You can't see the birds coming. It's trippy,' artist Erica Fielder says of her creation, the bird feeder hat. 'Little chickadees land with a big thump, and jays will knock the hat right off!' Attracting birds to the hat takes time and stillness because any movement is threatening, and, to birds, hands look eerily like paws. 'You have to slow way down to wear the hat,' says Fielder, who has had to sit still for several hours to coax her timid guests.
Growing up in Palo Alto, California, as the child of nature enthusiasts, Fielder was curious about the outdoors from the start. When she unearthed a worm or a bug that neither she nor her parents could identify, the entire family would head to Stanford and ask a resident scholar. Fielder's fascination with nature continued into adulthood. After college, she worked for 10 years as a naturalist at Jughandle Creek Farm, an educational retreat center in Caspar, California, teaching children about the natural world.
But a passion for art always tugged at Fielder's heart. She had studied fine art in college and she occasionally painted, but it never felt like enough. 'I was so angsty because I couldn't really connect art and nature,' says Fielder. 'I would see people looking at my nature paintings and think, 'Why are they in the gallery looking at this? Why are aren't they out in nature?'' Fielder, 58, eventually realized that she needed to create art that would draw people into the natural world, not away from it. She has since designed numerous art projects that foster closer relationships with nature.
Fielder created the bird feeder hat out of papier-mache and manzanita tree branches, placed it near an existing bird feeder, and then disappeared. Gradually, she increased her proximity to the hat, finally wearing it, and now she has had up to four birds feeding off it at once, mumbling happily to themselves as they eat. The experience, Fielder says, is a sensory delight. 'You have the sense of weight on your head,' she muses, 'and the sense of gravity and vibration and sound.'
To learn more about Erica Fielder's work, visit www.ericafielder-ecoartist.com.
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