Posts Tagged ‘crow’

As school becomes less hectic I find myself returning to my artistic (and most authentic) life. I’ve resumed birding and carving and am convinced that my work will continue to improve.
In college I was a jazz trombonist — and pretty durned good at it. When I began my family I put the horn away for over ten years. To my astonishment, when I returned to playing I was a much better player. I didn’t have the chops to play in the upper register, but I had, somehow, internalized a huge library of hot licks. I realized I had spent that inactive ten years listening to jazz and running the solos in my head.

Carving is much the same. I took off five months to complete the restoration of one side of my house, do some odd jobs for Mom and get Phoebe off to college. I regretted every day I wasn’t at the bench. I continued to read and research and think about how birds could be put together using wood and found objects. When I finished this Great Horned Owl I realized the even without picking up a knife I was continuing to grow as an artist. I believe that there is a lot more where that came from!

I’ve just begun to re-establish my Etsy store. Click the icon on the right to visit. I’ve offered the Great Horned Owl and Quintessential Murder pictured below.

I believe my next project may be a similar barn owl. We’ll see.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Read Full Post »

I’m completing a few last pieces for the Indiana Artisan Marketplace, my most important show

A Murder Most Grand!

A New Style of Mount - Tall Corkscrew Willow from Dennis Maddox and Greg Adams


Read Full Post »

I was interviewed yesterday for an article in Travel Indiana Magazine.  I like interviews.  I like talking about my work, inspirations and my creative process. (That’s why I have this blog.)

There are two questions, that I’m asked a lot, that cause me problems-

  • How long does it take to make a bird ?
  • What’s your favorite _______?

The first question is no longered answered.  Ever.

My projects begin with field work and book research and end with a painted and mounted bird.  Sometimes there are many steps and sketches and patterns and trials.  Sometimes I sit down and knock it out in a few hours.   In some cases, like the skin-on-frame cardinal, this process took years.  How long is difficult to quantify in a way that is meaningful.

When folks get an idea of the time involved in producing a piece they begin to calculate the figure in terms of profit and wages.  Without understanding the lifetime of acquiring a specialized skill set, maintaining a studio, building show displays, research, travel, lodging, meals, printing, bank fees and taxes it is impossible to understand and interpret the time/wages/profit relationship.  Folks still try so I don’t supply the numbers.

Quick aside – My wife recently had many serious eye surgeries (She’s better, thanks.) and spent five or six hours under the knife.  It would be crazy for me to think I could figure out how much the doctor made each hour.

Learn more about this here.
I’ve no logical or ethical reason for disliking the second question.  It’s just hard for me to answer.

I don’t pick absolute favorites.

I don’t have a favorite movie.  I don’t have a favorite book.  I don’t have a favorite song.  I don’t even have a favorite ukulele.

My interests change with my projects.  My interests change with my research.  My interests change with need.

My favorites are lists.

Yesterday I was asked what my favorite bird was.  I gave an answer, but not just one, because it was expected — the common crow and the belted kingfisher.

I present here a list of favorite birds.  It’s in no particular ranking and birds may move on and off the list as my projects and experiences evolve.

