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Annual For the Birds exhibit at Art Center Morro Bay celebrates the hundreds of bird species that inhabit the Central Coast

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The Central Coast is home to thousands of indigenous birds, and Morro Bay is particularly dense with diverse bird species, earning the coastal city an "Important Bird Area" designation from the National Audubon Society. With this year marking the 24th annual Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, which took place Jan. 17 to 20, Art Center Morro Bay is displaying its annual For the Birds art exhibit to celebrate the vast biodiversity of these winged creatures.

Featuring photography, paintings, ceramics, sculptures, and mixed-media works, the exhibit highlights the hundreds of species that inhabit Morro Bay. Art Center Morro Bay President Patricia Newton told New Times that the gallery hopes the exhibit will garner appreciation for native bird species, as well as raise awareness for the peril that some of them face.

A WIDE ARRAY This wall of the Art Center Morro Bay features a multitude of media. Sculptures, photographs, and cardboard canvases complement one another. - PHOTOS BY MALEA MARTIN
  • Photos By Malea Martin
  • A WIDE ARRAY This wall of the Art Center Morro Bay features a multitude of media. Sculptures, photographs, and cardboard canvases complement one another.

One species in particular that is up against several challenges is the snowy plover, Newton said. This small beach-dwelling bird is facing declining numbers, particularly on the Pacific Coast, according to the National Audubon Society. An etching by Mark Selby, currently hanging in the For the Birds exhibit, shows these pale creatures in action.

A sprinkling of highly realistic paintings in one corner shows the quail, California's state bird, perched on a wooden branch among greenery. Another piece takes a less representational approach, depicting an ominous white wishbone on a pitch-black background. In another corner, a square canvas is painted with cartoonish egrets wading on the seashore with their iconic long beaks and legs. In the center of the gallery, a large sculpture makes for fun wordplay, as it features a line of glass crows resting on a beam shaped like a metal crowbar. On another wall, a striking toucan—a bird you're probably not going to find in the wild on the Central Coast—draws the eye with its distinctive beak shape and tropical feathers.

BIRDS EVERYWHERE From the walls to the ceiling, bird-themed art is in abundance at Art Center Morro Bay. - PHOTOS BY MALEA MARTIN
  • Photos By Malea Martin
  • BIRDS EVERYWHERE From the walls to the ceiling, bird-themed art is in abundance at Art Center Morro Bay.

In addition to curating the art for the show, Art Center Morro Bay also partnered with Pacific Wildlife Care, a SLO County based nonprofit and rehabilitation center for injured birds and other wildlife, to include real, live birds into the gallery on Jan. 12. Trained bird experts brought in a red tail hawk and an owl for gallerygoers to see, Newton said. The gallery additionally made a donation in support of Pacific Wildlife Care, which originally formed in 1986 in response to the Apex Houston oil spill that brought oiled pelicans to beaches in SLO County.

"It's not just about selling pretty art," Newton said of For the Birds. "[It's also] to have a way to get the word out and say, 'Think about what we have here on this beautiful planet, with oceans and clean air.' We need to keep it all clean so that these [birds] can thrive."

For the Birds will be on display at Art Center Morro Bay until Feb. 17, but the gallery's 2020 programming has only just begun. Later this year, in April, the center will host its first annual Plein Air Festival, which is expected to draw painters and tourists alike to the sleepy seaside city, Newton said. While artists work on their pieces en plein air (outdoors), festivalgoers will have the chance to watch the painting live.

If you're lucky, you might even see one of Morro Bay's indigenous bird species fly by while you peruse the festival. Δ

Arts Writer Malea Martin is out bird watching. Send arts story tips to mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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