Each week, we bring you an incredible experience from someone who lived it. In this edition, New York native Tina Trachtenberg — AKA “Mother Pigeon” — tells us how she came to dedicate her entire life to NYC’s most hated animals: rats and pigeons.
In urban contexts, the pigeon is often regarded as the unsightly, disease-ridden cost of culture. Live in a city with a world-renowned museum? Chances are you also live somewhere filled with pigeons, dismissed by some as little more than “rats with wings.”
That is precisely the opposite of how Tina Trachtenberg views them. The 51-year-old artist and Bushwick, Brooklyn resident does not see a feathered nuisance in the birds; rather, she sees a source of inspiration — and income.
Trachtenberg — whose pigeon art has, over the years, earned her the nickname ‘Mother Pigeon,’ grew up loving animals, but says that it was in the ‘80s that her avian affinity first took flight. “I moved [to New York City] in the late ‘80s,” Trachtenberg said. “I wanted to pursue art…I lived [in Chelsea] and was selling art on the street, doing what I could. I definitely fell in love with the pigeons then. They’re adorable and they just made me happy.”
Although Trachtenberg left New York for a time to start a family, her love of pigeons never waned, and eventually became a creative outlet upon her return. “After I raised a family and moved back to New York, it kind of started up again, loving them.”
“It’s become this obsession of mine to make the world love pigeons.”
Paired with her skills in the arts, this “love” offered itself as a way to take on what Trachtenberg considers an unfair characterization of pigeons. “I wanted to figure out a way through art to make people see [pigeons] in a different way,” Trachtenberg said.
At first, this meant writing songs portraying pigeons in a positive light. “When [my family and I] were on tour, we wrote a song about pigeons. I drew a storybook for the song, and then I would make clothes that had appliques of birds on them. Finally, I saw someone had done a knitted pigeon and thought, ‘Those are cool, I can’t afford them but I can make them.’”
And make them she did, albeit slowly. “At first I made one just to have one,” Trachtenberg said. “It was cute, so I made four or five and took them to a party, where my friends were like ‘Hey, I want to buy one!’”
“The more I made, the more attention they brought. Now it’s become this obsession of mine to make the world love pigeons.”