  • Common Crow –  This is a sound memory.  My happiest moments of childhood — foggy Maine mornings — include a soundtrack of crow calls.  Once I was touring a college campus with my family.  My wife turned and found I was gone and asked the group if they had seen me.  One observant woman reported that I had wondered off talking to the crows.
  • Belted Kingfisher – A wonderful, resourceful, chattering clown.  this bird did play a minor role in my Maine summers, but moved onto the favorites list when I observed one outwit an attacking Cooper’s hawk.  The bird nests in long underground tunnels.  Pretty cool!
  • Blue Jays –  I’ve a love hate relationship with blue jays.  Every time I hear one I am returned to my grandparents’ wooded Philadelphia yard — another favorite childhood place.  One a couple of occassions I’ve witnessed blue jays killing other birds for no apparent reason — once dropping from a tree onto a boat I was building.  A few years ago I could not spot a blue jay.  This went on for months.  I heard them, but never saw one.  I’ve added peanuts to my feeders and now have loud daily visits.
  • Baltimore Orioles – This is about aesthetics.  I’ve few early memories of orioles.  They are pretty.  I’ve always like black and orange and it all comes together on the oriole in grand style.  I’ve not seen an oriole nest, but if I do it’ll be another reason to love them.
  • Red Winged Blackbird – These guys let me know that spring is here.  Like the oriole, I love the red winged blackbirds’ colors — black, red and yellow.
  • Penguins – I don’t know much about penguins.  I’m not driven to learn more.  But, boy are they cute!  I loved watching the penguins at the old Indianapolis Zoo in Washington park.
  • Bufflehead Ducks – Many years ago my step-daughter gave me a gift certificate at a local woodworking retailer.  On a complete whim I purchased Antique-Style Duck Decoys: Contemporary Techniques to Carve and Paint in the Folk Art Tradition by Tom Matus.  This book may be the reason I eventually began to carve birds and is without a dount my inspiration for distressing my birds.  I was hooked on waterfowl and began to haunt areas I thought should be full of migrating waterfowl.  I never found anything but cold and wet grass.  Last year I was driving by a modern suburban neighborhood and spotted some tiny ducks.  I stopped the car and identified a pair of bufflehead and a pair of redheads.  These were my first really good ducks!  I’ve since learned where to look and see great ducks every week. This week I’ve seen goldeneyes, buffleheads, redheads and hooded mergansers.
  • Chickadees – I remember a tiny window feeder in my boyhood bedroom.  From my bed I could see chickadees visiting, taking one seed, flying away to eat and returning for the next.  It’s probably the first time I learned a specific bird feeding behavior.  I love their friendly call, ” chick-a-dee-dee-dee!”  It wasn’t until a few years a go I learned that my Indiana chickadees weren’t the same as my Maine chickadees.  In central Indiana we’ve Carolina chickadees.  Maine has black-capped.
  • Double Crested Cormorant – From our Maine front porch we’d watch these sleek black birds fish.  They stayed under for, what seemed, an eternity and swam several dozen feet.  On take off they beat their wingtips on the water leaving a traing of concentric circles on the surface.  I was taken completely by surprise the first time I saw one in Indiana.  I was canoeing tiny Cicero Creek below Morse Reservoir in Noblesville when one surface adjacent to the canoe.  I’m not sure which of us was most surprised!
  • Osprey – Another Maine regular.  When I was young most osprey were gone from the Maine waterfront.  When DDT was banned and it worked its way out of the foodchain osprey made a speedy recovery.  From our front porch you could watch three nests.  Their calls were heard all day.  It was hard to believe that they had ever been rare.  I see them regularly when canoeing White River in Hamilton County.

This really just scratched the surface.  I could name another ten with no problem.  heck I could name ten waterfowl or passerines!



Read Full Post »

Put A Bird On It Artist Reception and Open Studio Night at the Harrison Center, Friday, March 2, 6 To 10pm

I’ve three works in this show — a murder of crows, a box of chickens and my giant skin-on-frame cardinal.  I can’t lie.  It was pretty awesome to be named in the press release!

Fans of the show,Portlandia will recognize the title of this show from the skit of the same name that pokes fun at hipster-crafters who will seemingly put a bird on just about anything.  On March 2, with the help of over 75(!) artists, the Harrison Center will indeed be “putting a bird on it” as four of our exhibit spaces combine to form a giant art aviary.  Participating artists include Ryan Abegglen, Teri Barnett, Justin Cooper, Geoff Davis of 50 Little Birds, Kyle Herrington, Tasha Lewis, Kate Oberreich, Carolyn Springer and many more.

