In 2011 Bridie Henderson became the youngest ever entrant to be awarded the supreme prize at the National Portage Ceramic Awards. Her winning entry, Feathers was described by international judge Janet Mansfield as exceptional: "Many ceramic artists are inspired by the flora and fauna around them, but [Feathers] takes it one step further. It's a stunning work." (1)
Henderson shows an innate understanding of the foibles of her chosen medium. Meticulous in their execution, her back-lit works exploit the qualities of translucence and fragility of the delicate porcelain; done by hand, surface carving and carefully applied colour further enhance this effect and give each feather its individual character. Henderson’s attention to detail extends to the hand-woven cords, purpose-built American oak display cases and individual keys adorned with their own ceramic feathers.
Suggestive of historical museum displays, Henderson’s feather necklets evoke images of gentlemen explorers collecting anthropological curiosities on their travels. The rituals of peering through glass and unlocking the cabinets for closer inspection reinforce the image of an 18th century Wunderkammer, a chamber of curiosities filled with items rare and precious, gathered from all corners of the world.
When lit, this sense of wonder is heightened as the glowing works take on an altogether different appearance, hinting at the hidden stories behind the trophy on display. Were they worn as fetish items, ritual adornments or signifiers of status? Henderson presents the necklaces and leaves it to the viewer to supply those who wore them.
1. Pearson, A. (2011, November 14). Top Award for Supreme Effort. Stuff News. Retrieved from http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/5786676/Top-award-for-supreme-effort