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Photographer Paul Nelson and his wife/business partner, Stacy Fortier, cofounded Wild Birds Flying out of a shared love of birds and art. In 2016, the company launched a collection of gallery prints, note cards, accessories and pillows featuring images of birds as photographed by Nelson, with a portion of net profits supporting regional and national wildlife conservation initiatives, such as Audubon Minnesota. Recently, Wild Birds Flying began offering a variety of textiles for those wishing to create their own apparel, accessories or home accents. We asked Nelson to tell us more about his business and passion.

Photography by Paul Nelson

How did Wild Birds Flying begin?

It began as a personal project in my backyard. I wondered what clear bright pictures on white would look like represented in photographic form. I was inspired by illustrations in Peterson’s Field Guides and Audubon’s beautiful watercolors and set out to discover how to accomplish such a thing photographically.

What sparked your original interest in birds?

Stacy gave me a Peterson Field Guide to North American birds that kept me busy during a weekend camping trip. I also find that with the long Minnesota winter, the joy of hearing bird song in spring brings hope and lightness to my spirit.

Why did you decide to translate your images into note cards, pillows and textiles?

We wanted them to be accessible to a broad audience. Living in a South Minneapolis house, we are very aware that not everyone has wall space for a print, but they might have room for a pillow to brighten a room or might want to share images with others using greeting cards. We were also really interested in the relatively new technology that allows for extremely detailed printing on textiles. We did a test run and were really excited about the possibilities that opened up a whole new way of using photography.

What fascinates you most about birds in flight?

Their maneuverability is amazing. Of any one thing I’ve appreciated from my attendance at bird bandings, I think this one has impressed me the most — sometimes to my frustration as they fly around my photo-booth sensors without having a picture taken!

Are you interested in photographing other animals?

Yes, I like photographing animals in general. This niche just seemed to fit as there are so many great photographers capturing images of animals. This seemed different, and I’m always interested in creating something new that I haven’t seen done in a conventional way.

Do you have a favorite type of bird to photograph?

Maybe a cedar waxwing. They have an almost unearthly beauty. But I can’t say that I’ve ever met a bird I didn’t like! After attending so many banding sessions, I have appreciation for all of them.

How do you plan to celebrate the Year of the Bird this year?

I’d like to complete a book of beautiful images captured through the years. My hope is that it will inspire, educate and move people to action that will protect these amazing winged creatures that are essential to the balance of our environment. It’s important to me to give back to environmental groups for conservation efforts, and as an artist, this is the best way that I’ve found to do that. We donate 10% of net profits to Audubon Minnesota.

Want to learn more about Wild Birds Flying? Room & Board in Edina is hosting a meet and greet with Nelson on Wednesday, June 13, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (conversation begins at 6 p.m.). The event is free and open to the public; guests are asked to RSVP.

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