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Birds-eye View

Striking new installation in Student Center inspires playfulness, pondering

Written by Mike Thee
Photography by Dean Forbes
February 17, 2017

The birds have really been flocking to Seattle University lately. 

As previously reported, “Bird in Flight,” carved from the fallen burl of a redwood, made landfall on the third floor of Lemieux Library in October. Then, in early November, another feathered friend made its nest just inside the main entrance of the Student Center. 

Titled “Transformation Mask: Hawk,” this newest installation on campus is the work of Bay Area artist Llewelynn (“Welly”) Fletcher. Appropriate to its new home here at Seattle University, the piece is a red-tailed hawk. 

About seven feet high, five feet wide and five feet deep, “Transformation Mask: Hawk” is sight to behold. Its rugged, physical construction features pecky cedar and stainless steel rod. A defining element is its feathers—more than 400 of them cut from flat aluminum sheets, powder coated and hand-crafted with the help of a rawhide hammer. 

All told, Fletcher devoted a couple hundred hours over the course of six months to complete work on the hawk. She spent about two days assembling the pieces during her visit to campus in November. In the midst of nailing each individual feather into the wood frame, Fletcher graciously took a few moments to talk about the concept behind the piece.

 

Easy as it is on the eyes from a distance or closer in, “Transformation Mask: Hawk” is also meant to be experienced from within. The hawk, Fletcher pointed out, is inhabitable: that is, admirers are invited—make that strongly encouraged!—to step around back and literally enter the sculpture. Once inside, they find a pattern of alternating black and white rectangular shapes, which Fletcher said were inspired by her visit to a small chapel in Italy. And from the bird’s two cut-out eyes, visitors can gaze upon the hustle and bustle of one of the most highly trafficked areas of campus. 

There’s an undeniable playfulness to the installation. And yet as its title implies, “Transformation Mask: Hawk” also invites those so inclined into a deeper reflection. “By inhabiting this mask, you can begin to listen to your body, and perhaps another form of intelligence can percolate,” said Fletcher. 

The artist also sees “Transformation Mask: Hawk” as an invitation for humans to reconsider their place in the world and relationship with other living beings. As visitors stand inside the hawk, Fletcher hopes they will question the notion of “human exceptionalism and the othering of non-human animals." 

This questioning and transformation of worldviews is a theme woven through many of the artist’s other projects. And yet, as Fletcher is quick to add, one’s engagement with our most recently arrived artistic treasure does not have to be overly intellectualized. Her parting advice? “Have fun with it!”