I’ve loved many birds in my life.” That’s how artist Maude White begins her new book, Brave Birds: Inspiration On The Wing (Abrams Image), and I can certainly feel the depth of White’s affection as I take in the incredible detail of the 65 cut-paper birds featured in it. The project began, inadvertently, as therapy. While recovering from an anxiety attack, White began cutting out the shape of a heron. She found that the intense focus of the work gave her strength and eased her mind. As she cut out other birds—a single one can take up to two weeks’ effort—White asked herself, “What can this bird teach me?” The resulting book is half ornithological guide, half self-help book. “You can open to any page and get a different message,” White tells me. “I wanted to create something to make people feel safe” and help them recognize the bravery in “small, everyday acts.”
Born in Buffalo, White grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley (where she now resides), and has fond memories of her older brother dragging her to concerts at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the late ’90s and early aughts. “We saw Ben Folds, I think, and Goo Goo Dolls and…maybe Dave Matthews?” she says. While she’s been honing her writing skills since childhood, she’s relatively new to the cut-paper craft: She only started back in 2012. (Things have obviously snowballed from there.) And while White numbers legendary book illustrators Arthur Rackham and Maxfield Parrish among her top influences, she tells me that she’s drawn the greatest inspiration from the paper itself. She must often “let the paper lead” her, a challenge that requires both patience and forgiveness. Endurance is also key. “If I’m on a roll, I might put in seven or eight hours at a stretch,” she says.
The post-millennial resurgence of DIY artisanship—hand-making everything from furniture to glassware to jam—is one that White finds incredibly human. “Craft is a way to connect with the physical world,” she says. “Making things with your hands brings the highest form of contentment one can feel. You have to be fully present, which is increasingly rare in a world where we rely on screens to communicate.” The digital era has also made art even more of a spectator sport, something to be observed on a smartphone, but never touched. And that’s why White wants people to actually get their hands on her work. “I like people taking the work with them,” she says. To that end, Abrams is also releasing a line of Brave Birds notecards, notebooks and journals.
At the end of the day, White’s love for birds is outstripped by the love she has for her medium, whether she’s wielding a knife or a pen. “There are very few things in the world as reliable and constant as paper,” she says. “Paper’s everywhere, and it’s been telling stories for centuries.”