April Birdsong had a map of Kenya and photograph albums spread across the dining room table of her Steele Creek home one recent day. They are reminders of the years she spent in Africa during her childhood, beginning in the early 1980s.
She points to the northern part of Kenya, along the shores of Lake Turkana, near the Ethiopian border. Her family lived there, close to the village of Ileret. Birdsong hiked and played with the local children.
She described spending time in Kenya and in the United States as almost like living different lives.
“I think I was good at just blending in with wherever I went,” she said.
There was no TV where Birdsong lived in Kenya, so she entertained herself by drawing and sketching things in her environment, foreshadowing a future career.
Birdsong, 35, is the daughter of missionaries James and Susan Ness, who work as Bible translators.
She grew up to become an artist and art educator whose creativity is inspired by the people, landscapes and animals she encountered in Africa.
With a bachelor’s degree in studio art from the University of South Carolina, Birdsong taught art at Providence Day School in Charlotte for five years. She also provided private art lessons. These days, she balances responsibilities as a stay-at-home mother of three small children with focusing on her art.
Birdsong displayed artwork at the Earth Fare supermarket in Ballantyne in spring 2012. Her work was featured at the Earth Fare in Rock Hill in October.
She and her husband, Anthony, have returned to Africa to visit, and have taken their children there, too.
“I enjoy doing African art a lot,” Birdsong said.
She draws and creates paintings in watercolor and acrylics in realist and impressionist styles. Some of her works are mixed-media pieces incorporating multiple elements.
Acacia trees, so symbolic of Africa, are found frequently in her art.
She also depicts the Daasanach people, an ethnic group who tends sheep, goats and cows and grows sorghum, a source of grain. They typically reside in dome-shaped huts of sticks and other materials. The women wear goatskin skirts, colorful beads and metal bracelets.
“They have such rich color in their skin,” Birdsong said, adding that she enjoys re-creating the different skin tones.
Birdsong uses a piece of wood furniture from Africa as her art desk. Her parents had it in Ileret “ever since I can remember,” she said. One of her current projects stored in the desk is a drawing of her son Will.
She said she likes the challenge and process of drawing and painting, and strives to keep improving in her art.
“I like to always be trying new things,” she said.
Hope Yancey is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Hope? Email her at email@example.com.
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