Ridgeland artist Elaine Maisel is showing her Backyard Beasts: Painted Feathers exhibit at the Mississippi Crafts Center through the month of June.
Ridgeland artist Elaine Maisel is showing her Backyard Beasts: Painted Feathers exhibit at the Mississippi Crafts Center through the month of June.
Only a few yards away from the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway is an exhibit that intersects the beauty of nature and art with feathers. Ridgeland artist, Elaine Maisel, opened her show last week, “Backyard Beasts: Painted Feathers,” as a demo to the public.

Growing up, Maisel spent most of her time outside in her garden. It was there that she discovered her love for animals and insects. As a Girl Scout, she learned to identify different plants and birds, and her love for nature only grew. Maisel later attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to study biochemistry but eventually switched her major to pursue music.

Her love for nature never faded, however. As an adult, Maisel spent a lot of time in her own backyard tending to her garden and feeding the birds.

“I love to get down on the ground and watch the insects and lizards. I plant the flowers and vegetables with them in mind,” Maisel said. It was through this work that she gained inspiration for her show.

“Backyard Beasts” portrays the wildlife present in a typical Mississippi backyard on an atypical canvas. The exhibit features animals such as birds, mice, and deer that are intricately drawn on real Mississippi wild turkey feathers. The feathers provide a conveniently small space that allows Maisel to give a little more detail in her art, particularly to draw attention to the eyes of the creatures.

“Putting the finishing touches on the eye of an animals brings it to life. I don’t completely know the personality of my painting until the eyes are finished,” Maisel said.

The long history of painted feathers has its roots in Central America, but Maisel adds her own twist. Besides using a turkey feather in place of the usual feather of a parrot, Maisel starts her pieces by drawing a white silhouette of the animal onto the feather. While some feather painters might draw a big circle to depict a scene, she draws illustrations. After the surface design is complete, Maisel hand-sews the feather onto the background, which adds a three-dimensional element to the work.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Maisel’s work, she said, is the feathers. With just a glimpse, one can easily see that the feathers are asymmetrical. Maisel’s main goal is to highlight the feather’s shape. “I don’t want [the audience] to think that I am changing the feathers but that I’m adding something to the feathers,” Maisel said.

Although some of the pieces expand into the imaginary realm, Maisel said the artwork still reflects the culture of Mississippi. Most of the organisms shown can be seen with a quick stroll on the Natchez Trace Trail. All of the ideas are from Mississippi as well.

The exhibit joins Maisel’s two loves: nature and art. Through her art, she hopes that people will see the beauty and fun in nature and that every animal and insect has a personality and place. The ability to showcase her creations is the most fulfilling part, Maisel said.

“I am happiest when I am creating, so it’s the actual act of painting that is most rewarding for me,” Maisel said. “I’m so honored and flattered that people enjoy seeing what I’ve done.”

On Thursday,  June 7, there will be a reception to officially open the exhibit. It will be from 5-7pm and will feature free wine and hors d'oeuvres. Guests will also be able to buy pieces from the artist. The event is free and open to the public.

“Backyard Beasts” hangs in the George Berry Gallery at the Craftsmen’s Guild of MS of Ridgeland and will last through the entire month of June.

For more information regarding this event and the event visit https://craftsmensguildofms.org/ or contact Elaine Maisel at feathermoremail@gmail.com.