give the lighter brown tree dimension, just as stitches in three different shades of grey expertly feather out from the face of the fierce owl at the lower left. The smaller owl next to him, perhaps meant to be a baby, and the owl at the right each show the yarn being manipulated to create an approximation of the appearance of real owl feathers, the former entirely fluffy and the latter with a fluffy jowl of feathers. Small orange accents structure the body of that jowly owl, while the owl with the bright yellow eyes at the upper right is built through the airy overlays of cream colored yarn that differentiate its feathers. It’s possible that this was a kit, plucked from the back of a craft store and executed to perfection, but it still demonstrates considerable effort and skill.
I don’t know what other embroidered birds are out there. I don’t know if this was trendy in the ‘70s, and they’re only now filtering into the resale shops of greater Cleveland. I could probably go on eBay and find another ten to decorate all the rooms in my apartment, but that’s not nearly as much fun as sifting through bins in thrift stores in hope that one will peep out at me and beg me to take it home. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to branch out into landscapes or animals someday, but if my home becomes a museum for embroidered birds of the world, that’s fine too.