Avian Spirits

Thrasher 1 © Julie Meridian | Image courtesy Julie Meridian
Thrasher 1 © Julie Meridian | Image courtesy Julie Meridian

Group Art Exhibition Contemplates Bird Imagery

as Metaphors for the Human Spirit


OPENING:  Sunday, July 13 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

RUNS:  July 13 – August 31, 2014


Curator Franck Mercurio hanging fabulous bird portraits by artist Marlene McCauley.
Curator Franck Mercurio hanging fabulous bird portraits by artist Marlene McCauley.

To curate Brushwood Center’s latest art exhibition Avian Spirits, Franck Mercurio began with a famous Emily Dickinson quote: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.”

“I used that as a starting point, how artists have been inspired by birds,” said Mercurio. He has gathered more than 40 pieces created by 14 artists, which include paintings, sculptures and photography for the exhibition that opens July 13.

The works will not only grace the walls of Brushwood Center in Riverwoods, but the scenic forested outdoors as well. Painted directly on the front lawn with environmentally safe products will be a work reflecting bird migration by the collaborative DOEprojekts. On the back lawn, visitors can view an unusual installation by Annette Barbier of waterfowl, feeding as they do with their bottoms up.

Visitation B © Steph Roberts | Image courtesy Addington Gallery
Visitation B © Steph Roberts | Image courtesy Addington Gallery

“I wanted to create something whimsical and explore why we give human characteristics to birds,” said Mercurio. “I chose artists who use bird imagery as metaphors for the human spirit.”

The Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods creates a theme each year used to unite its programs. This year, the theme is Extinction/Survival. Mercurio curated an art exhibition at Brushwood Center in spring entitled, Facing Extinction. “It was all about artists who respond to human-caused extinction and what people are trying to do to ensure survival,” he said.

Avian Spirits is intended to be lighter, more whimsical, more hopeful,” he said. “I want to have some accessible works for the audience as well as some challenging works, and strike a balance.”

One artist he chose is Molly Cranch, who creates colorful oil paintings of birds. “The imagery is really accessible. You can tell what types of birds they are, but there’s an anthropomorphic quality to the birds. They are almost human-like in their expressions,” Mercurio said.

The outdoor lawn painting might need a bit more explanation, he said. Labels will be placed with the installation to explain the symbols that relate to bird migration.

Passenger Pigeon wearable sculpture © Julia Kemerer | Image courtesy Helen Maurene Cooper
Passenger Pigeon wearable sculpture © Julia Kemerer | Image courtesy Helen Maurene Cooper

In addition, artist and Brushwood Center staffer Julia Kemerer created a series of wearable sculptures featuring extinct and endangered species. She collaborated with photographer Helen Maurene Cooper to showcase them being worn.

What brings all these art works together is how the artists have responded to “our affinities with birds in different ways, but often with whimsy, humor, and joy,” Mercurio said. “Avian Spirits aims to celebrate our relationships with birds.”

Avian Spirits opens July 13 and runs through August 31. The show is free and open to the public during regular Brushwood Center hours. A free opening reception will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. July 13. Mercurio will present a tour of the exhibition on August 23, preceding the 2014 Film Festival in the Woods, an annual outdoor film festival hosted by Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods.

Participating artists include:

  • Annette Barbier
  • Sarah Belknap and Joseph Belknap
  • Cosmo Campoli
  • Helen Maurene Cooper
  • Molly Cranch
  • DOEprojekts (Deborah & Glenn Doering)
  • Julia Kemerer
  • Barbara Koenen
  • Marlene McCauley
  • Julie Meridian
  • Steph Roberts
  • Dan Streeting

For more information, visit www.brushwoodcenter.org.  Brushwood Center is located at: 21850 N. Riverwoods Rd., Riverwoods, IL 60015.



The exhibition is part of the extinction |survival series of public programs being offered by Brushwood Center over the course of 2014. The series seeks to promote a broader understanding of extinction and species survival.  We’re exploring why extinction happened in the past and why it continues today, as well as celebrating success stories. Programs include book talks, art exhibitions, lectures and film screenings that will run throughout 2014.


Brushwood_Logo.smallAbout Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods

Through innovative programs presented against a backdrop of stately woods where pre-settlement flora and fauna still linger, Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods seeks to build an environmental ethic in our region by offering multiple points of entry for the public to connect with nature. Brushwood Center is a nonprofit organization.



Monday to Thursday: 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Sunday: 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Or by appointment: 847.968.3308.


Avian Spirits is partially sponsored by a grant from:



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