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Meet the Makers with Zora Verona

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

It's been a while since our last dose of community creative inspiration. This month it comes in the shape of the wonderful fibre artist, Zora Verona. Zora's love of her craft is, like many makers, palpable. She has an enthusiasm that's infectious - I always want to go off and make something after we've had a chat. She's like that. Her beautiful way with words really gives you a sense of the why in her work, and what began this wonderful journey of hers. Have a read and enjoy!

Home and place are always important to crafters, we find. Tell us a bit about where you come from. Set to a score of birdsong, I am nestled in the Upper Yarra Valley, in a messy tangle of the bush, rambling garden, and undulating paddocks. I am perched on the side of a mountain with a steep vista that stretches from the Yarra River to the sky. It is the sort of view that tempts you to ponder if you were to stretch your arms wide enough, perhaps they would become wings to soar effortlessly down to the valley floor below.

Grapevine Giant with artist Zora Verona

How did you become interested in nests as a subject matter? On first moving to the country just under 20 years ago, I still remember that first wind storm, where the house shook and the trees swayed. That next morning I felt compelled to circle the paddocks, inspect the fences for any damage - and there blown by the wind, over and over, a tumbleweed was rolling down the hill glinting in the sun. I ran to catch it, almost tumbling with it, to finally hold it within my hands. I looked down and marveled at it. The art and the architecture with which it had been expertly woven made me catch my breath, and a love affair of nests was born. Over the many years that followed, the wind and my wayward gardening gifted me many a nest to marvel upon and many birds to befriend.

In 2020, as bushfires raged, a growing disquiet unsettled my soul, triggering unwelcome anxiety of bushfires that had come far too close to home in Warburton in 1999. Seeking a sense of escape, flow, and restoration, I began to weave my very first nest, which soon became three in that first month alone!

From my work at the Royal Botanic Gardens and Zoos Victoria, I know that disturbing or collecting nests is prohibited by law to protect, nests, eggs and the very birds themselves from going extinct. Yet I also know from the natural history mania that swept the world, particularly in the 1800s, and still continues today, we desire to admire, possess and collect objects of natural beauty. In response, I am drawn to weaving nests, an ode to the birds, and the humans too who wish to connect to their beauty and their intriguing stories.

In weaving my nests I am striving to ignite a passion for birds, nature, and ultimately their protection by the viewer.

Tree Creeper Nesting Hollow, Masked Weaver Nest,Garden Treasure Nest

How did you learn your technique? We learn much by slowing down and taking the time to see, which is the case in taking moments to stop and marvel at our natural world.

As a resident of Warburton and the Yarra Valley, I am also blessed to be a part of a vibrant, dynamic, and inspiring arts community, so over the years, I have been able to observe, participate and learn skills such as introductory weaving and felting from local artists.

Yet it wasn’t until I had committed to mounting an exhibition of nests that I realised my knowledge had gaps when it came to fashioning more complex, nest sculptures, like that of the Strange Weaver or the domed structures of the Thornbills. As we were still stumbling in and out of lockdowns at the time, it was a godsend to discover Craft School Oz’s online course, Baskets from the Garden. With Ruth’s wonderful and easy-to-follow tutorials I was soon weaving my way to finishing the last of 23 nest sculptures that featured as part of Fledglings, my inaugural exhibition with partner John Christie at the Warburton Waterwheel Gallery in April 2021.

What is it that you love about nest making, and tell us a little more about where do you draw your inspiration from? To see a nest in the wild is a magical and often a very rare occurrence for most people, especially those that live in cities. Even most natural history collections were collected decades, if not a century ago, and now lie hidden from view, stored away in public museums and institutions. So, nature and history, as well as each bird’s unique and fascinating story are my main inspiration.

What I love about creating nest sculptures is the opportunity to transport the viewer to faraway times and lands, connecting them with the beauty of the rare and wonderful treasures of our avian world. An example of this would be my Hoary Redpoll sculpture which was modeled on a nest from St. Michael, Nome County, Alaska. Collected in 1896, it is held by The Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in Berkeley California. To recreate this nest, I worked from a photograph taken by Sharon Beals that featured in her amazing book Fifty Nests and the Birds who Built Them.

Hoary Redpoll

What materials do you incorporate into your work? Tell us a bit about the process of your work. I am in awe of birds, their tenacity, determination, and ingenuity. How is it that they would weave, felt, and craft their myriad of creations using only beak and breast? The process and techniques I use are ones inspired by the birds themselves. Yet from splitting striping, and shaping, to coiling and random weave - in watching Ruth’s tutorials- I discovered these are all echoed in our human weaving traditions as well. I also aim to mirror the diversity of natural fibres or foraged man-made materials that the birds themselves would use.

My aim is to create sustainable art celebrating the beauty to be admired within decay. My hope is that they are an antithesis to our society’s obsession with consumption, the new, and the shiny, our throwaway society, and our fear of impermanence and the ephemeral.

The Strange Weaver

When you create a new piece do you have an idea in mind or do you just go with the flow? I usually begin each sculpture with an idea in mind, having discovered a new nesting story, an image, or species that intrigues me. Then begins a process of observation, research, and foraging. I mull and I ponder as I walk and seek - what possibly could I use to replicate that fibre, that texture, that colour? Inevitably, Mother Nature reveals all, and flashes of inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places, like meters of tree root pulled from a blocked pipe by a plumber!

Sometimes though it is pure play. My eye and heart are captured by a feather, a fibre or a play of light on a strand of horsehair or grass and my imagination sets fire to an idea that I then just have to follow through. At times the process flows quickly, yet at others, it is in fits and starts. There is much trial and error and sometimes even humble triumph to what I do. For many birds, nest building is not entirely genetically embedded, they are often unsuccessful at their first attempts, so I remind myself, I too should not be dissuaded.

More info:

Instagram @zoraverona Website

Photos: John Christie @georgegracecreative

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