As a child growing up in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, Lorra Lee Rose devoted countless hours to making crafty things. By her early twenties she was making eye catching beaded earrings that people were buying enthusiastically, and she determined that she would make her livelihood as an artist.
It was a chance encounter that brought Lorra Lee toward her life's work with feathers: in 1986, she went into a San Francisco bead shop to stock up on seed beads. Next door was a costume shop, which she couldn't resist exploring. Within she was delighted to find some imported masks, and even more delighted to find that the store was selling mask blanks and dyed feathers. Inspired, she purchased a few of each.
Meanwhile, preparing for an art show to sell her beaded earrings, she was asked to do a photo session for the local paper. Putting the cart before the horse, she informed the promoters that she was also making masks, though she had yet to actually make any. The promoters were excited about this prospect, so with only a few days to prepare for the article, she came up with the design in her dreams. Photos of the first three masks she ever made, using dyed feathers, were published in two local newspapers.
With that initial success, she began collecting feathers and improving her techniques. In fact her first wholesale of masks, adorned with natural feathers, was to that original costume shop in San Francisco. As she learned more about the range, vibrancy, and subtlety of natural feathers, she quickly dropped using dyed feathers altogether. Using only top quality, legally sourced feathers of varieties that most people don’t see everyday, she has since developed a major collection of her chosen material.
In order to provide a stable supply of her medium, collecting feathers for a single large mask or human figure can take several years to decades. Lorra Lee has cultivated a network of pet owners and aviaries who gather the molted, natural color feathers for her purchase. Birds shed a small handful of feathers per season, seriously restricting the supply and thus requiring years of patience and preparation. Before they can be used, the feathers must be washed, sterilized, separated, and stored while waiting to gather a significant enough selection to use for a piece. The recipient of numerous awards, private commissions, showings at art festivals, and exhibits in museums, Lorra Lee has maintained a flourishing career as a prolific artist.