Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Corvus brachyrhynchos

[Photo from the website of artist William Salisbury]
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more

Okay, so really... Thanks for the intro Mr. Poe! There we were... driving South down I-81 in Eastern New York towards home, quietly reflecting on our lovely Canadian vacation, I'm reading a Live is a Verb and thinking about my life and my intentions, when my husband loudly interjects: "Connie! Look at that!"

He was pointing out my window and what should my wondering eyes observe? Giant crows! Kinda like the giant buffalo that you greet you when entering Buffalo... only way better!

Before I could even think to pull out my camera and snap them, we cruised out of view and I was left wondering if they were really even there!

Nevermore! Nevermore! Very spooky!

A bit of searching around the wonderful thing that is the Internet and I had my answer. The fine folks at the 1000 Islands Visitors Bureau were able to direct me to a 2001 Watertown Daily Times article, and $2.95 later I had my answer!

Please visit the website of the sculptor, William Salisbury, and see his other works as well. If you visit him, maybe he won't mind that I re-posted the photo above. For that matter, visit the Times too, so they won't get mad that I posted their $2.95 article here for you for free! (I paid for it right?! That is pretty spooky right there. They did such a nice job I saw no reason to re-write!)

[This photo from Mr. Salisbury's web site appears to be the one which accompanied the article, shot by Melanie Kimbler]


By: John Golden Watertown Daily Times Staff Writer May 13th, 2001 OMAR -- Sculptor William L. Salisbury, who works in an airy, high-roofed studio here on county Route 13, has exhibited his arresting figurative art in New York City galleries. Yet Mr. Salisbury has found a much larger and enthusiastic audience for his recent creations on his own back lot. If while driving south on Interstate 81, just below Exit 50 for Alexandria Bay and Clayton, you have seen a few larger-than-life black crows standing conspicuously in a roadside meadow, then you have passed through Will Salisbury's open-air gallery in the town of Alexandria. "It's got an international audience," the 51-year-old artist said one recent afternoon in his crow- dominated meadow, between waves of his hand to staring drivers and honk-your-horn arm gestures to passing truckers on I-81. "Maybe it will attract the attention of museums." His sculpted triad is strategically placed at the southwest end of the meadow against a backdrop of trees and shrubs that border the field. "It's like a sculpture that's in a corner," said the artist, who spaced the familiar behemoths so as to create "a sense of depth and movement" for a startled audience passing by quickly on the interstate.

Two years ago, Mr. Salisbury was inspired in his artistic vision by the approaching millennium, with its attendant dire predictions and prophecies and sense of dreadful anticipation. "There was all this nervousness about the millennium coming up," he said, "all those human fears and dark rumors."

"People were thinking about all kinds of things. It was magic fodder, magic fertilizer for the imagination," he said. In that atmosphere, the sculptor conceived of three outsized crows on his 21-acre property as "my millennial statement."

From ancient cultures to Hollywood movies, the cawing crow has harbingered "something about to happen," said Mr. Salisbury. "There's movement on the Earth; there's something about."

"Crows can be viewed as a thread connecting us to past ages stored in the human psyche, where the faintest call heard in the distance can bring out the muse in anyone," he said.

The monstrous I-81 crows also have their lighter side. "First and foremost, my crows are just plain old-fashioned fun," said Mr. Salisbury.

His specimens of Corvus brachyrhynchos stand about 11 feet high. Made from about 30 welded metal pieces, each figure weighs between 1,400 and 1,600 pounds, he said. Beneath their massive breasts, they are anchored to metal posts drilled into bedrock.

How did the crows get there?

"I don't want to say," said Mr. Salisbury. "It destroys the illusion."

"A piece of equipment," he conceded, throwing his questioner a crumb of fact.

"When it comes to harvest time in the fall, it's tough to herd these guys back in the pen," he noted. "This ain't chicken farmin'." The artist's raw materials were 1,000-gallon and 300-gallon oil drums. The barrels, which stored waste oil, were trucked here from a former Cadillac dealership in Rochester. Mr. Salisbury had to clean them out before he sandblasted, cut and shaped them into birdlike figures, which were suspended from heavy chains in his studio as they took form.

"It was a while doing these," said the sculptor, who used a commission for a garden sculpture to support himself while he completed his third crow last winter. "Every one was an individual."

For outdoor durability, the artist coated his crows with a paint used at the former Frink Inc. plant in Clayton.

"This is the same paint they used on snowplows," he said, tapping the hollow body of his last completed bird. It showed up in the meadow in April, about a year and a half after its companions arrived here to herald the millennium.

"I finally figured out that I wanted the third one to be a girl about halfway through" its construction, the sculptor said. "She's got sleeker lines, a little more delicate."

Made to be viewed from the distant highway, the birds are silhouetted and "pretty simplified" rather than anatomically detailed, Mr. Salisbury said. Yet he referred to photos as he worked in his studio to give the figures the authentic look and poses of crows. "I took a lot of photos of crows, but it was really hard to get close," he said. He found that crows are indeed "intelligent" and "wary," as the National Audubon Society Field Gide to North American Birds describes them. His crows have been hugely popular with the transient gallery crowd on I-81. "Everybody says "love' in response" to their sighting, said their maker. "I don't know what it is. Everyone's really affectionate toward them." His wife, Karen Matthews, travels extensively for her job. She has come to find that the roadside crows have made this part of Northern New York memorable to outsiders.

The artist recounted his wife's conversation at one of her retailing stops. "The lady in Pennsylvania was going, "Do you live up on the river? We go up to Canada every year. Did you ever see those crows up there? Do you know who made those?"' Mr. Salisbury said. "Crows are watchdogs," said the millennial sculptor. At the start of the 21st century, "My crows are watching, waiting to see, waiting for opportunity." Mr. Salisbury is waiting too, for an opportunity to augment his seasonal earnings as a carpenter on the St. Lawrence with income from his people-pleasing crows.

"Ultimately they're for sale," he said. "They should be in some valley - some millionaire's valley."

Mourn not, I-81 gallery viewers. If his crows take flight, "I'll put something else up for here," Will Salisbury said, standing in his field of realized dreams.


Anonymous said...

I live near the crows and I was just researching them for an art paper. thanks for the information!!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad someone took the time to solve this mystery. My husband and I travel to/from Canada 5 times/year, and each time we pass, I say "I've got to look that up on the internet!" Mystery solved.