Local artist shares work in progress with Westfield-Mayville Rotary Club

What do crows, clay and creativity have in common?

They are part of the Birds in the Foyer original piece being made by Audrey Kay Dowling, artist and owner of Portage Hill Art Gallery in Westfield. Dowling shared a glimpse of her ceramic tile creation and its inspiration during the Aug. 11 Zoom meeting of the Rotary Club of Westfield-Mayville. Her program was co-sponsored by Rotarians Janese Berkhouse and Doc Hamels.

“A few years ago the Patterson Library in Westfield revamped its collection of stuffed birds,” Dowling said. “I’ve been a birder since high school, and I have used birds as subject matter in my art. This past December I received grants from the NYS Council on the Arts and the Tri-County Arts Council for my proposal to create a mural of ceramic tiles depicting some local birds.”

After studying the stuffed birds in the Patterson Library’s collection, Dowling also drew inspiration from those at the Audubon Center and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, as well as live birds in the wild. She asked local community members, including some children, what birds they would like to see in the piece. Some of the 21 different kinds of birds appearing on the clay tiles are kingfisher, barn owl, woodcock, blue jay and crow.

After being delayed by weather, Dowling began creating Birds in the Foyer in May in her studio. She explained the process.

“I started by drawing on paper,” Dowling said. “Then I rolled out the clay slabs and drew on the tiles. Due to its weight, I had to cut the piece into three sections to move it across the room. The clay tiles are now slowly drying. Then they will be painted with underglazes and fired. The tiles will be mounted on a board and grouted. I plan to add an edging of Victorian type tiles along the sides, and a woodworker friend of mine will help with the framing.”

Dowling said that the initial plan was to invite speakers from area universities to give presentations on birding. She also had intended to teach a block printing course with birds as the subject matter. Both of these aspects of the plan were suspended due to COVID-19.

Her 3′ by 4′ original piece will be hung on one wall of the Patterson Library foyer. Dowling hopes to have the official unveiling of her Birds in the Foyer some time in Oct. Be sure to migrate to the Patterson Library in Westfield and spot this special clay mural after its installation. It will certainly be something to crow about.


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