Tuesday, November 17, 2009


"If it thunder while she is broody the eggs will be addle, yea and if the hen chance to heare an hawk cry they will be marred. The remedie against thunder is to put an iron nail under the straw of the hen's nest, or els some earth newly turned up with the plow."
C. Plinius Secundus

It is startling to find that you have missed an obvious connection between things you have created. It had to be pointed out to me that an egg drawer next to a bone drawer was a clear alpha and omega - a beginning and an end. Eventually it would have occurred to me but what I was concentrating on was the beauty of shapes. I remember being taught in 7th grade, in a home economics cooking class, that the egg was a perfect food in a perfect container - spare and elegant. Much later when I did a series of drawings concerning food I chose the egg as the most appropriate lunch for a poet for just those reasons.

The background for the eggs is my version of the Milky Way in Sagittarius as seen in a photo taken by the Anglo Australian telescope. It was chosen both for its mystery and for the speckled quality that is so often found on eggshells.

The 2 paper boxes of eggs are in the ornithology collection of the University of Michigan. The larger green and blue eggs are those of the American crow, Corvus brachrhynchos. The smaller box contains those of the wood thrush, Turdus mustelinus.
The very large egg is that of an emu, Dromaius movaehollandiae. For a very brief period a man set up a booth at the Royal Oak Farmers Market where he sold all manner of Emu products - pain relievers, oils, lotions, soaps and some eggs. It was an unusual opportunity.
To the right of the emu egg is that of a domestic turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, and 2 killdeer, Charadrius vociferus, eggs that were given to me by a friend who determined, after watching them for a long while, that they had been abandoned by the mother.
To the left of the boxes are 3 impostors: a glass egg, an agate egg sitting on a granite tile sample that echos the egg shapes and the speckles, and a jasper egg. The little group of leaves is made of clay and serves only as a reminder of the trees.
The 2 actual eggs on the left side of the drawing are quail eggs purchased from a local Japanese grocery store. When I investigated the sale of quail eggs on line, the kind of quail that seems to be used for this purpose is the bobwhite quail, Colinus virginianus.
The 3 little turquoise colored eggs were laid by my Uncle John's finch. The poor bird was trying very hard but since it lived alone there was no hope of raising a little family.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Bones do seem to last forever
But they remind you of mortality;
They are severed from reality
As they dally with our fears;
They are solid ghosts, the hosts
Of our pallid faults and frailty.
But we also need our bones
To support our ambition,
Free us from imperfect vision.

Arnold Klein

I have a friend who wears bones as jewelry and others who are nervous about even the thought of what lies beneath the skin. For me the shapes of bones are visually elegant and mechanically fascinating. One of my favorite artists, Eugene von Bruenchenhein, built tiny thrones and small towers out of chicken bones. The finished sculptures were painted with a very delicate and beautiful sense of color or they might be simply painted gold. He was capable of rethinking the use of bones so that each piece is unique. I have drawn 2 of these chairs at the Milwaukee Museum which will be part of the Bird Cabinet I am working on.

Set in the center of the drawing for the bone drawer are 2 pieces of sculpture by Peter Hackett, a gentle soul who recycles parts of animals he finds, who have died by violence or natural process. His work avoids disrespect even when it is humorous.

The cat's skull has a covering of avocado skin held in place by a carefully worked piece of wire.

The mythical beast is actually the skull of a woodchuck with mandibles attached as horns.

The drawing contains bones on loan to me from Missouri State University, Springfield. Some have I.D. tags attached. There are bird, mouse, shrew, muskrat, and rabbit skulls that look as you might expect. But then there is the armadillo skull, surprising for its lumpiness and almost duck-like shape. The spinal column might well be that of a sheep. It was found beside the road in New Mexico when I was traveling to Tucson with our son Barrett and the car broke down. When you are traveling with a naturalist you are never bored when you are outdoors. There are a number of chicken wing bones, vertebrae, an opossum femur and various ribs all lying on a marvelous patchwork piece of metallic embroidered Indian fabrics with mirror inclusions which we bought in Mumbai.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


The beautiful metallic wood boring beetles of the family Buprestidae are among my favorite insects. Their iridescent colors come not from pigments but from minute grooves in the surface of the cuticle which, like a diffraction grating or pool of oil on the surface of water, breaks up the light into its component parts. As a result, they don't fade with time. Jan Fabre created an amazing metallic green ceiling in the Royal Palace in Brussels composed of a million elytra from these beetles. It is titled Heaven of Delight and even viewing it in photographs is thrilling.

The species in the drawing belong to the genus Chrysochroa. They are from Thailand and should feel at home as they are sitting on a piece of Thai marbled paper.

The shell in the center of the second drawing has been made into a charming container with hinges and a clasp. The background is a piece of Italian paper used in bookbinding, from the estate of Francis Robinson, an all-encompassing curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts, a man of many interests and talents and a prodigious collector of books and everything else. The objects that have spilled around the shell are hyacinth beans, castor beans, yellow Steuben beans, pinto beans, calypso beans and antique clay marbles.