Urban Dialogue: Of Rust and Feathers

“But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.” – Rachel Carson

Of Rust and Feathers
encaustic mixed media
7×5 inches
collaboration with Angie McMonigal

What a change of pace it is to go from laboring over my large encaustic painting, Filter, to these small, photo-based encaustic pieces. Working small, 5×7 inches, for example is kind of like slipping on my favorite old black yoga pants on a Saturday morning. I can’t even think of the number of panels I have created in this size over the years, especially when I was really focused on creating my mixed media art covers for my handbound journals. The number must be close to 500. So, yes, it is comfortable and “easy” for me to work in this size. What I mean by easy is that it’s like practicing piano chords. The hands kind of move of their own accord, things fall into place, my brain and hands just kind move together in a mindful way.

So, yes, OK, I said I was done with the birds, I know. I love birds. But I’m done with them especially after seeing birds on everything, and when there is a well known phrase “just put a bird on it”, well, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Who wants to be lumped with everyone else? But when I was working on this piece, the little red-winged blackbird image was just calling me to add it to that top corner.

When we first moved back to Chicago in 2008 I went through a major readjustment period. It took me 2 years to feel like Chicago was home again. It was a struggle, even though I had lived here before in my early 20s. There were two turning points for me that may seem trivial, but still they were turning points of accepting Chicago as my home again. One was a Cuban restaurant in my neighborhood that I walked into one blustery winter morning and I was greeted by the smells of cubano sandwiches, cafe con leche, and pastelitos along with the rhythms of what was either merengue or salsa music, I can’t remember now. And I was like, oh yes, Chicago, home of so many cultures and flavors. This is home. I am not Cuban, but part of my heritage is latin american and the music, food, and language is soul nourishing for me.

The other thing was the discovery of the bird sanctuary down on Montrose harbor. Imagine that you’re in a very large urban city and then you happen to come upon a wild bird sanctuary right in the middle of it all, by the shores of Lake Michigan. I had been missing nature so much since our move from Seattle and discovering the bird sanctuary was like someone had thrown me a life line.

a drizzly spring morning at the bird sanctuary

This piece is about my acceptance of Chicago as my home. It is a city of metal, concrete, rust and grunge. But it is also a city that is dedicated to preserving and honoring the prairie and sustaining the nature that is in and around the city. Of rust and feathers.


The rusted image on the bottom of the panel is one of Angie’s photos she took at Fulton Market, the same place she took that stenciled graffiti photo in the last piece.

To view more of her work, please visit her website.


  1. It is really beautiful. I see nothing wrong with having a bird in a piece as long as it is meaningful to both the artist and the painting.

    I can’t tell you how much I love your blog and your work. Always a pleasure to come here and read your interesting posts.

    1. Thank you so much Roberta! You are right, of course. But I think when my son, who had just turned 4, turned to me one day and said “Mom, I’m bored of the birds” it was a sign to move on. haha! The bird is a powerful symbol for me so I will return to it here and there, but just not as much as I used to.

    1. Thanks Sue for your input. yes, you are right. I turn to my birds when I am speaking to visions and dreams, messengers from the spirit world. But I was ready to move on to something else. I know that my bird will pop up here and there because it’s always been such a powerful symbol for me.

  2. This is such a powerful collaboration. And I for one am happy that you “dusted off” the birds and added one to this piece. There is something about it that really resonates with me and I keep getting the feeling that this feels like home (if that makes any sense).

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