Cheryl Winkler has had a love for painting and wildlife for as long as she can remember.
Winkler, who resides on a farm north of Kenosee Lake, has been painting since she was young, and has used virtually every surface imaginable for her art. Her mother was also a painter, and nurtured the creative spirit within Winkler.
"She also cultivated the … nature-loving part in me, too," Winkler said. "I grew up spending lots of time on my grandparents' farm, and my parents put up with all the orphans that I brought home and raised."
So it's only natural that she would find a way to fuse her twin passions of painting and wildlife. And she has done it in a unique fashion.
Winkler paints on hybrid turkey feathers, with the funds being directed towards the Moose Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation, which she operates.
Winkler first had the inspiration to paint the feathers about 12 years ago. A friend of hers sent Winkler a few feathers, and suggested that she try painting on them. She was hooked.
"I think the feathers give the painting a third dimension," said Winkler. "It's nature's canvas."
But they're tough to work on, they're fragile and they require layers of paint to complete. And so she has to be careful when painting.
"I wreck a lot of feathers," she lamented. "I'll sometimes get halfway through a piece and have the feathers split. Sometimes the split works perfectly and goes with the piece."
The feathers are nearly ready to paint when she purchases them, but she does have to spray them before she can paint the subject material on the feather. Once she's finished painting, Winkler seals them, and either frames them or secures them to a mat board.
Wildlife is, of course, frequently painted on the feathers.
"Over the years, I started getting bigger and adding two and three feathers to my pieces to make big canvases," said Winkler.
A painting of an owl in her home is spread out over four feathers.
The subject and the feather count will determine how long it takes her to complete a project. Her more elaborate designs, which are painted over multiple feathers, will take up to a week to complete.
She'll also work on several projects at one time.
"And if all else fails, I'll paint a raccoon," said Winkler. "I paint a lot of raccoons. There was a non-releasable raccoon in my life a few years ago, and he really touched me.
"I like painting them. I think it's because I know them well. I find the eyes so full of intelligence."
When somebody marvels at the expression in the eyes of her work, she is pleased, because she wants people to view wildlife in the same fashion that she does.
Turkey feathers are the only feathers that she could use, as it would be illegal to use the feathers from a bird of prey.
"They work well, because they come in every colour imaginable, and they have patterns on them that you can work with," said Winkler.
Other art forms that occupy her time include pastels, ink, scratch board and carvings. She has painted saw blades and buffalo skulls. And Winkler won an award for one of her nature paintings, which was on a more traditional canvas, at a provincial competition a couple years ago. But she keeps coming back to the feathers.
Winkler typically starts to paint feathers in August, and she'll be occupied with her craft for the next few months. Each December she has a booth at the Dickens Village Festival in Carlyle, and that is when she sells a lot of the feathers.
The wildlife rehabilitation centre has a lot of animals in its care: fawns, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, skunks and more. They have fed robins and other birds. Some people from Estevan brought a nest of robins during the July long weekend; the robins were naked, and didn't have any feathers.
Hawks and owls have stayed at the centre, too, and they briefly had their first bald eagle in her care earlier this year. It was an absolutely magnificent animal, Winkler said.
She estimates that there are about 30 animals currently at the rehabilitation centre.
And thanks to the money generated through the feather sales, Winkler is able to deliver a little extra care for the animals.