Abbijane's Feather


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I keep finding stuff I was sure I had posted in Sculpture, but apparently never did.

I carved this feather as a gift for our sadly late dear friend Abbijane Schifrin (nobody used her last name). Abbi was a NYC clothing designer who was a crucial connection to selling my work. Abbi knew everybody and everybody loved Abbi, including lots of people with deep pockets. She was one of those magic people who come along every so often, effortlessly charismatic (she was a tall girl, 5'11" with magnificent posture and carriage) but a great rarity in the cut-throat world of fashion--she could be an imperial pain the the tuchis, but she didn't have a mean bone in her body and was totally hamish (Yiddish for down home). This is her at fifty, still more beautiful than many women half her age. Less than a year later, she was dead of a cerebral aneurysm.

More than anything, an artist needs connections. Abbi was a perfect example of a connection found by sheer good luck. She was my sweetie's best friend, but I didn't know that when my sweetie and I met. Abbi believed in my work, and was directly or indirectly responsible for the sale of nine pieces. She refused to take a commission on any of them.


She specified the colors for the feather-- her own floor of her townhouse a block south of Gramercy Park was painted entirely in teal. The outdoor shot was taken in the small garden-courtyard of her townhouse.

Abbijane's Feather, 2002
Boar tusk


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Thank you so much for this meaningful back story - I'm sorry for the loss of your dear friend. ❤️ She does look beautiful, and I love the whole blue feather idea.

But I'm completely in awe of this carving! It looks like a feather - how in the world can you get those tiny details? Amazing work!
Thanks everybody, but believe me, there are people better at feather carving than I am.

Black Duck Feather by Gary Yoder

Dogwood is the trad material for carved feathers. It's very hard and close grained, with no visible pores. Thus it can be worked down very thin (so can tupelo, but tupelo is fairly soft).

I used the same tools for this as for full carvings. Bird carvers who work in tupelo should really be called bird grinders--95% of the work is done with diamond and ruby bits, HSS and carbide burs, and various grits and shapes of aluminum oxide stones in a high speed rotary micromotor handpiece (you can see mine in one of the photos of Laura the otter, a Gesswein, originally made for the tool and die industry). Tupelo machines very well but isn't at all amenable to edge tools due to its tight interlocking grain. These machines are very expensive but can run anywhere between 5K-55K rpm and allow serious control compared to a flex shaft machine like a Foredom, which I used only for roughing out larger pieces. A Foredom can take burs or sanding drums with a shank as large as 1/4". Bits and burs for a Gesswein or NSK usually have 1/8" shanks, with an adapter for 3/32" shanks.

Of course the carved feather isn't as thin as a real one. It's at its thickest near the shaft, and gradually thins out towards the edges. Convex on the front side, concave on the back. This is what it looked like before painting. In the second and third pics, I've rounded off the shaft.




I also used a small scraper and of course, the inevitable sandpaper, starting with 120 grit, then 220, 320 and 600.

After this, I burned in the barbs with a pyrography tool--alas, no pics of it at that stage, but this is SOP for flight feathers (for this one I used a macaw wing feather as a model). This is tiresome work; on a full carving you have to get into a sort of meditative rhythm or you'll go out of your mind with boredom.

Painting is, well, painting. The reverse side is a graduated green, again, sorry, no pics.

It wasn't as difficult as it looks, and certainly nowhere near as difficult as Gary's duck feather. But Gary is a five time world champion of the Ward World Championship of Wildfowl Carving, held each year (pre-pandemic) in Ocean City, MD. He's a paraplegic with extraordinarily delicate hands and an extremely nice man, one of the very few carvers who appreciated what I was trying to do with the hummingbird pieces, straddling the boundaries of realism with I guess what could be called fantasy elements.
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A beautiful piece. It looks so delicate. And the colours are gorgeous.
I'm as impressed at Yoder's as I was seeing yours, so there. But I see the excellence in his of course. You still amaze me. 🎇
Abbi's feather and Gary's duck feather were designed in different ways. Hers is burned lightly, like a real feather, and has no splits or overlaps. It could be removed from the boar tusk. She planned to have a wood box made for it so she could take it to London and Paris for her fall and spring showings. It was made for her own contemplation, close up, as well as a shelf piece. At a distance, the burning tends to get lost.

Gary's is a shelf piece only. It's permanently attached to the base. It's burned quite deeply, much more so then in a real feather, and has many splits and those difficult overlaps. With such deep burning, the barbs would stand out and seem much less coarse than they actually are from a distance, without getting lost.

You see this same kind of thing in classical guitar rosettes. Some are so complex and intricate that they're incredibly impressive close up, but from a distance, the rosette turns into a blur. Some have less complex patterns and larger individual elements (especially the size of each mosaic square), and so the pattern stands out even from six feet away.

And again it's the same with the engraved mother of pearl inlays on old banjos. Some are engraved more coarsely than others, but the variation in line width will seem much less coarse at a distance. Those that are engraved very finely are best looked at up close. From a distance, even only a few feet away, the line width variation gets lost.

Gary did a great job of making the feather shaft look translucent as it emerges from the vane. Hard to do with paint. But Abbi wanted plain black. She was a true New Yorker. Her standard day wear was an oversize black cashmere sweater, black tights, and black Hermes boots. Only on special occasions did she depart from this rig (her night dresses and robes were also colorful). One of the last of a dying breed, a genuine New York City Character. Her first fashion gig was dressing the New York Dolls. She was later mentored by Perry Ellis. She had literally hundreds of friends but almost all her close friends were musicians--Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith's long time guitarist, was her best friend. She was the unofficial mayor of her block, E. 19th St between Irving Place and Third Avenue. She was a true artist with fabric.

Her townhouse was our home away from home in the city. We didn't just lose a dear friend when she died twelve years ago. We lost New York. She used to call every two weeks like clockwork, and whether to Robin, me or the answering machine she always ended the call with, "When are you coming home?"


The paintmaker Robert Doak, whose shop is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is also a genuine NYC Character. Robert must be in his eighties now. I used his oils for Abbi's feather.
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