Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Goose-feather pluckers, July 1999
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 36 in.
"When mother bargained for a goose or duck, she considered the value of the feathers. I took the bird to the shoykhet (ritual slaughterer). Then I went to a woman who dealt in feathers. Her business was located in her home in a laneway that led from Broad Street to Rampart Street, just behind the synagogue. She would say, 'These feathers are worth so much and so much.' Down feathers (pukh in Yiddish) were worth more because, when stuffed into bedding, they didn't clump up. The women who worked for her would first pluck the long feathers and then the find down, which grows close to the skin. She bundled each type of feather in its own white sheet, weighed the bundles, which were huge, and sold them to a dealer. So far as I know, someone else stripped the soft part of the feather from the quill.
Feathers were expensive. All pillows and eiderdowns were made of goose or duck feathers. These were so prized that they would be handed down in the family. Around August, farmers plucked the geese live and let them run around naked, except for the wing and tail feathers, which were not plucked. Their skin was blue. In no time at all the feathers grew back. The farmer wanted to get one crop of feathers before selling the geese for slaughter in the fall. The fall was goose season."