Tucked away deep in the woods with a view of the magnificent Shawangunk Ridge in picturesque Ulster County, New York lives a young woman fascinated with abandoned homes and giving them new life and purpose.
And she’s not in the business of flipping houses.
Instead, she dissects them.
Piece by piece.
She doesn’t know the former tenants, but what’s left behind provides a snapshot of who they are and how they once lived.
The homes are nests.
And the tenants are birds.
Fiber Artist and Printmaker
Meet Katie Grove, a fiber artist, nature educator, and printmaker from Stone Ridge, New York.
This Pennsylvania native came to the Hudson Valley to do some rock climbing and study printmaking at SUNY New Paltz in upstate New York.
And never left.
“The Hudson Valley is a special place, and it just felt natural to stay,” she says.
Passion for Creating
Katie’s been making art ever since she was a little girl.
She used her micron pens to draw very thin, delicate lines that prepared her to one day sketch the intricate details of bird’s nests.
Katie has an incredible passion for creating art using all natural materials she harvests and prepares from the beautiful landscape around her home.
“I love the variety of materials birds choose to make a nest,” she says
“And how the materials speak to the landscape so you can identify the bird that’s made that particular nest.”
Her artwork centers around themes of storytelling, intrigue, artifacts, and her connection to nature.
Paying Homage to the Life It Left Behind
Katie embarked on an ongoing project of disassembling birds’ nests and paying homage to the time, preparation, persistence, and tasks found in nature by creating a series of highly-detailed etchings illustrating what birds weave into their homes.
Her drawings are part of an ongoing ‘Language of the Nest’ series.
READ: Art Light as a Feather
“My art is inspired by my connection to nature. Whether I’m imitating birds and weaving my own nest-type shapes or looking at the details of feathers, for me, it’s all about going out into nature, observing and then bringing it back to share with people through my art.”
Dissecting a bird’s home is not an easy task.
It takes patience, attention to detail and finesse.
She plays the role of the bird creating the nest, to deconstruct it and create a visual story.
Katie carefully sifts through the abandoned “home” with surgeon-like, delicate precision.
Untangling. Shifting. Sorting. And noting how each piece is laid out.
She inspects and categorizes each piece collected.
All 243 pieces.
And slowly she learns about the tenants and their choice of materials and careful placement of each piece in their home.
Twigs. Dried grass. A sliver of fabric. Grapevine bark. Part of a feather. Decaying leaves.
Each item tells a story.
The Story is in the Details
“One thing I love about a bird’s nest building is the detail.”
It’s that the obsessive, diligent tasks of building the nest are what she relates to the most.
“I also love obsessive, diligent tasks that are just so detail-oriented, and when I’m drawing the nest, I’m paying homage to the bird for doing that.”
The visual form of the nest and the metaphor behind it draws her interest.
“It’s the vessel of the nest. The home that it is carrying and nurturing. It’s the holding space for precious, precious cargo. It’s quite meaningful, especially for women,” she adds.
Katie says she’s continuously unfolding and discovering things about nests that she loves.
Honoring the Bird
Katie’s persistence and attention to detail is impeccable.
A trait she shares with the bird who created the nest.
Through the deconstruction of the nest, Katie honors the bird and its nest.
She painstakingly draws every single piece of the delicate fragments of the nest with pen on paper, recreating the fine lines with meticulous detail of each silhouette.
Each piece drawn is out of respect for the bird.
“The feeling the bird put into creating the nest, now I’m putting the same feeling into drawing it.”
The redrawn nest is breathtaking.
Looking at the drawing of the nest, and its incredible detail, you’ll find yourself trying to locate the nest fragments within the nest itself.
It’s nature’s brain teaser.
And you’ll walk away with an even greater understanding about the bird who built this nest and its form and function.
More importantly, you’ll have a greater appreciation of nature and the life it left behind.
And the artist who created it.
Ongoing Art Series
She says the ‘Language of the Nest’ series is going to be a strand that she will follow for a long time.
Maybe even the rest of her life.
“I’ll be unfolding that idea of dissecting and drawing the detail as a way of seeing into the life of the bird, and learning something about myself too in the process.”
Katie’s nests are spectacular, but they’re not the only way she honors nature and birds.
She loves to paint watercolor feathers. And says they’re her favorite.
Katie takes nature’s art – a feather – and transforms that inspiration into a fine art form.
And Katie’s feather art uses the same meticulous detail she channels into drawing nests.
She captures each follicle, quill, shaft, vein, barb, and barbule of the feather.
You’ll find yourself looking once, twice, and three or more times to make sure they’re not real.
Katie’s boyfriend, Dave, once asked her, “Why don’t you just take the feather and put it in a frame?”
She says, “That’s cheating.”
Katie’s process for painting feathers all begins with the feather.
She receives many feathers as gifts, paints them and returns the feather to nature.
Others she sees in nature and takes photos.
And she gets many commissions for feathers.
“People will have a beautiful feather they found on special occasions or a feather they found that connects them to a loved one and they bring me a photo, and I paint it,” she says.
Her process is simple.
“I have the photo of the feather, and I just look back and forth between the feather and the paper and medicate in it. It’s a real meditative process. I just zone in with the feather.”
Framing Completes the Feather
Painting the feather is half the process.
The other half of the process is the framing.
Katie grew tired of store-bought frames because they didn’t have that special, unique quality and look she wanted.
Having grown up around what she calls “awesome, old things,” she decided to use antique frames for her feathers.
“Half the time I’ll pick the frame and paint the feather to go with it, and then other times I’ll paint the feather and then chose the right frame.”
Birds as Inspiration
Through Katie’s incredible art you can see she is inspired by birds.
She’s always been drawn to birds.
“I love all nature, and I’m drawn to so many creatures and plants, but birds are just so special because they’re these wonderful messengers.”
Katie says bird language is our connection into what’s going on in nature around you.
“When you pay attention to them, you can learn so much about the rest of the natural world by listening to their songs, and by watching and observing.”
She mentions a Cooper’s hawk she observed in a tree behind her studio and how she enjoyed watching the bird for some time.
Some of her favorite places to go for inspiration include Lake Minnewaska in New Paltz, the creek in Rosendale, and the scenic Hudson River in New York.
“I always have my binoculars to look at birds, but I’m also looking at my feet and then the trees and asking myself questions about the plants and just exploring.”
Birds are Connection to Nature
Katie says birds are a visible bridge to nature.
“Maybe someone doesn’t care about nature, but they see this beautiful creature, and watch it grow.”
“Maybe you watch it build a nest above your doorway, and then people begin to care about nature and want to learn more and protect it.”
She says one of the most enjoyable aspects to painting feathers are the stories that people share.
Birds Connecting People
“So many people bring me stories about the bird that appeared on this special day for them. Or the bond they share with their Dad because they always walked in the field to see this particular owl’s nest,” she says.
She thinks birds just stand out for people.
“There’s just metaphor behind flight and nest building that connects with people on a deeper level.”
For Katie, her creative process is about looking at the shapes and details of feathers and nests.
And going out into nature and bringing it back to share with people through her art.
“If I had crayons, for the rest of my life I would make art. And if all I could use were crayons, I’d be happy. Anything I have in my hands I would be inspired to use.”
As she continues to sketch her never-ending love letter to nature.
When Katie is not drawing nests and painting feathers, she teaches natural basket weaving workshops using plant materials from the natural landscape. See her workshop calendar at https://katiegrovestudios.com/.