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Spencer Museum of Art’s 'Conference of the Birds' features student sculptures

Backyard Bash

The Spencer Museum's "Backyard Bash" features student artists' creations in Marvin Grove. Margot Lockwood’s “Anthropocene Nest” was created with chicken wire and self-gathered trash. 


The Spencer Museum of Art recently reopened its doors to the public, just in time for their fifth annual “Backyard Bash.”

This year’s Backyard Bash, titled “Conference of the Birds,” featured a collection of  13 sculptural nests created by University of Kansas student artists dispersed throughout Marvin Grove.

The museum welcomes small groups of visitors on a free appointment basis to explore the installation for the next month, but on Nov. 8, a “conference with the creatives” was held to allow the students to present their art directly to the public. 

Midway through the hour-long informal tour, Adina Duke, the museum’s associate director for public engagement, addressed the visitors with a speech regarding the significance of “Conference of the Birds.” 

“For the past 5 years, the Spencer Museum has held a large and lively event, ‘The Backyard Bash,’ to celebrate the interplay between nature and culture,” Duke says. “We are so thrilled to not only continue our tradition of ‘Backyard Bash,’ but to transform it anew with the month-long installation ‘Conference of the Birds.’”

The 13 student nests, commissioned by the museum, display themes of sustainability, humanity’s impact on the natural world, bird’s interplay with nature and more.

Margot Lockwood, a senior physics major, created the “Anthropocene Nest.” Her nest featured intricately woven items such as broken keyboards, old phones, pipes and wires.

“My inspiration was the question, 'What would it be like if birds could more easily find a piece of trash to build a nest with rather than building materials?’ So I made the nest entirely out of trash,” Lockwood said. 

Lockwood’s artist’s statement focused on the fear that “humanscapes will be more common than landscapes.” 

Senior Megan Stonestreet, another featured artist who studies visual art at KU, also drew inspiration from the threat of human trash on the environment and birds’ lives. Stonestreet’s “Birds of a Feather” features a paper mache albatross bird. The albatross was the focus of her artistic research. 

Paper Mache

Megan Stonestreet’s “Birds of a Feather” features a paper mache albatross bird. 


“I did hours of research on albatross and their life-cycles,” Stonestreet said. “Almost all their food comes from the top surface of water, and plastic, when it's covered in algae has a very similar scent to the food they eat ... they end up starving to death with a full stomach.”

Stonestreet’s sculpture is transformative: as the paper mache of the bird’s exterior erodes, a caging filled with plastic will be revealed, further emphasizing her piece’s warning.  

Other artists took a different approach to the exhibit's theme. Sam Phillips, a  sophomore architecture student, created “Momentary Flock.” Instead of a traditional nest, Phillips created a sculptural flock of bird-like figures.

"Momentary Flock"

Sam Phillips’ “Momentary Flock” sat on the middle of a hill to maximize its movement in the wind. 


His artist’s statement, provided by the Spencer Museum, further explained his abstract take, “Is the essential quality of a nest its physical structure or the sense of togetherness created among a group? Phillips’s Momentary Flock suspends time and reminds us of different ways we can create community.”

Phillips and several other artists featured in the exhibit were inspired to apply during their shared studio art class. They dedicated class time to perfecting their application, and for those who were accepted, their sculptures.

Backyard Bash "Tied Together"

Annie’s Rouse’s “Tied Together," features two bound archways representing environments or frames of mind. 


“We came out here as a class to look at the space and get inspiration. The first thing I noticed is the wind that comes down into the valley [of Marvin Grove]," Phillips said. "It rustles all the leaves and trees. I thought it would be cool to capture that and put it on the ground." 

The other students that had their sculptures featured were Nadia Al-Ani, Emily Almloff, Kevin Dunne, Jodi Gore, Alex Martin, Arianna McCue, Annie Rouse, Rachel Sandle, Madison Schaefer and Kirsten Taylor. 

The exhibit is open to the public until Nov. 19. The museum encourages visitors to come and experience the respite of Marvin Grove and explore “Conference of the Birds.” 

“In the gifted hands and minds of KU students, and thanks to generous support from our donors, we are so richly rewarded with an astounding array of interpretations on the idea of nests, that hold, shelter and nurture deeply researched ideas, and the imagination and ingenuity of their creators,” Duke said. 

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