The Bird Woman of Brookyn

Ann Wood's creative repurposing

For most people a lot of the items that Ann Wood discovers at flea markets might be considered junk. However, for Wood--a creative and visionary romantic—the delicate, but ruined vintage dresses, the moth-eaten quilts, and the odd bits and salvaged ends of textiles are the tools of her livelihood. These various pieces of fabric are painstakingly sewn and if by some wizardry are transformed into a lovely and enchanted world of sweet little birds, wise old owls, spooky spiders and bats, and sea-worthy paper mache boats and ships.
Wood’s birds and boats were born after numerous years of successful freelance work where she made things for various commercial purposes, primarily objects and paintings for films, advertising, and some illustration. In 2006 she started to make self-determined, self-directed work on a regular basis, but at the age of forty-one she felt an urgency (or panic) about generating and creating art in a purposeful and disciplined manner. “I gave myself a small manageable assignment: to make a cardboard horse everyday (Monday through Friday) until I had 100.” And she met that challenge, later exhibited the group of horses at Tinlark in Los Angeles the following year. In addition, she kicked off her blog and posted a photo chronicle of each horse for accountability and as a record to keep track of what projects she had completed.
The birds, Wood says, happened by sheer accident. “In 2005, I was designing a holiday window for a shop on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side, and I recently had acquired a few ruined antique gowns and bits of gowns—really ruined—incredibly fragile and beautiful with exquisite details and lace.” Fascinated by the ethereal beauty of the garments, Wood wanted to incorporate them in the design of the display, and she discovered that the colors and the frayed, feathery texture of the fabric inspired her to create an aviary of charming birds and stately owls.
In hatching her fine, feathered friends, the big part of the joy and the fun is the process of creating, Wood explains. Seeking out materials becomes an adventure that Wood loves. “It’s the happenstance and surprises—a label with a name, an unexpected lining, some wonderful bit of incongruous print perfectly preserved in the layers of a ruined 150 year-old cuff or an odd and wonderful bit of mending—someone else’s hand.”
Inspiration, of course, comes from the materials she works with. Each creature’s unique personality comes to life from the closets of the past. “I’m interested in transformation and new possibilities for tired things.” A discolored Edwardian gown that’s tissue-thin and unsalvageable turns into feathers for a willet’s winter plumage. Spiders are morphed from silky remnants of antique quilt, and a threadbare antique mourning corset becomes a nefarious owl.
Much of the fabric and apparel that Wood uses and disassembles are found in flea markets, and when she discovers a special vintage garment, she is immediately inspired. As in the case of an antique underskirt with abundant ruffles and details, but too fragile and damaged to be worn, Wood used it as the foamy, turbulent sea under one of her paper mache boats.
Although it appears there’s an endless supply of antique and interesting fabrics to make her boats and winsome creatures, the thought of a treasure trove of unlimited resources to create the fantasy piece makes Wood nervous. “My most satisfying creative thinking has always come from limitations, lack, making do, transforming, and I don’t think I mind that. I need obstacles and limitations to get me thinking, and moving, and making decisions.”
To explore the wonderful world of Ann Wood, visit her blog To buy any of her work, please stop by her online shop at To see her exhibit at Tinlark, please visit



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