New Britain City Journal

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The Art of Carved Birds Lasts to Sept. 25 at NBMAA

The New Britain Museum of American Art’s Davis Gallery, which has seen the likes of Judith Leiber handbags, Ruthie Davis shoes and Nantucket lightship baskets, presently has One Man’s Passion: The Art of Carved Birds, The Collection of J. Kemler Appell, through Sept. 25. Featuring over 60 examples of meticulously carved and painted miniature, decorative birds, created by world championship carvers, this groundbreaking exhibition showcase the scontemporary evolution of the traditional craft of decoy carving.

On display is work of over 27 carvers, all masters of artistic form and design. While maintaining the traditional use of woods to construct the birds themselves other materials such as metals, fibers and contemporary paints are more commonly being used to enhance habitat and presentation. Today’s carvers are also integrating a specific narrative into their work making a more dramatic presentation to the viewer. This exhibition will also highlight examples of several other interpretive categories including decorative life-sized wild fowl and interpretive wood sculpture. These carvings are so lifelike that visitors will not be able to distinguish between the birds in their back yard and the birds in this exhibition.

The works on view are all from the collection of J. Kemler “Kem” Appell, one of the leading collectors of miniature decorative bird carvings in the United States. Appell, a Farmington, Connecticut resident, developed his passion for bird carvings as a logical extension from raising waterfowl—swans, geese and ducks of the world. His six-acre “Sanctuary” is home to 40 species of birds. The Sanctuary is open to the public by appointment.

Says Appell of his carvings collection: “this aspect of my hobby is much lower maintenance and lives forever.” Appell’s collection is focused on quality examples of a variety of species of birds. This exhibition has grown out of his passion for elevating bird carving’s profile and status as an art form.