Also that night:  In the City Gallery – new work by Erin Drew.  Representatives will be on hand with information about great urban Indy neighborhoods including Mapleton-Fall Creek, home of the Watson Bird Sanctuary.  Throughout the building, 23 HCA artist open studios.  In the gym – demonstrations by Rock Steady Boxing, a program designed to improve the quality of life for people battling Parkinson’s disease through non-contact, boxing training.

The art hangs through March 31st.

Read Full Post »

I love to spend time on the water!  I grew up around boats sailing, paddling and motoring the backwaters of the Sheepscot River near Boothbay, Maine.  Being around traditional boats has been in my blood for as long as I can remember.

When my mother sold the house in Maine it cut me off from my watery obsession.  A schoolteacher with a family and a house cannot afford to “summer” in the backyard, let alone 1200 miles away.  I gave up boats (but not reading about them).  I don’t like the Indiana’s small water, pack-the-lake-with-over-powered-boats-we-have-no-need-for-tradition-or-common-sense.  I have a need to accomplish something when boating — to go somewhere.  In Maine I would travel for mile to explore a salt marsh or uninhabited offshore island.  Indiana’s house ringed lakes have no appeal.

Then I discovered canoes.  Canoes fulfilled all of my requirements for boating.  I get a good workout.  The are a traditional Indiana means of transportation.  I can go somewhere.  I can experience solitude.

I’ve wanted to do some winter paddling for a long time.  The conditions have to be right. You have to be prepared.  A mistake can be fatal. A dunking in sub-freezing weather leads to hypothermia.  An iced up river makes navigation difficult.

(How many times have you read about some idiot in a canoe that gets stuck somewhere they should not have been in sub-freezing weather? You never hear about the ones that are prepared.)

My level of preparedness, water levels and my available time seldom align.  Yesterday they did.

I’ve been birding an interesting spot for a couple of years.  Stony Creek, Noblesville’s traditional rural stream and namesake for farms, streets, neighborhoods and a school, meanders through a few miles of mixed grass and trees.  It is the most beautiful stretches of water in Noblesville.  Several years ago development exploded along the creek and I thought it was going to be bulldozed and channeled.  That never happened.  The development has been respectful. A small pond, designed to hold flood water has actually enhance the creek and attracted waterfowl.

Along the adjacent development (an appliance store, a movie theater, a tire shop and a car dealership

H.H. Gregg, Office Max and stripmall landscaping.

I’ve felt pretty free to wander its banks.  It’s a great place to watch waterfowl, kingfisher, great blue herons, muskrat and other wildlife associated with small waterways.

Access beyond the businesses gets a little uncomfortable.  The grass is tall and full of stickery nasty things.  It can get very wet walking.  I have a sense that I’m in a place I’m not supposed to be in.  (I remember walking up and down the creek behind my mom’s house.  I remember having the same feeling every time we crossed a fence or property line.  Was I supposed to be here?  What is someone calls the police?

Creeks are magic.  They are my favorite field environment.  Creeks are intimate.  You can see the bottom and the fish and the mussels and the snakes and the crayfish.  They banks of the creek provide the margins that wildlife loves — water and trees, water and grass water and fields.  Around every corner is a surprise — a new scene.  When you do come across a great blue heron or a muskrat it’s just a few feet away.

(I once came around a bend in Cicero Creek (another great Noblesville waterway) and over 20 deer pound through chest high water less than 20 feet ahead of me.  Another time on the same creek a double crested cormorant surfaced right beside me.)

Creeks also offer a balance of challenge (fast, shallow water) and the comfort of knowing that the water is shallow enough that you can walk away from a disaster.

I’ve thought that, in the right conditions, a cone would be an ideal way to gain access to a mile, or so, of prime wildlife viewing on Stony Creek.  Yesterday was the the day.

