Birds of a Feather

Hey there, it’s time for another installment of Crazy Collections. Now, I don’t think that most of Kathy’s Dragonware is crazy, just that Tijuana cup and saucer. For goodness sakes, everyone knows a dragon would just pick a bull up and fly away with him. But that is the fun of having a collection; there will always be parts of it that make you laugh out loud!

A couple of years ago I found two Mexican Feather Art pictures at one of our favorite thrift stores. They were just so interesting in appearance, and one had a dramatic if rather comic interpretation of a cock fight…ahem ROOSTERS! Both had the traditional carved frames and were so well done, that I kind of fell in love with them. Of course, once you get a couple of something, you start seeing them all over the place. I only have 6, but that’s because I’m only going to buy good, traditional ones from now on; or that is what I tell myself. I can have rules about my collections too—I’m just not as disciplined about following them. The phrase from “from now on” should indicate to the reader that I currently have some “not so good ones” in my collection. One in particular, I challenge you to find it, is wrong on a couple of things, but of course, you always need a bad example in a collection to illustrate what’s right with the rest of your treasures.

I have tried to research Mexican Feather Art to little avail. However, I found a website showcasing someone’s Feather Art pictures.  She reports that she has 87 of these pictures, which makes my poor collection seem like small change.

Another related website:

http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/14/entertainment/ca-feathers14

(I apologize in advance for all the pop-ups in that article; it was worth reading if you are interested, but it is annoying!)

This Los Angeles Times article is about the difficulties of maintaining or lending feather artwork, and does talk a little about the history and significance of feather art. A couple of passages seem particularly appropriate to Mexican Feather Art.

“Feathers have come to roost in art and ethnographic museums because many cultures have conferred great value on them. Symbolizing fertility, abundance, riches and power, they have been used as currency or tribute and have been incorporated into ceremonial attire, ritual objects and decorative arts”.

AND

“But the feathers themselves haven’t had a lot of respect in the modern Euro-centric art world. Latin American feather art was in great demand by the Spanish conquistadors who took spectacular examples back to Europe. As Catholicism spread in the New World, the art form was adapted to Christian subject matter, liturgical objects and ecclesiastic vestments. Many of the best pieces were given to popes, kings and noblemen who shared them with an appreciative audience. No less than French 18th century philosopher Voltaire praised Mexican craftsmanship, including featherwork, for having “the most beautiful patterns with the variety of their colors and tones.” Suzanne Muchnic, Times Staff Writer Los Angele Times October 14, 2007

My favorite source of information about Mexican Feather Art comes from the back of a picture. Here it is written word for word:

HISTORY OF MEXICAN FEATHERCRAFT

The art of feathercraft is very ancient, remounting its origin years before the Spanish conquest of MEXICO in 1521. A noble race of Indians from the state of Michoacan called the THE TARASCOS used hummingbird feather in the robes and crowns of their Kings, being worthwhile to mention the fact that up to this day their old capital city is named TZINTZUNTZAN, or “hummingbird”.

It is well known that birds have a prominent place in Aztec mythology and Mexican history, as the Mexican symbol is in itself represented by an Eagle perched on top of a cactus devouring a snake. History speaks that this was the fulfillment of the Aztec prophecy for the location of their capital on the present site of México city.

Quetzalcoatl, known also as the feathered serpent of the Aztec tribe, was a light-skinned deity who is said to have taught the Toltecs their art and craft, and is still considered as the evening star that constantly watches over them.

Cortés, the Spanish conqueror of Mexico speaks many a great thing of the feathered jewels of the Aztecs. The last Aztec Prince by the name of Cuauhtemoc (EAGLE THAT FALLS) brought about the final battle against the invaders, who burned his feet unsuccessfully persuading him to reveal the whereabouts of a great tresaure (treasure).

The hand carved cedar frame you are now holding, together with the artistic and beautiful bird in it, are the result of very patient and skillful hand work, which require painful manual labor, traditional from ancestors, being altogether a symbol of a million bird songs that anciently haunted our great forests, which still hold something of that mysterious beauty.

Productos Regionales de Toluca, S. de R.L.

APARTADO 84 CURIOSIDADES EN GENERALTOLUCA, MEX.

I understand that the feather art being produced these days does not use wild song bird feathers. I cringe a little when I look at my feather art thinking about all the birds who unwillingly donated feathers to the artists. It’s kind of like fur coats—once they are made you can’t unmake them. The vintage feather art has an innocence about it; the makers believed that feathers were meant to be used just like gemstones, gold, or beautiful wood.

So, after all that digression, here are my Mexican Feather Art Pictures:

This last picture is the one I consider a lesser example. It has a very plain frame, and the painting on it seems a little off to me. However, the feathers themselves are wonderful! It was a bear to take a picture of, much worse than the others. If you are curious to see what I look like, there is a reflection of me in the glass. It happened every time, no matter how I positioned the picture 8-(

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4 Responses to Birds of a Feather

  1. Corliss Austin says:

    I have two of these, both having the history on the back. The hand carved Cedric frames match and seem a little more intricate than the ones you have.

    • kathydeb says:

      There is a wide variety of quality with these feather pictures; it sounds like yours are at the upper end of the spectrum. I have seen ads in vintage craft magazines for very small, plain ones which is the other end of the spectrum. Watch out, they can become a hard-to-explain habit. 😉

  2. Elaine says:

    I have just come upon a collection of Mexico Featherart from a storage unit I purchased.
    ther are in excellent condition, several have a story about Spanish on the back., some have history of Mexican feathercraft, some have the explanation of why they use feathers.
    i have around 40 of these.
    hand carved frames
    some are large, 25×14
    and med, 15×8.. and small 6×3…and sll sizes in between.
    want to sell, of course.

    • kathy & deb says:

      Well, that is a huge collection! They are beautiful and show a lot of artistry, but they don’t have a lot of value. The large ones could because they are unusual; it’s way more common to see the small ones. I would try online if you have a platform: ebay or Etsy would give you a large “audience”. I rarely spend more than $5 on a piece, so you might have to do some research to find prices. Good luck!

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