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At Essex Art Center, finding human parallels in the frailty of birds

Andrew S. Yang's floor-based photo installation "Flying Gardens of Maybe."Chye/Essex Art Center

LAWRENCE — Every year, more than 25,000 crows descend on Lawrence for the winter. They spend their days foraging. Before sunset, they converge on the city to roost. Essex Art Center celebrates the crows with three exhibitions. Photographs of the birds are in one, and artists books made by locals in another.

Then there’s “By a thread,” a transcendent exhibition of photographs by Elaine Bezold, Barbara Bosworth, and Andrew S. Yang.

Birds are in peril. In North America, the bird population has plummeted by nearly 3 billion, or 29 percent, since 1970. One reason: Millions perish each year colliding with windows. Yang retrieves some of those dead. He plants seeds from bird entrails in ceramic pots, trying to spark new life.


Several dead birds appear in his elegiac, floor-based photo installation “Flying Gardens of Maybe.” In “Seedling of a Hermit Thrush (Flying Gardens of Maybe),” a seemingly giant hand gingerly holds the tiny stomach of the thrush. His project is no answer to the decimation, but it’s a humble acknowledgment of the loss.

Bezold measures human and avian life on the same scale. Fingers like those in Yang’s photo appear in her “Carolina Wren in a Mist Net,” gently trying to free a trapped bird. Then there’s “Jonas, After Falling, Seneca, MO,” a closeup of a toddler’s face, scraped and spent. Hands appear here, too: His own, that of a caring adult.

Elaine Bezold's " Carolina Wren in a Mist Nest."Elaine Bezold
Elaine Bezold's "Jonas after Falling."Elaine Bezold

We are all fragile. We are all at risk.

In Bosworth’s stunning, understated artist’s book, “Behold,” dark birds flit and hurtle against dim skies. Their implied trajectories — arcing, circling, falling — have visceral impact. In a statement, the artist says that at her dying father’s bedside, her mother, who had dementia, reached upwards and said, “oh! The birds.”

Barbara Bosworth's "Behold."Barbara Bosworth

Traditionally, birds often signify angels. Here, beyond our grasp, they capture the immediacy of loss. “The night you died, I began believing in heaven,” Bosworth writes.


Birds are the proverbial canaries in a coalmine. “By a thread” makes frailty plain — ours and theirs. They also embody here the tenderness that binds us together. In that there is hope.


At Essex Art Center, 56 Island St., Lawrence, through March 12. 978-685-2343,