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Raving about ravens and counting crows

I just finished a cut paper sculpture for our upcoming show featuring a pair of American crows. Originally to be displayed in Chester Drawers: a cabinet of curiosities, the image outgrew the drawer and became a wall piece. My intention was to have the two birds be stylized mirror images. As the work progressed, they began to take on individual personalities and a little crow love story unfolded. As you see from the traditional rhyme below, two crows are for joy. One mate perches ready to receive the sprig of Celandine, which means "joys to come" in the language of flowers.

One crow for sorrow, Two crows for joy, Three crows a letter, Four crows a boy, Five crows for silver, Six crows for gold, Seven crows a secret, Never to be told. Eight for a wish, Nine for a kiss, Ten for a bird you must not miss.

I wanted my crows to show the happy side of crow imagery, to balance out the dark myths about these fascinating birds. Like many, I am fond of both ravens and crows. I was not always. Growing up surrounded by Iowa cornfields, and watching the Wizard of Oz, it took me awhile to appreciate the crows. (And winged monkeys, for that matter.) My mother taught me the little "Counting Crows" rhyme, and like wishing on stars and white horses, they became magical.

Despite the name "Common Raven" the range of the larger members of the Big Black Bird family excluded the Midwest. And then there was Poe and that whole "Nevermore!" thing. They were even more mysterious.


Photograph, 2013

Ravens, much larger and more exotic, were only seen during our road trips out West. How many of you have seen the ravens at Bryce Canyon? This handsome guy was particularly friendly, thanks to tourist handouts.

"The collector"

Charcoal / white charcoal on slate with metal key, 2015


Ravens have appeared in my artwork most recently in a couple of drawings I did on slate. I liked their interesting collecting behavior, so added some found objects. This smaller slate was a tile from a mausoleum, so the skeleton key was fitting.

The Collector II

Charcoal / white charcoal on slate with bone, 2015

The raven on this larger slate holds a deer jawbone and teeth. I created this one for our daughter who is an unusual collector, herself.

I have a soft spot for these two slate ravens. They were the first pieces I created after moving to Western New York. I had not been drawing for years, and while I was admittedly rusty, it was wonderful to pick up a pencil and get back to a medium I truly love.

While my neighborhood crows still outnumber the ravens, we do have them here in NY. Many people have great affection for them. Maybe it's because they are so smart. Maybe it is all that folklore. If you are still with me here, I bet you think they are pretty special, too. I'd love to hear your experiences with crows and ravens, please comment below.

Listen the this to hear about how to tell ravens and crows apart.

Wendy Bale

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