I paddle a small (13′) fiberglass canoe that I picked up for song.  It had been left on the ground and all of the wood had rotted.  It took about a week to replace the ash rails and cane seats and paint.  I would prefer a wood and canvas boat (and that is the dream) but this will do.  I carry traditional pack baskets.  These packs evolved for canoe use stand about an inch from the bottom of the canoe and keep my gear above sloshing water. I carry two paddles (a Shaw and Tenney beavertail and a long otter tail that I made.) and a pole.

I always wear a life preserver with an affixed whistle.

I live in wool in the winter.  I wore wool pants (bought for $6 at Goodwill) two cotton shirts and a wool vest and a Stormy Kromer hat.  On my feet I wore an ancient pair of LL Bean Hunting Shoes with Gore-tex liners.  The air temperature was in the mid 50s.  I never checked the water temperature but it was cold.  There was a skim of ice when I put in.

I mention the clothing because it worked so outstandingly well.  I know from experience and research that wool keeps you warm even when wet.  This is essential in winter paddling.  I got pretty wet from the knees down and I never felt cold of wet — even when the wind kicked up.

I put in at the little flood control pond below H.H. Gregg and Office Max (There was plenty of free parking).  The grade is steep but the canoe slides easily on the grass.  I wanted to begin in the pond so that I could hone my skills. I didn’t want to get out into moving water only to discover I couldn’t stand and handle a pole.

After tying my gear in I slid out into the pond and paddled to the middle.  The water was very shallow.  I stood to practice poling.  It took a few minutes to get myself situated.  I ended up moving my gear forward so that I had more room to work.  the bottom was really sticky and I had to get the hang of twisting the pole free from the bottom.

I moved out into the moving water and began poling my way upstream.  It felt amazing to be on the water. In spite of the highway noise, the PA at the car dealership and the looming movie theater I really did feel like I was alone. This is really when I’m at my very best.

The creek offered a series of tight meanders punctuated by riffles and deep pools.  I had the wind at my back so it made sense to paddle the pools and to pole the faster water.  The meanders left a variety of great spaces to nose in to rest and to scope the trees for birds.

Winter birding is much different than any other season.  Most of the birds that we relish in the other three seasons have left and a few have arrived from elsewhere.  There’s often not a lot to see and many trips are about seeing one or two specific birds.  I wanted to add the belted kingfisher to this year’s list.

I progressed upstream for about an hour and encountered a fence across the creek.  It was flush with the surface of the water and had trapped a variety of creek junk — trees, plastic buckets, boards, etc.  I decided that that was as far as I needed to go.  I would like to progress further in the future.

I paddled downstream and found the strong wind a bit challenging.  In many spots I had to fight the wind to continue downstream.  When I arrived back to the put-in a continued downstream, under Cumberland Road and S.R. 37 through a series of strong and shallow riffles.

Downstream from the bridges the landscape changed drastically as the trees closed in and formed a wooded canopy over the creek.  A rounded a meander and came up under a huge house with a deck over the creek.  I began to feel like the kid following Mom’s creek through neighbor’s yards and decided it was time to go back upstream.  As soon as I stood to pole back up, A hound dog began baying at me and continued until I was well out of sight.

Working my way back up through these shallow riffles was out of the question so I lined the canoe up through them.  Lining — towing an empty canoe from the shore — is a traditional way to work through impassable water.

MacMansion of the Starboard Bow!

I encounter dozens of fresh and huge deer tracks beneath the bridge.  I would love to have seen this herd!

When I arrived back at the pond I nudged up into a small inlet and soaked it all in.

The temperatures will plummet (I think) and I’m going back to school on Monday.  This may be my last chance to be on the water until March.

Not many birds seen but I wasn’t disappointed — mourning dove, American crow, European starling, a variety of sparrows (I have to learn sparrows!), mallard, great blue heron, belted kingfisher and northern flicker.

Read Full Post »

Automated Crow!

I’ve added this item to my Christmas list.  It’s offered by the same dealer handling the Gus Walson Robin.

