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Alumni exhibit showcases birds, women

assistant features editor

Published: Monday, November 4, 2013

Updated: Monday, November 4, 2013 21:11

hollow bones

Heidi Bruner

This painting by Holly Cobb is on display in the Tippets Exhibit Hall at Utah State University as a part of Hollow Bones, an exhibit exploring the connection between birds and human females.

When three young artists and graduates of USU were invited to return to the university’s campus for an exhibition of their work, they set out to identify a unifying theme that would both challenge and inspire them to create a cohesive display of artwork.

Drawing inspiration from their personal experiences as young females contemplating their future career and family decisions, Holly Cobb, Michelle Larsen and Lisie Beck Brundage, who graduated from USU in 2011, created pieces of art exploring the connection between birds and human females.

The Hollow Bones exhibit opened at USU’s Tippets Exhibit Hall on Monday.

Building on past work done by Cobb, the group channeled their focus on birds to find some direction for the exhibit.

Through the study and analysis of the characteristics and behaviors of many different avian species, the three artists identified complex similarities that could be drawn between them and human females — including childbearing, the perceived frailty of women in society and the role of a homemaker.

Larsen said the exploration of the theme posed a multiplicity of difficulties, especially due to current trends and the popularization of the avian image.

“We thought that would push us to really think about our theme and push past a lot of the typical associations people have with birds and femininity,” Larsen said.

Each of the three artists worked on their pieces for the exhibit mostly in seclusion from one another, allowing for each of them to express their personal perceptions of the theme with little influence from the work of one another.

Cobb, who currently works as a graphic designer in Salt Lake City, created a number of oil paintings, ink drawings and sculptures, all centered around the biological and social roles of both birds and human females. She said she gravitated in her work toward the study of classification based on physical characteristics and the hardships faced in childbearing.

Cobb said she became interested through the course of the project in the multitude of ways in which birds and humans affect each other’s lives. She said one way this was apparent was in birds of prey whose eggs, having been weakened by chemicals introduced by human’s to their mother’s water sources, are unintentionally crushed as the mothers sit atop them to provide warmth. This example of struggles faced by birds is much like those faced by women who face difficulties in childbearing, including miscarriages and infertility.

“As I explored this theme I wanted to look at what those life experiences are that we share,” she said.

Larsen, who now works as an art teacher at a junior high school in Ogden, approached the connection between women and birds from a perspective focused more upon the intimacy of motherhood and the instinct to survive through offspring.

In her oil paintings and collages, Larsen developed a body of work base on this theme, often using bird nests and eggs as her subjects.

“As a young female, it’s comforting to know that every species has to do this, that every species has to make sacrifices for their young,” Larsen said.

Birds nests play a central role in Brundage’s work as well, which focuses mostly on the mother’s role as a homemaker.

“I have a lot of pieces about nesting and gathering things around you to make a home,” Brundage said. “Both women and birds do a lot, gathering and organizing all these things and making them exist together.”

To present the complexity she found in the theme of the homemaker, Brundage, who now teaches art at two Cache Valley elementary schools, created a variety of wood prints, in which an image is carved into a block of wood, which then has its surface rolled with ink and is run through a printing press to transfer the image onto paper.

Brundage said she enjoyed using a variety of different visual resources, textures and colors for the evocation of “conflicting feelings” when viewed.

“I enjoy taking a lot of different things, putting them together and making something beautiful out of it,” she said. “Hopefully there are some things that will make people question the things they already thought.”

The Hollow Bones exhibit is free and open to the public and will remain open until Nov. 29. 

The three artists said they are pleased to be given the opportunity to return to USU to show their work.

“It is really flattering and it feels really good to be back,” Brundage said.


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