Thursday, July 25, 2013

Big Bird, Small World

Artists around here put together an annual event called the Art Loop, in which potential patrons are encouraged to make a circuit of the studios of participating painters, sculptors, weavers, potters etc..

So we got in the car several weeks ago and headed for Lincoln, a wide spot in the road that used to be the county seat but is now best known as the stomping grounds and last jailbreak site of Billy the Kid.

Just outside town, we located the studio of Susan Weir Ancker, who specializes in ceramic sculpture and decorative pottery. Between her house and studio was a tall plinth, on which rested a handsome life-sized ceramic raven like the one above. I noticed it almost as soon as I got out of the car.

There's hardly a moment when ravens aren't circling or roosting in the woods around our place in Ruidoso, and their cawing and quorking are an almost continuous part of our soundtrack. It struck me that a raven would make a fine totem to mount on one of the tall stumps left behind after we had some of our dead ponderosas removed, victims of drought, bugs or both.

It turned out that Susan had another raven in her workshop. Less than an hour later, we were on our way with the bird wrapped in paper and packed inside an Apple computer box for the trip home. Susan said she liked to visit her works in their new homes and asked us to call her when we had it placed.

This week I borrowed a neighbor's extension ladder to mount it, a near-death experience requiring two trips to the top of the 15-foot stump, first to drive a spike into the top with a small sledge hammer and then to place the hollow but very heavy bird over it.

On Susan's advice, we sprayed the void inside with insulation foam, which would then expand and harden to grip the spike and secure the sculpture against the many windy storms that blow down from Sierra Blanca in all seasons.

I carried it up the ladder in a big canvas tote. But when I got to the top I realized I needed both hands to extract the heavy object from the bag and then lean precariously back to lift it onto its new home, not knowing how far back I could afford to bend before being forced to choose between dropping the prize or breaking my own neck.

"I don't like this, I don't like this," I whined to Pam, spotting me below and struggling against the impulse to needle me as she usually does for expressing my anxieties, since for once they were justified by circumstances.

But there's the result in the photo above, and Pam alone is not left to tell the tale.

Susan and her husband Leif came to lunch yesterday to admire it. And we were mutually astonished to learn that Leif's daughter Jessica is the wife of John Affleck, a senior editor at AP with whom I worked more than once on legal issues before I retired.

If I'd dropped the raven or lost my footing, we might never have discovered this astonishing connection, so I'm very glad I didn't.

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