Unusual Mechanical Crow Decoy
Charles Perdew, Henry, IL, Ca. 1920’s

Ingenious mechanized carving with traces of original paint. Articulated sheet metal wings, beak opens and closes. Pieced wood with metal strapping, mounted on an iron bar. Wire runs through bar and attaches to wire legs.

17″ long.


Click here to find out more or to purchase.

Read Full Post »


I stopped in Lapel to spend some time with Greg Adams.  It was chilly today and we pulled a couple of chairs up to the woodstove to chat a bit.  Greg has invested a lot of time, thought and experience into selling his work.  I always come away from our talks with a new ideas and inspiration.

I’ve been thinking a lot about picture frames and prints.  I am a printmaker but have never spent much time really trying to market my prints.  I’ve been mulling over plans to frame prints that I have and developing similar prints to add to my line of carvings.  Today Greg was building a picture frame decorated with birch bark veneer and willow.

After I left Greg’s I took my wife to the Doctor and spent a few hours putting together frames in my head between naps in the waiting room.

Greg buys very few materials.  He is a scrounger and recycler.  Much of his wood comes from the dumpsters behind sawmills and furniture factories (with their blessings).  He picks up old fence wood, pieces of plywood or whatever else he can use.  I picked up his cue and began to resaw and mill a bundle of old fence pickets I had laying around.  From these I made very simple small picture frame (3″ x 5″ opening, 5″ x 7″ overall).

I cut the rabet for the glass and artwork with a trimming router that I keep in a vise — like a mini router table.  They went together fast, with no special joinery, and look great.

After a quick seal with shellac, I gave each a different treatment.  They aren’t finished, yet, but I ‘m so excited that I had to share now.  They will be distressed and aged in my usual manner.

I’ve been playing with this great, large flake glitter with fantastic results.  I dipped a frame and am pleased.  Three years ago I did a huge run of multi-color (5, 6, 7 colors?) lino reduction print of snowmen.  They never sold well (I never tried real hard to sell them) but I think they look awesome in the glitter frame!

When I was doing a lot of bookbinding I made a line of Japanese stab bound journals with an applied linocut crow print on the cover.  I’ve always loved this crow and it fits my bird theme so well.  Last night I set up the press and printed a couple dozen more of these plates. I’m expanding this series, to at least four, similar prints of the same size.  I’ve designed a rooster, a great horned owl and a cat sitting in a window to complete the set.

For this series I’m experimenting with rustic frames.  On one I’ve applied acorn caps.  My wife collects these caps for projects and I borrowed a few.  (I had to promise to replace them from my stash — when I find it.)  This are applied over an burnt orange frame.

The last may be the most exciting.  I asked Greg about his birch bark.  he told me where he got it and handed me a few scraps.  I bring birch bark back from infrequent visits to New England and my supply has dried up.  I began to cut bark into strip to apply to the last frame but stopped myself.  I didn’t want to copy Greg (especially since we plan to share space at a show in a couple of weeks).  I pondered about what skills I had, that didn’t step on Greg’s toes, that would produce a similar affect.

Faux birch bark, of course!  I copied the samples I had laying around the shop with very satisfactory results. Not only was it fun to paint, I now know that I can produce birch bark whenever I want.

Read Full Post »

This Weekend

I took a break from pounding out Christmas ornaments to stock up on new carvings for upcoming shows.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Read Full Post »

Click photo for more information about this piece.

I find that sharing writing takes a level of presumption that I lack.  I will stand in front of you and presume you want to hear me play ukulele or see my art.  I lack this confidence in writing.  I’m working at that.

My stories are offered her with no claims of greatness.  They are works in progress and will be revisited and re-written.  If they’re never shared they’re never read — so I share them here.

Please respond.  Feedback is desired in all of my work.  gbd

A Murder in the Cemetery

I sat down to write a story about a great horned owl, but it quickly became clear that this story is really about the crows.

Much of my time is spent talking with folks about birds.  When I talk to these people I want to know what their bird is and the stories that go with it.  Everyone has a bird and everyone has their stories.  I carve my stories.

