This Exeter Summer class is for the birds

Lauren Josef’s Upper School design class flies the coop for a visit to “Welcome to Bird Land” at Lamont Gallery.

Jennifer Wagner
July 23, 2018
"Visit Bird Land" sign at the "Welcome to Bird Land" exhibit in Lamont Gallery

The "Welcome to Bird Land" exhibit at Lamont Gallery will be on display through October.

“Walk around and take it all in,” says instructor Lauren Josef. “This is a total experience of sound, sight and touch.”

With notebooks and pencils in hand, students in Josef’s Clothing Design and Construction class fan out in the Lamont Gallery. Their task this morning is to “sketch a few looks” that riff off of the exhibit “Welcome to Bird Land,” artist Michele L’Heureux’s ode to our feathered friends.

Inside there’s plenty to excite the senses. Chirps of wild birds — recorded by the artist in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Bad Nauheim, Germany — fill the usual silence of the gallery space. Pages from bird identification books flutter on lines hanging from the ceiling. Jars of preserved specimens occupy a shelf. And of course, there are lots and lots of faux feathers.

Serena Bosco, attending Exeter Summer from Italy, studies “Call me Mr. Secretary,” a life-sized costume of a secretary bird. The long-legged bird of prey stands on a patch of bright green Astroturf atop a plastic snake and is festooned in feathers cut from rice paper and detailed with charcoal.

“I feel like this costume is very elegant,” says Bosco. “It is not immediately visible, but the way the feet are placed, reminds me of a dancer.”

A small group gathers inside the exhibit’s interactive bird blind. Bathed in black light and psychedelic colors, they peek out of the hide’s observation windows. 

Others look through binoculars at “Birds of Instagram,” an installation featuring line-drawn pictures copied from social media posts and colored with watercolor and markers that are mounted on wood blocks on a far wall.

Josef's course is one of 10 offered at the Upper School this summer focused on the process of making art and building a portfolio. Other courses include 3D design, computer animation and architecture.

After a half an hour or so, Josef walks her class back to Fisher Theater to turn their sketched designs into garments. As “office pop” plays on the studio’s sound system, students gather fabric scraps from a nearby table and begin pinning their looks on a mini dress form. “Think about the textures, the colors, the costumes you saw in the gallery,” Josef tells them. “I find this age group can be afraid to be wrong or think outside the box,” she says. “I hope were inspired by this artist’s vision.”

Bosco works pink tulle and white silk onto her form. She adds pleats and makes a tiny cameo pin at the garment’s neckline. “I was inspired by the pink in the first room and also the bird costume,” she says.

Jalen Bogard, a native of Memphis, was drawn to L’Heureux’s nest sculptures. “The leaves on the fabric I used in my design and the color scheme are like a nest,” Bogard says. “My dress also poofs out like a nest.”

Yulu Wu, from Hong Kong, left the gallery thinking about the color play in plumage. “I saw a lot of pictures of birds and lots of colors,” she says. “They are not supposed to be comfortable to look at, like the pink I added to my dress here. The colors don’t all go together, like the colors of some of the birds.”

In the last minutes of class, Maria Fernanda Naranjo Saona speaks about her experience at the gallery. “I saw birds surrounded by flowers and a lot of blue,” she says pointing to the blue rosette she added to her garment’s waistline. “I think this is very different from what I’ve designed before.”

Josef agrees and is pleased. “I’m seeing you all work outside your comfort zone here with the forms and I like it!”

“Welcome to Bird Land” will be on view at the Lamont Gallery through October.