When you enter “The Parlour Birds” from Numina, the 6-dimensional swamp of Meow Wolf Denver’s Convergence Station, you’ll notice wallpaper featuring perched Carolina Parakeets, one of the most distinctive birds ever to fly the North American skies. The last one in the world, Incas, died on February 21, 1918, their dwindling existence still a mystery. In the wallpaper, they’re pictured in a flock, the bird’s rightful and natural form. As you continue on, you’ll see it in 3D, the last one of its kind, resting on a chair along with five other extinct birds found throughout the space:
The Passenger Pigeon - extinct 1914
The Broad-Billed Parrot - extinct 1693
The Kakawahi - extinct 1961-1963
Huia Bird - extinct 1907
Bachman’s Warbler - possibly extinct. Last sightings: 1961 and 1988.
Six birds, reborn, their infinite beauty crystallized in time.
“These beautiful, extinct birds will leave their static lives as inhabitants of the wallpaper to transform the space around them. The future is their escape as they are born again, finding magic, newly alive, but retaining the memories of their past.”
Meet Maya Linke, a Denver-based scenic designer who took her artistic storytelling to a new dimension at Meow Wolf’s third permanent installation. She created “The Parlour Birds”, an immersive environment that memorializes extinct birds and preserves their past in a way that orchestrates the threads of time. This idea was born and inspired from the original concept and story behind Convergence Station, a place where memory is both currency and a way of preserving the past and future.
“As a scenic designer working in theatre, creating physical worlds to illustrate a story, it is a normal and intuitive part of the collaborative process to capture the thoughts and ideas from the first conversations with directors and bring forth imagery that supports these ideas,” Linke explains. “I gathered up these words and phrases, tossed them together with my love of nostalgia, my worry about the planet, my heartbreak over the plight of our vanishing majestic animals and birthed ‘The Parlour Birds’.”
Having grown up in the mountains of southern Colorado on 600 acres of land, Linke has always been greatly influenced by nature and architecture and strives to infuse these inspirations into her work. She feels that the goal for any of her designs is for the viewer to truly understand and feel the materials used on a tangible level.
Prior to her work for the Meow Wolf installation, Linke designed sets for theater performances like "Nora", "The Rover", "Lysistrata", "You For Me For You", "The Music Man", "The Bereaved", "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street", the West Coast premier of "Jerry Springer: The Opera", and many more.
While the audience to experience “Parlour Birds” is a far cry from her usual theater-goers, Linke still outlined three separate acts into the participant’s flow of her exhibit:
“If entering ‘The Parlour Birds’ from Numina, visitors will enter Act I of the exhibit. Various species of birds, no longer among the living, are currently entrenched within the decorative world of aesthetics and wallpaper.
As one walks through the opening of the first center wall, into Act 2, the center wall has tilted. The wallpaper design has changed. Some birds have escaped the wallpaper and are now perched on the chandelier, the chair, and on the top of the tilted center wall. These beautiful extinct birds are leaving their static lives as inhabitants of the wallpaper to transform the space around them.
As one walks through the opening of the second tilted centered wall, into Act 3, the final transformation has occurred. The tilted wall has shed some of its structure, exposing the orange framing. All the birds have emerged from the wallpaper and are flying, perched on the chandelier, the chair, the orange framing, and on the fallen panels.”
The designated track to access ‘The Parlour Birds' narrative is one way to experience it, but if you approach the space in reverse...the knowledge of the past will lead you back through a time where the birds are extinct once again.
Every space within Convergence Station was built upon trial, error, and collaboration. The story that’s entrenched within the walls of “The Parlour Birds” speaks of the way time travels and lives. Even the sculptures of the birds had to physically travel across oceans to live within the exhibit today.
“I found an amazing individual from Russia, through CG Traders website, to create high resolution 3D files of ten original bird designs, which were then 3D printed. I painted all the birds and 1200 linear feet of moulding, decorative trim, and cartouches in my apartment...Victor Rivera worked with me for the on site build and install. It was an amazing collaborative project.”
The final batch of 3D printed birds came out perfectly. Each individual feather, eye, claw, and talon look immaculate, even up close, but it took trial and error for Linke to perfect their form. The original batch of 3D sculptures didn’t come out quite as planned, but still live as art objects within her apartment in downtown Denver, their beauty reborn.
The sound within the space, composed by Ben Wright, is reminiscent of Debussey and lingers quietly throughout each corner of the room. Soft Parlour piano music plays as leaves rustle. Wings flap and talons land as you traverse deeper and deeper into the time-melding show.
“I am hoping ‘The Parlour Birds’ will offer a place of quietude, reflection and magic. That one will discover the story, stop for a moment, take a breath and notice the evolutionary shifts, the quiet parlour music... and the absolute beauty of these birds.”