by Mary Jo Dilonardo
[On Thursday, 19 July, my attention was caught by a short report on CBS 2 News at 5 about an up-coming public-art project planned for upper Broadway. Artist Nicolas Holiber , a Brooklyn artist, is planning 12 huge wooden sculptures of birds, all of which are either native to the tri-state area or pass through on their migrations, to be displayed along upper Broadway next spring for eight months. Sponsored in part by the National Audubon Society , the Audubon Sculpture Project, as the series is called, has an environmental purpose as well as an aesthetic one. All the birds, sculpted from scrap and recycled wood, are “part of a group of over 300 North American species . . . that are in peril or face threats due to climate change,” said Holiber in the WCBS story. (The 12 birds are: Red-necked Grebe, Peregrine Falcon, American Bittern, Scarlet Tanager, Brant Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, Common Goldeneye, Hairy Woodpecker, Hooded Merganser, Snowy Owl, Wood Duck, and Merlin. I’ve added the artist’s renderings of the sculptures and a map of their proposed locations following this article.) The WCBS report was very brief and only exists on the Internet as a video (https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2018/07/19/birds-on-broadway-project-hopes-to-send-environmental-message/), so I went in search of a more detailed text article I could republish. Below is Mary Jo Dilonardo’s article, “Artist’s massive birds to nest on Broadway,” from the Mother Nature Network (MNN); it was originally posted on 9 July 2018 (https://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/new-york-city-massive-bird-sculptures-holiber).]
Sculptures represent NYC birds threatened by climate change.
There are all sorts of unusual things to be seen on the streets of New York City — so much so that out-of-the-ordinary sights are often ignored. But that will be difficult to do with an art installation due to open on Broadway in April 2019.
A dozen huge bird sculptures — some bigger than a minivan — will alight on Broadway, stretching from 64th Street north to 166th Street in Manhattan. Called the Nicolas Holiber: Birds on Broadway, Audubon Sculpture Project, the exhibition features much-larger-than-life works by artist Nicolas Holiber.
Location map for the bird sculptures to be displayed along upper Broadway from April through December 2019.
The huge sculptures are being constructed from reclaimed wood gathered from the streets of the city. The goal of the project is to call attention to just a few of the many birds threatened by climate change.
Holiber chose the birds from the National Audubon Society’s 2014 Birds and Climate Change Report [http://climate.audubon.org/]. The report classified 314 species — nearly half of all the birds in North America — as severely threatened by global warming. From that list of 145 birds, Holiber focused on those that live or migrate through New York City.
“When I first looked at the list, I was amazed at how many bird go through New York City. It’s amazing that New York City has all these diverse habitats,” Holiber tells MNN. “I picked these 12 birds basically to show the public what an amazingly diverse species pass through New York City, but in my opinion, these are also the most eye-catching on the list.”
The birds include the brightly colored scarlet tanager, the double-crested cormorant, the peregrine falcon and the snowy owl.
“I got to pick whatever would be fun to make,” Holiber says. “When we paint them, they’re all going to be true to how the birds appear in real life.”
. . . .
Working with reclaimed materials
Holiber grew up just outside of New York City. He attended the University of Vermont, then got his master’s at the New York Academy of Art where he studied traditional techniques in painting, drawing and sculpture.
When he received a fellowship after earning his degree, he was able to devote a year to teaching and focusing on his new interest in sculpture. As a student without a lot of money, Holiber needed a material that was cheap and easy to get, so he started using reclaimed wood from shipping pallets.
“It was a super-new experience for me. I always thought art took place in the studio, and I was used to being in front of a canvas. That whole process of getting found materials broadened my horizons and pushed me out of my comfort zone.”
In 2015, Holiber made ‘Head of Goliath,’ a giant sculpture constructed from reclaimed wood that sat (on its side) in Tribeca Park in Manhattan.
Those early “weird, mutant things” — as Holiber describes them — are what made him a natural for the Audubon project.
“The reason I came into this project was because of the material I use. It’s just a great connection to the message we’re sending about the birds and the environment,” he says.
Go big or go home
The size of the sculptures isn’t daunting at all, Holiber says. Some of the largest ones will be the size of a van or an SUV. The Brant goose, for example, is about 8½ feet tall and 11 feet long.
“I prefer working big. I find it really frustrating to work on a small scale,” he says. “When I can move around the structure and it becomes a full body movement rather than a finger or hand, I’m much better at it.”
Many of the sculptures have to be big for practical reasons, too, since they’ll be on the streets of New York with pedestrians constantly darting around them.
“A lot of them have to be so big because of the beaks,” Holiber says. “I don’t want anyone hitting their head or running into the beaks or it would be hazardous.”
From the warehouse to the streets
Holiber is working with a local company that collects salvageable materials from throughout the city. His studio is a warehouse where he’s joined by an assistant, Vito, who also happens to be a dog.
Nicolas Holiber (left) with his pet dog, Vito, and his assistant, Bishop McIndoe, in the artist’s workshop sitting atop an unfinished bird sculpture; another is in the background. (Photo by Holiber)
Although many of the materials are donated, there’s a Kickstarter campaign [https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/967088629/nicolas-holiber-birds-on-broadway-audubon-sculptur/description] to raise funds to help pay for the installation and transportation of the work.
Of course Holiber is happy to showcase his art, but he says education about the birds is the main focus of the exhibit.
Each sculpture will have information about the bird and the threats it faces, as well as information about climate change and predicted habitat losses. “I hope that people really get into the message we’re sending about these birds,” he says.
The exhibition is in partnership with New York City Audubon, Broadway Mall Association, New York City Parks Department, and Gitler &_____ [sic; see below] gallery. It’s scheduled to run from April through December 2019.
[Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting—and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.
[Mother Nature Network (https://www.mnn.com) is a website with news and information related to sustainability, health, lifestyle, technology, money, food, home, and family. Founded in 2009 by former marketing executive Joel Babbit and Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, it is the flagship property of Narrative Content Group, whose equity partners include CNN and Discovery Inc. It covers a wide range of topics beyond traditional “green” issues—including family, pets, travel, health, home, and food.
[Gitler &_____ is an art gallery located at 3629 Broadway in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of west Harlem in upper Manhattan. It was founded by Avi Gitler, a Manhattan art dealer, in September 2014, soon after which, in an effort to spruce up the the run-down neighborhood, Gitler got the permission of a shop owner to invite a street artist to paint one of the roll-down shutters on his block . The artist happened to choose to depict a flamingo and Gitler decided to reference the neighborhood’s history by commissioning a series of paintings on walls and shutters inspired by the bird paintings of John James Audubon, the famous naturalist and artist who once lived on an estate nearby. This was the origin of the Audubon Mural Project, sponsored by the National Audubon Society.]
Sculpture Renderings in their Broadway Mall Locations: