Redding Craftsman Works Leather into Feathers
By Richard DuPertuis
Birds of a Feather
Story and Photos by Richard Dupertuis
THE MAN WHO makes birds is known by many names. As a child in the south Bay Area who enjoyed playing in a park gazebo, he was called Baltie, after an uncle. Longtime Redding residents know him as Richard, a man who spearheaded construction of the gazebo in Caldwell Park. But according to his new business card, he’s Baltazar, the man who recently turned a 25-year hobby into an artistic enterprise.
Richard Baltazar Quintana makes birds out of leather. Or, to be more precise, he makes feathers out of leather, cut out one at a time, often layered with contrasting colors to create a visual separation between feathers. These he glues to a papier-mâché core with wire legs. The result is striking, a life-sized model painstakingly crafted to resemble, say, a wood duck or a puffin or a great blue heron.
“You look at birds and they are magnificent,” he says. “Like any art, your eyes look at them, then it goes into your brain. And then from there you try to take it into your own hands. I make them the way I see it.”
Hence, Quintana’s business name: Birds ‘I’ View.
To help with his accuracy, he refers to an encyclopedia of bird life full of color pictures. His love of feathered creatures is evident as he flips through the pages, pausing here and there to admire a particular species. He also works from photographs, and his attention to detail is so precise he can describe to you the difference in the shape of the head between a spotted owl and a barn owl.
Although his product is authentic, he knows better than to strive for perfection. “I don’t care who you are. You’re not going to make it perfect,” he declares. “There’s only one creator who’s perfect and that’s God. He’s the greatest artist. I’m an imitator.”
He began his craft by imitating a leather bird made by his brother-in-law, an art teacher in San Jose. Quintana remembers no real attraction to birds until he saw this leather wood duck. “It was just the artwork in it, the detail,” he recalls. “I was really amazed. I never saw him make one. He just told me how to do it.”
His first try was too solid, too heavy, but fortunately his wife knew papier-mâché. “It has to be hollow and airy inside,” says now former wife Margaret. “I showed him how to make the layers.”
Quintana adds, “I shape it as best I can, then let it dry in the sun. I use a felt tip pen to add guide lines, so I know basically where to start and stop the leather.” He uses six-gauge copper wire for the feet and interior reinforcement, and hides hardware such as bolts inside the body to weight it so that even the three-foot-high heron will balance on its feet.
For 25 years, Quintana perfected his craft. Friends and family grew accustomed to receiving leather birds as presents for Christmas and birthdays. Margaret says it reached the point where he was asking everyone, “What kind of bird do you want me to make for you?”
Since it took 24 hours to make a single bird, Quintana didn’t see any way to make a profit in his hobby. That changed last year when he entered two of his creations in the Shasta District Fair crafts competition. His first waterfowl, the too-heavy wood duck, and a newer green-winged teal took first- and second-place ribbons, respectively.
“That was the spark that started everything,” says Quintana.
Later that year, Margaret’s sister in Portland talked to a friend who ran a local art gallery. By October, Quintana’s birds were on exhibit at the Geezer Gallery, a nonprofit catering to Portland senior citizen artists, to raise funds for senior citizen programs, according to Margaret. That same month, Quintana’s daughter told them about Enjoy the Store in downtown Redding, and Baltazar started selling his leather feathered friends there.
Today, among the hundreds of consignments on the shelves at Enjoy the Store, visitors can find Quintana’s heron and owl and a puffin with its beak full of fish. He says he will make any bird on demand, a truly one-of-a-kind creation.
Back at home, the man who makes birds pages through his encyclopedia and pauses at each one that catches his interest. “Look at that falcon!” he exclaims. “I’ve got a branch I want to mount it on. It’ll make it higher, more natural. Oh, and look at that merganser! Isn’t it beautiful?”
Then he looks up, smiling, and says, “What kind of bird would you like me to make for you?”
Margaret says with a laugh, “I was waiting for him to ask you that.”•
Birds ‘I’ View • Find them at Enjoy the Store, Redding