Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

Fiber Artist Draws Inspiration from Raptors at the Center for Birds of Prey in New Quilt Collection

“The sharp gaze of raptors keeps me honest in my life and in my art.”

When Lauren Austin needed added inspiration for her “Birds are My People” quilt collection, she turned to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. 

Austin’s mother introduced her to birding as a child. “She spent many early mornings observing and identifying birds at our backyard feeder in Syracuse, NY,” Austin says. “We travelled to local nature preserves, took part in annual bird counts and went on summer excursions to state and national parks. Mom was a gardener as well, and created the backyard to be welcoming to birds.”   

An inspiration as an environmental activist and keen birder, Austin’s mother Elizabeth Beyene counted more than 1,500 species on her life list, was a member of Audubon, the National Geographic Society, and Sierra Club, and brought Austin to lectures and meetings she still remembers today.

Austin loves raptors, and seeks them out in each new place she has lived. "I like to sketch and paint the birds to use their images in my art. I make quilts with images of raptors, either from my drawings or from x-rays of the birds in the triage unit,” she continues.

After meeting Austin and talking about her work, Raptor Clinic staff provided old patient x-rays as additional inspiration.

Traveling to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, Florida, Austin appreciated that she could spend hours with the birds: “I love that I can sit and observe for as long as I need to work on an image.” Her special favorites are Ronia the Red-shouldered Hawk, Merlin the Barred Owl, Hank the Osprey, and Chopper the Peregrine Falcon.

On display now at the Mount Dora Center for the Arts, Austin’s “Birds Are My People” collection depicts birds and people together, brought to life in vivid colors and intricate stitches. Chopper was replicated in the quilt collection, as was Merlin. Other birds of prey featured include the Osprey and the Eastern Screech-Owl.

“My work portrays Black people surrounded by the flora and fauna of Central Florida, including alligators, lizards, birds, and ferns alongside photos, figures and faces,” Austin explains in the exhibit.

“I use owls with mask-like ceramic faces, fish, and insects to describe my personal relationship with the natural world. I focus on raptor birds because I love the Ospreys, eagles, and hawks that live in Central Florida. People misunderstand and hurt these birds like they misunderstand and hurt our Black communities. Birds are My People came from the idea that our fates are linked. I want to support and nurture a community conversation about our relationship to nature. We were harmed, yet we are still here. We still fly, even when others believe we can’t – ‘my people, my birds.’”

Austin has been designing and making quilts for over 30 years. Prior to turning to art and art education full time, Austin worked as a US diplomat in Latin America, as a human rights and civil rights lawyer, and as a legal writing professor at Syracuse University School of Law. Austin was the Community Artist in Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida until 2009. She then lived in China for five years, working on quilts, learning Chinese, and providing art demonstrations and workshops to area community groups and schools before returning to the Houston area and then Michigan. Now, she is happy to be back in sunny Orlando, Florida.

The collection is on display at the Mount Dora Center for the Arts through February 28. For more information on the quilt collection, click here.

The Center For Birds of Prey houses permanent ambassador raptors, and is open for visitors Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Tickets for designated time slots can be purchased online. To purchase admission, click here.


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