Bird Passports: A Collaboration

Text and photos by Alisa Golden

Editor’s Note: This blog originally posted at

I met Dianne Ayres through the Live Chat group that accompanies GGBA’s Osprey nest camera at Also known affectionately as the WWOC, it has been a community of people with a sense of humor who want to learn, and a place for kind people who care both about birds and about one another. Dianne and I met in person at a GGBA chalk art event where she was drawing a Red-tailed Hawk, and we got to talking. Our love for the Ospreys and
our mutual interest in textiles propelled us on to weekly walks by San Francisco Bay, where we scanned the sky, slough, and bay for birds to watch and photograph.

Richmond and Rosie, March 27, 2019

A book art call for entries that suggested both stitching and collaboration was the catalyst for long talks about how we might do a project together. Book art generally features a combination of art, text, and object, creating a tactile reading experience where all the parts communicate together. What could we make?

On our walks we began noticing migration patterns, how some birds were here for a specific period of time, how others were here year-round. We wondered where the birds came from and where they went. At the same time, U.S. borders were becoming tougher for human beings to cross, so migration was on our minds from all angles and emotions. Migration is a mixed bag as it is, carrying the risk of an arduous journey in the hopes of finding a home and freedom. Birds as a group have that freedom of crossing (unless humans mess it up). Bird passports evoke a record of their life paths. We researched some of the birds we had seen and designed visa stamps. How could we also portray their individual natures? Eggs could represent individual beings. Consulting the nest and egg books I got last year for my birthday: Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds and A Field Guide to Western Birds’ Nests, I painted wooden eggs.

Top (L to R): Osprey, Black Oystercatcher, Mallard Bottom (L to R): Green Heron, White-tailed Kite, Anna’s Hummingbird, American Coot

We read that certain bird behaviors are embedded, but certain human actions can adversely impact the birds, confusing or changing the environment on which they rely: water, air, and earth. Our respect for the birds, a sense of responsibility, and a desire to connect human nature and animal nature deepened this collaborative project.

During the Arts & Crafts era (Dianne’s specialty), embroiderers made bags for myriad items:  playing cards, shoes, a powder puff, men’s collars, and one’s next embroidery project; the bags brought attention and beauty to everyday items. We imagined that passports, too, would have had stitched bags. Our bag binds together the passports and painted eggs. It opens into a nest:  a nurturing and beautiful place of life and renewal, and a symbol of our responsibility to the environment, and to all creatures.

Dianne and I hadn’t known each other long, but as we had input, each to the other, we were able to respect each other’s creative process. We looked to our strengths and also valued new ways of seeing. The end result: something neither one of us would have conceived of or been able to make without the other.

This project will be on display at the Albany Library from May 2 – May 30, 2019 in my show there: Bird Art. At our local library, here in the one-square-mile city of Albany, California, residents can sign up to display an assortment of collections.

The exhibit includes ospreys, eagles, crows, magpies, mockingbirds, hummingbirds, rock dove, bluebirds, quail, owls, chickens, plus American Coot, Green Heron, White-tailed Kite, Mallard, and Black Oystercatcher. And, of course, the new collaboration with Dianne Ayres.

Left. Shelf 1: Better Say Eagle; Maggie and When the Crows Came; photo of SFCB Roadworks event with Richmond the Osprey; felted crow
2: Magpie & Mockingbird; She Is the Keeper; “Bird” (from Lizard’s Snake Suit); Rock Dove; The Golden Beak
3: Letters of Transit: Bird Passports (with Dianne Ayres)
4: My five instructional books, the magazine I publish: Star 82 Review (with bird photos on covers); linocut cards

Right. Shelf 1: Rivet and Whirley; “the osprey chicks are looking up” (print); “All Due Respect” (linocut card with Rosie the Osprey)
2: Crows at Home; The Bones of Crows; “Scare Crow Dream” (print); The Crow’s Library 3: Birds of the Bible: Quail (NEW! more later!); “Bluebird of Happiness” (print); statements about birds and art and books from Cindy Margulis, Executive Director of Golden Gate Bird Alliance and from Mary Austin, Co-founder, San Francisco Center for the Book
4: A Tangled Yarn (altered book-box); A Witness to Curious Speed; “Am I Dreaming” pillow; papier mache nest and collaged wooden eggs; Oh Great Chicken

Most prints and cards are at nevermindtheart. Some books are available through Vamp and Tramp Booksellers.
Letters of Transit: Bird Passports were created in editions of 10 and are for sale.

Alisa Golden works with ink, words, fibers, and books, and looks for neighborhood birds, particularly down by the bay.

Cindy’s quote –
Birds are such a wonderful way of bringing people together in our communities. Their beauty appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds.  In sharing our  awe, human friendships begin. And so many of us feel the urge to create Art that honors our encounter with wild feathered beings. And then, too, having touched our hearts in ways that make us sing, the birds inspire us to protect all the marvelous creatures that grace us with their presence, and deliver wonder into our lives.   – Cindy Margulis, Executive Director of Golden Gate Bird Alliance

Mary Austin’s quote –
I am a lover of books and birds – and I spend hours upon hours looking at both. The closer you look, the more clues you see, and the deeper your understanding gets. Books, to me, are like old friends, they are loyal – they wait for you – and they improve on further inspection. And in this world of electrons and petabytes of data, there is something almost mystical about the concreteness of the words on a page, or the observation of the physical bird. I love that the way that we find birds mirrors how many of us find books: by being quiet. From a well-worn copy of Sibley’s field guide to an elaborately constructed artist book, there is so much to love about birds and books and the magic that happens when you bring these two subjects together. Mary Austin, Co-founder, San Francisco Center for the Book