My bird is the common crow.  My encounters with crows are numerous and meaningful.  It’s been my bird as long as I remember.

My childhood summers were spent in coastal Maine.  These were magic summers.  These were summers without end.  These were summers spent with fog and pine forests and rocky beaches and family.  These are the summers that still anchor my life.

Upon awakening each morning there are two sounds that reached my ears — aside from the people-made sounds of my mother and grandmother in the kitchen or the fishing boats headed out across the mirrored bay.  These first two sounds of morning were herring gulls fighting over breakfast on the mudflats and the crows calling to one another in the fog misted spruce and pine forest that wrapped around our cove.

I suppose that if herring gulls had been part of my Indiana life they might have been my bird.  But they weren’t.  The crows were.

To this day, and I haven’t spent a summer in Maine in twenty-five years, the sound of crows calling one another takes me back to a magical time when I lay in bed and planned a day of boats and forests and islands and rocks and the sea.

Click photo for more information about this piece.

When my girls were little my wife and I worked opposite shifts.  Julie spent days with the girls and I spent the afternoons and evenings.  This was another magical time in my life.

The girls and I had great adventures, sang songs, raised chickens and simply enjoyed spending time together.

One evening we drove passed the cemetery and decided to drive through and explore.  This particular cemetery was a regular stop on our adventures.  The park-like surroundings were a beautiful setting to explore history and run and play and walk and talk.

It was twilight.  The late-day light, the tall dark trees and moss covered stones provided a setting that bordered on surreal.

This is crow heaven.  Tall trees and open grass makes a Joe a happy crow.

I parked my truck.  We had the windows rolled down.

A crow called from a distant treetop.  I turned to search out its call when it swooped, still calling, into the trees above us.  Another crow called and followed. And another.  Within minutes the tree above us was filled with calling crows.  As each bird joined the murder (A flock of crows is called a murder.) their voices became louder and angrier.

          As the raucous calls continued their crescendo a great horned owl punched out of the treetop canopy — a dozen or more antagonizing crows close behind.

The owl flew across a patch of open sky and perched on a large branch.  The crows followed, flinging themselves at the owl.  It remained motionless.  The noisy barrage continue.

The owl silently dropped from its perch and unexpectedly landed on the ground alongside my truck.  We’d never been this close to an owl in the wild.  It seemed to be six feet tall.  It was an awesome sight.

We only had a moment before the great owl sprung back into the air.  The angry mob of crows continued the bullying pursuit.  The owl flew into the open air over the cemetery and towards the adjacent middle school and it became apparent that the crows had achieved their objective.  The crows dropped away in twos and threes until the great horned owl was a lone dot in the sky.

    The crows spread out among the treetops and headstones. The cemetery once more embraced its solemn silence.  The evening dark descended.  I started the truck and headed for home to put the girls to bed.

The Great Horned Owl is avalaible here.

Just another Murder (of Crows) is available here.

Read Full Post »

A Box is Never Just a Box!

I love wood boxes.  I collect them, make them, covet them and disassemble them to build parts for my bird carvings.  At art shows and in my studio wooden cigar boxes abound.  I’ve an old veneered box (once owned by a great grandfather) that stores bird carving patterns.  I even have an old fruit crate — River Maid Bartlett Pears — mounted on my bicycle.

I also love old tired, worn, blistered and battered finishes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These loves came together last weekend when I found and purchased a grungy black drop front box.  In studio I scrubbed it up and found it was the most delightful yellow green.  It sports great stamped hinges, clasps, corners and a very worn leather covered handle.

I purchased the box to house a murder of crows (A Murder Case!) but I’m having second thoughts.  It makes a great workbox and is fantastic for transporting carvings.  (BTW – Murder is the collective noun for crows.)

I’m not sure what fate awaits this box, but I’m loving it!


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,312 other followers

%d bloggers like this: