A California artist—and amateur zoologist—creates meticulous flights of fancy.
Her craft "I've always been drawn to animals," says Aimée Baldwin, who calls her lifelike paper bird sculptures "vegan taxidermy." She often models her passerines, raptors, and shorebirds on photos: "Amateur shots are great," Baldwin says, "because they tell me things about anatomy that a portrait can't." But she's also a birdwatcher, since seeing a subject in motion reveals traits not discernible in 2-D—like the way a night heron extends its neck when hunting, or the grace of a violet-green swallow in midflight.

Her journey Baldwin confesses to an obsessive love of paper, which she indulges at the Berkeley shop Castle in the Air—a wonderland of rare craft supplies and handmade wares. "They agreed to stock my favorite German crepe paper if I used it to make things they could sell," she says. Long fascinated by the minutiae of zoological classifications and species variations (she'd once considered a career in the sciences), Baldwin trained her focus on sculpting birds, she says, "because there's just a huge variety to choose from." Her avian artworks are a big hit at Castle in the Air (and on her Web site, Lately, Baldwin has grown excited about the unusual tropical birds of Hawaii: "A species there has a uniquely shaped beak that coevolved to pollinate specific flowers," she says.

Her technique After drafting numerous sketches, Baldwin carves each bird's torso from rigid foam before gluing dozens of crepe paper feathers in place. (The only prefabricated parts of her sculptures are the glass eyes.) This painstaking process dovetails with Baldwin's creative philosophy: "I want to make things that exist outside of our 'cheap and now' culture—things that won't be discarded in a few weeks when people tire of them." She believes her customers appreciate the loving attention she pays to each species, no matter how humble. "I like that people can see my work and say, 'Hey, that's the bird I saw in my backyard."
—Laura Kiniry

Photo: Tue Nam


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