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Nelly Saunier: Crafting Beauty with Feathers

Nelly Saunier’s collaboration with Marina Fedorova brings forth two feather trees, merging art and artisanal skill with an eco-conscious approach.

For more than three decades, Nelly Saunier has dedicated herself to the meticulous craft of feather work, known as ‘plumasserie’ in French. Preparing and applying feathers by hand is a lost tradition dating back to the 13th century. In Paris, which was the centre of feather fashion activity, there were more than 800 feather makers employing over 6,000 people during the golden age of feather work in the 1920s. Today there are only a few left in France and Nelly Saunier is one of them. From mastering traditional techniques to becoming a revered master of her craft, Saunier’s journey has been one of continuous innovation and creativity.

In 2022 Sputnik Partners commissioned Nelly Saunier to create two new artworks in the Nature Transformed® series. Nelly Saunier initiated this series after her artist residence in Japan in 2015. the artworks commissioning was based on Marina Fedorova’s colour intentions. This collaborative work exemplifies Saunier’s ability to translate artistic vision into tangible, breath-taking creations within the confines of the workshop environment.

The trees are crafted using sustainable materials: leaves are made from fallen bird feathers. The entire process is done by hand. The trees are accompanied by a sense of connection to nature and an iridescent energy of life. Saunier’s expertise in feather work shines through as she delicately bleaches or dyes the feathers before assembling them on cotton thread and metal frames.

For over 30 years Saunier has been researching and developing the feather as a material, transcending traditional techniques to invent new creative and artistic universes. Drawing inspiration from nature and the symbolic richness of feathers, Saunier’s creations resonate with a quiet sophistication, evoking narratives that transcend mere ornamentation. Among her collaborative endeavours is working with esteemed jewellers like Harry Winston, where she skilfully intertwines feathers with diamonds to produce exquisite pieces of wearable art. Saunier’s distinguished portfolio includes collaborations with renowned brands and designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Chopard, Piaget, Van Cleef & Arpels, Warner Bros., Chanel Fine Jewelry, Lafayette Maison and Olivier Gagnère, among others.

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But it is probably through her personal creations that Nelly Saunier’s art and rich poetic world best expresses itself. A creator of emotion and beauty, the feather artist tells stories through the feather sculptures that are regularly exhibited in contemporary art venues internationally. Be it with poetic trompe-l’oeil illusions that transform feathers into delicate flower buds, or with an exuberant multi-coloured corolla – half ornament, half sculpture – she beautifies her medium and enchants the world.

Nelly Saunier was awarded the title of « Maître d’Art » (Master of Art) in 2008 by Frédéric Mitterrand, French Minister of Culture and Communication. A Master of Art title is awarded for life to outstanding professionals in the arts and crafts for their exceptional expertise and ability to impart their knowledge. She received the Liliane Bettencourt Prize for the Intelligence of the Hand in 2009, the title of Officer of the order of Arts and Letters in 2012 and was a laureate of the Villa Kujoyama artists’ residence in Kyoto in 2015.