Artist and art activist Jennifer Epperson knows plenty about women and birds, but the New Zealand populations of both are new to her. That will soon be remedied when Epperson settles into a month-long Volcanic Artist Residency in Whakatāne. As part of an ongoing series of unique portraits, the artist is seeking candidates to feature in her painting series, “Women as Birds, Portraits of Power.”

The portraits are created to celebrate female power in the 21st century. The artist asks, “If you knew at the end of your human life you would become a bird, which bird would you choose?” Each woman involved in the project shares her answer in an interview, and a transformational part-bird, part-woman portrait is created by Epperson.

“The desire for transformation is part of the human condition. Legends, myths and ancient art suggest a woman’s ability to transform was once within our bag of tricks,” says Epperson.

“Legends and artifacts, like Kurangaituku in New Zealand, Lechuza in Mexico and Sirin in Persia are examples of the historic bird-woman stories, reminding us of the transformational power that women possess; a power that is forgotten, disregarded, or rejected in modern times. As modern cynics, we see these ancient stories and artifacts as metaphorical at best. They nevertheless provide an ongoing allegory of women’s power.

“I am keen to add some New Zealand women and birds to this ongoing series, because of the uniqueness of both,” she says. “I intend to immerse myself in the energy of place, the volcano, the flora and fauna, the culture – everything that makes this such an amazing part of the world.”

The artist is a native Texan who lived and worked for 15 years in Sedona, Arizona, an historic artist colony known for its dramatic red rock landscape and crystal-clear blue skies. Women As Birds, Portraits of Power was exhibited in 2018 at The Sedona Art Center, and has illustrated lectures for the League of Women Voters, University Women, the Arizona Society of Psychoanalytic Psychology, and the Texas State University’s Gender and Diversity Studies.  Epperson has recently moved her studio to San Marcos, Texas, on a hill above 

Aquarena Springs, a constantly flowing collection of 200 artesian springs, where people have lived for at least 12,000 years.

Epperson will be in residence in Whakatane from 28 May – 23 June this year, as part of Whakatāne District Council’s Volcanic Artist Residency. Individuals interested in a bird-woman portrait by Jennifer Epperson should contact the artist via

The Volcanic Artist Residency Pilot Programme is a trial run by Whakatāne District Council, with support fromWhite Island Tours (Ngāti Awa), Arts Whakatāne, and Antipodes Water Company. Thanks also go to the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust.