Students help build the peacock.
(Aisa Goforth/Brenau University)

Brenau students help create art at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Gainesville

Apr 1, 2021
Brenau Staff

Students take a photo near the art they helped finish.Photos by Aisa Goforth and Kathryne Davis for Brenau University.

On March 22-23, Brenau University students joined artists Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein, known as the Myth Makers, as they added the finishing touches on their upcoming exhibition Wings of Wonder: Towering Works of Nature at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Gainesville.

The outdoor installation, on display at the garden March 27-Oct. 1, features three monumental avian sculptures. The bamboo works include a pair of cardinals titled “Love Long Last” and “Flannery’s Peacock,” a tribute to the Georgia-born artist and her beloved birds from her family farm in Milledgeville.

Claudia Wilburn, director of the Center for the Arts & Design and chair of the Art & Design Department at Brenau, told students about the opportunity to work on “Flannery’s Peacock” and brought her foundations of color class to volunteer one afternoon.

“When students are in school, they should have opportunities to meet artists that work in a broader range of media,” Wilburn said. “Students can then see outside themselves and their comfort zones. The work that Andy and Donna are producing at the botanical garden with the 3D structure, woven materials and use of bamboo is something that many of these students have never had the chance to do before. It’s eye-opening and exciting because it might influence different directions that their art goes in later in their college career.”

While assisting Dodson and Moerlein, Brenau students worked together to crisscross bamboo strips to create the sturdy walls of the peacock. The students also learned how to use different tools while working with 3D art.

Freshman studio art major Jordan Smith volunteered both days because she thought it would prepare her for a sculpture class she’s taking next semester.

“I’ve never done anything like this,” Smith said. “I thought it’d be a really good experience. I’m having a great time working on this and learning. This is very fun. It’s something out of the ordinary that I probably wouldn’t have known about without Professor Wilburn reaching out and saying something to all of us.”

London Faile, freshman fashion merchandising major, said the pattern for the outside wall looked difficult at first, but she quickly got the hang of it.

“I was excited to dive right in,” Faile said. “I was curious to see how Donna and Andy built these sculptures in the first place. Now, I can walk by this and say I helped make it.”

While Smith and Faile were new to this type of work, junior fashion design major Danny Doyle took a textile class at the University of North Georgia where they used a similar weaving technique for projects as was done for the peacock.

“We had to get everything to look and lay right,” Doyle said. “It’s great to experience this and to create something super interesting. I’m glad we got to take time out of class to do this, and I liked seeing this come together in the short period of time that we’ve been here.”

The Massachusetts-based Myth Makers take their collective name from the stories told through their larger-than-life works, which they call “avian avatars.”

Jordan Smith helps build the peacock.

“We often think of our pieces as not only animals but also as also human ramifications of people that we really want to honor, and we find very fascinating,” Moerlein said. “So, we call them avian avatars, so they’re birds that stand in for important people in our lives or people that we see in the world around us or that are site-specific to the area we’re working.”

Dodson said their artwork often focuses on birds that are more iconic and familiar to better connect with a larger audience.

“We really like to reach people,” Dodson said. “We like people to feel like the sculptures while it’s in the community, that they’re free to talk about it, to share it on social media and invite that kind of ownership and interaction with our sculptures.”

On March 11, Dodson and Moerlein gave a talk via Zoom with students in Wilburn’s color class. They discussed the process and meaning behind their art, which they construct in a warehouse in downtown Boston then transported for installation afterward. They also shared details of their bamboo technique and the intricacies of public art installations.

“When you work outside, typically you have to think about scale — human scale, the scale of trees, the scale of buildings,” Dodson said. “Our goal is often to create something larger than a human scale so that it sort of holds up outside and then invites that kind of public interaction.”

Moerlein said their goal is to “communicate interesting facts, interesting ideas, interesting images to anybody who goes by.”

“We want the wow factor,” he said. “We want people to be comfortable with what we do. We know that it’s not about ‘I as an artist.’ It’s about ‘we as a community.’”

For more information about the Wings of Wonder exhibit, visit atlantabg.org/gainesville-garden.