For Shayna Simoneaux, the muse is a little figure called "Birdie."
I first saw Birdies by Shayna at an exhibit of her work during a First Thursday celebration on Columbia's Main Street. The walls were lined with colorful, cheerful paintings each featuring a bright little Birdie. There also were rings and pendants on the counters, each stamped with a unique, one-of-a-kind Birdie.
The atmosphere in the room was ebullient. Grown women giggled merrily as they went through the jewelry deciding which Birdie would go home with them. There was something infectious about the Birdies; I wanted to know more about them and about the woman who created them.
Q: I've read that you were born in London - how did you end up in Columbia?
A: For the weather! After 23 years of rainy "old blighty," I was craving some serious sunshine. Well that, and for family. I grew up in London, but my mother is actually from the south and when my family moved back stateside I really missed them. I followed suit shortly after them. I've been here for almost 7 years now and I love it!
Q: You and your Birdies have a bit of a cult following - when did you paint your first Birdie? Where did the inspiration for the Birdies come from, and why is it a subject that you like to revisit time and again?
A: I painted my first Birdie about six years ago. I often say he just "sprang from the depths of my imagination one day," but there is more to it than that. I first really kind of stumbled on what is now my go-to Birdie character "in the paint" - his silhouette kind of appeared while I was painting in abstract. And although Birdie has a lot do with my artistic process, I feel the reason I keep going back to him is because there is a lot of meaning behind him. For me, the Birdie represents, honors and remembers two very special people from my childhood who have remained very important to my life, although they are no longer with us - my Grandfather "Popa Don" and my Godfather "Popa Tim."
Papa Don loved birds. Growing up he always kept these crazy pet Cockatiels - I vividly remember "Cheerio" and "Nutsy" - they had very friendly and energetic temperaments as well as a certain sense of humor (just like Pop!) and large, round, red patches on each cheek. Each time I paint the cheeky smile on one of my Birdies, I think of Pop (who I also nicknamed "Pee-Tree") and his great joie de vivre and it always makes me smile.
Popa Tim was a renowned artist - Sir William Timyn, who most famously created wildlife sculptures including Guy the Gorilla - a larger-than life bronze Gorilla that sits at the entrance of London Zoo as well as Phil the Gorilla and the 15-foot Elephant Fountain, both installed at the St. Louis Zoo. I credit Popa Tim for inspiring my boundless passion and affection for art. I have many happy memories of him from my early childhood - he'd spend hours sitting with me, teaching me how to sketch and make sculptures using aluminum foil, old Kit Kat wrappers and clay. Birds and animals were always our exclusive subjects. I think Popa Tim would have loved the Birdies!
Q: How did the Birdies get their own jewelry line? What made you decide it was time for them to fly off the canvas and onto bracelets, rings and charms?
A: Birdies Jewelry & Gifts directly resulted from my first "Paintings of Birdies" solo art exhibition. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the positive response my art received - it was wonderful to discover that there are others out there who seemed to love Birdie just as much as me! During my show several people came up to me just to describe what Birdie had stirred in them. Some even confided highly personal emotions connected to Birdie they had experienced. Although I was thrilled with the wonderful feedback, I also noticed another trend in what I was hearing - several people who had seen my work said they would LOVE to buy a Birdie painting, but at the time, especially with the economy as dismal as it was, investing in art was just not an affordable option. So, after some serious thought, I started developing "Birdies Jewelry & Gifts," aiming for the line to function as an affordable, accessible way for all Birdie admirers to own a little piece of Birdie art if they desired. Just like an original Birdie canvas, each unique piece from the Birdies Jewelry and Gifts collections is completely one-of-a-kind and what I call "a slice of wearable art" in its own right.
Q: I find your work delightful. It's so playful, bright and spirited. Would you say that that is reflective of who you are as a person?
A: I'd like to think so; or at least it's how I try to be!! Voltaire said: "Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats." That quote pretty much sums up my current take on life. I really think that life is too short to not to enjoy it - it's important to take pleasure in the little things and celebrate all that you have, rather than focus on everything you have not. I try not to take life too seriously, and so does my art, though I admit that wasn't always the case. My art definitely went through a dark period when I was younger, but I think I've grown to realize that art doesn't have to be overly serious to be good or to be credible, just as I have learned that life does not have to be perfect to be special.
Q: What do you do when you aren't working on your Birdies art?
A: I am the Admissions and Community Relations Director at Glenforest School, a K-12 non-profit school in West Columbia for students who learn differently. I have dyslexia myself and as a non-traditional learner I have personally experienced struggling through the traditional education setting - just like our students. The only difference is that I didn't have a Glenforest to go to - and if I had, I imagine that my young life would have been a whole lot easier. In my "spare time" (the little bit I have) I enjoy spending time with family, my husband Phil and our child - Mister Kitty (he is seriously the coolest cat that ever lived.) Other than the fact I love a good read (I devour about one book a week), I am also a bit of a fashion and style junkie (my background is in fashion). I would probably die without exposure to it in some capacity; I am really into indie movies, musical theater and I take shopping very seriously - "treasure hunting" for unique vintage jewelry and any other quirky, off-beat pieces I can get my hands on is a huge source of pleasure (My husband calls it "addiction"; I say it's my passion.)
Q: Where can people see your work?
A: Right now you can find the Birdies Jewelry, Gifts and Art nesting locally in Columbia at a variety of locations including K.D.'s Treehouse, Unforgettable Jewelry, S and S Art Supply, Sid & Nancy in Five Points and the Columbia Regional Visitors Center. I also participate with many community events, festivals and exhibits such as the Crafty Feast indie craft fairs (next on April 28th). I also do private shows and appointment bookings.
Q: Any tips for visitors to South Carolina? Maybe a good spot for bird watching?
A: Ooooo, I'm good at this - I adore playing tour guide to out-of-town guests and visitors from across the pond One of my absolute favorite places in Columbia is the Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens (for obvious reasons). For my birthday a couple of years ago my husband bought me "behind the scenes" zoo passes and we had a private, off-the-beaten-path type guided-tour, and we even got to go backstage at the penguin exhibit. It was amazing! I got to meet a little baby penguin, I even got to pet him - it was one of the coolest things ever! I also love the Columbia Museum of Art. I am a member and make sure I get to all of the shows - they are all fabulous - and the museum's permanent collection has lots of interesting, even obscure pieces you won't find anywhere else. The museum gift shop is also like the best place to buy unique souvenirs and gifts. I always seriously hit it up over the holidays. I also would recommend catching a show at Trustus. I am really into theater and they always have fabulous productions, plus I love that you can drink wine and eat popcorn while you are enjoying a show. It's one of my favorite date nights. When it comes to shopping I am kind of an addict. Sorry. I mean expert. I strongly suggest dedicating an entire day to shopping and hitting every boutique along Devine Street and around Five Points. You will find some serious treasures and lots of things that you will never find anywhere else! Lastly, I always try to take my guests to see the USC campus. It's truly beautiful and for a stroll down Main Street to see the historic buildings, and of course, the shops!
For more on Birdies by Shayna visit her Facebook page.