Miriam Carpenter Makes a Feather

It was an amazing show! Miriam Carpenter gave us a detailed look into how she makes her fantastic feathers. When you first learn these feathers are made of wood and realize how delicate they are, you are very impressed. When you see what goes into their making, the inspiration, the planning, and the execution, you are blown away. There is so much attention to detail, carver or not, experienced wood artist or not, her work is incredible.

Miriam shared with us her inspiration, the consideration of wood and grain structure, and the tools and techniques she uses to make these feathers. Depending on the feather, these literal feather-weights represent days and weeks of patient, thoughtful labor. It was impressive to see just how they came to life.

But first we were treated to Mark Sfirri's Old School New School show in the Hicks Art Gallery. Mark introduced Miriam and her wide range of artistic endeavor. In the slide show below, take a look at her split turning frame, a sculptural display, Origins, and her amazing Azek wood cut, Unfurlings. To see even more of her work, check out her recent article in Cleaver Magazine. We have an excerpt in our blog with links to the full article and slide shows. 

Back to the wood shop and the construction of the feather. This requires a very good understanding of the wood- spring and summer growth, and the medullary ray structure. Miriam likes to assemble the form from three pieces: the shaft and rachis, oriented along the grain, and the two vanes, each at about 23 degrees from the shaft. From this large block there is enough dimension to give the feather a curl. But here's where it can get tricky- you have to take the grain direction into account in planning the curl. Too much for most mortals! Miriam has also used bending of thinner pieces with forms to get that curl.

Shaping is next. To remove lots of material fast, a disc and belt sander comes in handy for the outside of the feather. The inside of the feather requires a little more attention. Miriam's first feather was all done by hand with carving tools and homemade scrapers. She has moved on to rotary tools, like the MasterCarvers Micromotor with a Typhoon Rotary Saw work great. As the piece gets thinner it is important to provide backup to the fragile piece- her fingers! Miriam also mentioned using Luthier's scrapers to remove stock, as well as Dremel abrasive buffs- these help create the pores you see in her finished feathers.

In addition to the unbelievable thinness of the carving, Miriam's  attention to detail really brings the feathers to life- coloration with graphite pencils and knead erasers, and carving back the downy barbs and afterfeathers take these little beauties from realistic to sublime!

Great presentation and amazing art, Miriam. Thank you!