While artist April SGaana Jaad White has depicted many birds that are significant to her people of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off British Columbia, the White Ibis, a species common across Florida, was a novel challenge. Yet in its body and beak, White, who belongs to her people’s Raven clan, saw shapes and colors compatible with formline, a design style traditional to First Nations of the Northwest Coast. The technique demands a minimalist aesthetic, but “from there, there’s a lot of freedom to make it your own,” she says.
With the ibis, she eschews symmetry—a classic formline tenet—but retains a sense of visual balance. The central bird fits within the curves of a human eye, and the echo of the ocular motif elsewhere hints that “we should be a lot more aware of what’s around us.” Other shapes represent the cycle of life: A juvenile ibis consumes a fish close to its mother’s breast, while its father peers through her wing. To inform her work, White researched ibis mythology and ecology. A former geologist, she admires John James Audubon’s keen naturalist’s eye: “He looked at the birds very scientifically, and I do as well.” —Julie Leibach
This story originally ran in the Summer 2018 issue of Audubon. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.