YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) – There’s a new interactive exhibit coming together at Nixon Park in York County. Artist Teanna Byerts is painting a mural of two mama birds looking after their chicks. But the exhibit isn’t so much about the birds, but their nests.
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“So what we’ve got here is we’ve got a blue jay, which nests in a bowl-type nest, and we have a Baltimore oriole, which nests in a bag, a woven bag,” says Teanna.
The mural is many times life-sized. The blue jay chicks, which she was painting while we were there, looked big enough to double as baby velociraptors. As Teanna explained, the size is part of the interaction.
“We have them giant-sized for the reason that the real nests are two chairs that will be placed in front of these nests, and you will be able to sit in a chair and take silly selfies.”
“The chairs are shaped more or less like a cup nest, or a bowl nest, and a hanging basket nest,” she adds, “So it’s just an opportunity to come and interact with the artwork, and also learn that not all birds make the same kind of nest.”
Teanna’s been live-streaming her progress on Facebook, letting people look over her shoulder as she applies paint, and sometimes solves problems. The hardest problem so far?
“The oriole nest was a whole lot of ‘I don’t know how I’m doing this, ooooh,” says Teanna. “You have to find a texture. I’m not going to paint every little strand of whatever they wove into the nest. The way to do this is to find a texture, a play of light and dark, that you can knock out, that looks right. So it ended up being a small brush like I was fencing.” she says, brandishing an imaginary paintbrush like a fencing sword.
But the birds nest mural isn’t the only project Teanna’s working on. In another part of the Nixon Park visitor center, where rows of taxidermy ungulate heads stare down at visitors, is another mural in progress, though not as far along as the bird nests.
“This is going to be the new mural to explain the difference between deer and antelope,” explains Teanna. Two barely-sketched-in creatures, a deer and an antelope, face the viewers.
“The hilarious point is, this is an “antinope”. says Teanna. “This is our pronghorn antelope, native to North America, second fastest animal in the entire world, and it’s not an antelope.”
In fact, the scientific name for the pronghorn, Antilocapra americana, means “goat antelope”. But it’s neither goat nor antelope. Its resemblance to old world antelopes is an example of parallel evolution. “The closest living relative, which isn’t close at all, is giraffes, They’re the last remaining example of their specific line.” says Teanna.
There’s an interactive element to this mural as well. Teanna won’t be painting horns on the pronghorn, or antlers on the deer. As she explains, “There’ll be real antlers here that you can touch, and here there’ll be real pronghorns, that you can touch, and then there will be a little chunk of pronghorn hide, and the same with the deer.”
Teanna has done a lot of art for York County parks over the years. “I started volunteering with wildlife rehabbers, and then volunteering with the park, and gradually they said, oh you’re an artist, here’s something you can do. So I did some volunteer art, and then ‘Oh, we have money in our budget, we’ll pay you for this.’ Cool! So gradually I became one of the people they would call when they needed some art.”
“Most of the ideas come from the naturalists, or the environmental educators.” says Teanna. “The naturalists just start throwing ideas around, and then someone will email me and go ‘Hey, we have this idea!’ And I might throw in a few thoughts. But my job is pretty much take their scribbles, take this scribble and turn it into something real. Tweak the design and so forth.”
Teanna still has many hours of painting ahead of her. She hopes visitors will come away from her finished products with more than just some “silly selfies”.
“Hopefully they’ll come, and use their imaginations, sit in the nest, maybe do a little let’s pretend, and take some pictures and actually get kind of a connection with birds, nests, baby birds, and maybe they’ll go looking in their back yard. Like, what’s in my backyard? Is there a bird nest in that bush? You see birds flying in and out of a tree somewhere? Hmmmm! Maybe they’ll pay a little more attention.”