The Guardian – My ReLOVED Silverware Owl Sculpture

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“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity. It dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path. “ ~ Agatha Christie

Creating an up-cycled silverware owl sculpture has been on my “to-make” list for several years now. I have had the pleasure of seeing many of these magnificent, awe-inspiring birds near my home in Muskoka and I just LOVE them.

Sometimes it takes awhile for an idea to become a clear vision that I can run with. I just knew that the right inspiration would eventually present itself when the bird was ready to come to life, and in this case, it came in the form of a small birch tree stump. My neighbour had recently taken down a tree, and this interesting piece of wood with a perfectly hollowed out knot caught my attention. Upon finding it, I immediately felt moved to pick it up and carry it home with me.

I’ve been thinking about motherhood a lot lately, and how a mother possesses an innate fierceness towards her children’s wellbeing if she feels they are being threatened in any way. I don’t consider myself a particularly confrontational, and most definitely not an aggressive individual, but if my kids are involved something powerful takes me over. Something ancient and instinctive….And I will do anything to ensure their safety.

When I noticed this stump of wood, I immediately envisioned a couple of little owlets peeking out from inside it, while the mama bird perched on top with wings outstretched, defensively watching over them and ready to protect them at any cost. That same evening I dreamt of barn owls.

That’s when I knew it was time to get to work.

My first step is always to search out photos for reference. Sometimes I get out my pencils and start making sketches of what I want to create, but in this case I found a couple of wonderful photos to work from that helped me to see exactly what I wanted to do. I printed them up and posted them above my workbench. I also consulted with a couple of artist/woodworking friends of mine on how to deal with and treat the wood. I was advised to spray the stump with pesticide and seal it in a garbage bag for a week to kill any bugs or mites. Next, I would need to seal the wood with a lacquer, keeping the bottom natural so that the wood could continue to dry out over time. I inserted rubber “feet “on the bottom of the stump to allow airflow, and of course prevent any damage to surfaces the sculpture will be displayed on.

I started going through my “raw materials” to see what I could use to create the body. I decided to use wine goblets and a creamer bowl.  After drilling some holes and rivetting them in place, I had a good base to start building on.

Next I decided to tackle the tail. I had a handful of knives with round blade tips that I thought would make perfect tail feathers. I cut them from the handles and drilled holes through the ends. Stainless steel is a real pain to drill through and I have learned a few tricks (through much trial and error). Stainless is SUPER hard and the drill bits get too hot and dull really quickly. During my first project with stainless steel I averaged a drill bit per hole. No joke!  Not only was it frustratingly slow, but also quite expensive! (think $4 per bit x 40 holes). I learned that I could get more than one use per bit by using a spray bottle filled with cold water to cool it down every second or two. Read: drill for a second, spray with cold water, drill for another second or two, spray with cold water….repeat until hole is drilled. I can now manage to get 4 – 5 holes per bit using this method.

Once I had the knife blades prepped, I arranged and fanned them out the way I wanted and riveted them on to the body.

I figured that the legs and feet would be a next logical step. For this I used couple of forks. The fork tines were a little too long, so I shortened them and used my rotary tool to shape what look like talons on the ends. I then encased the handles in hollow knife handles (like a sleeve) to give the legs the shape that I wanted. I drilled holes in the forks where I planned to attach them to both the stump and the body. Once again using rivets, I secured the fork/knife handle legs to the base of the body. As an aside, I later decided to cut the fork tine that was supposed to represent the first metatarsus (“thumb”) and I later attached a longer fork tine on a different angle towards the back of the foot. Also, once the feet were screwed in place I wanted to cover the screw tops to make them look more realistic. I found a pair of really neat, very “feet-like” ice tongs which did the trick perfectly! (photo of finished feet at end of post).

Next I began to work on the wings. Dinner knife blades are perfect for this. If I didn’t know better, I would think that knives were invented solely for the purpose of silverware artists who want to make wings! Again, I had to drill many holes into…..ugh…..stainless steel, but I did it without complaining (much). I attached the knife blades to two matching pie servers that just happened to be the exact right size and shape to use as the base of the wings. I soldered forks to the backs of the wings with the intention of  creating the shape and texture of feathers. I added some edging from a couple of candy dishes to the underside, mostly just to cover up the rivets, but I will admit it did add a nice decorative touch! I always find the just right pieces and things always come together somehow. I can’t explain it, but I sure do feel grateful for that.

And in case you’re wondering, I did this project all on my own……with no help from the cat.

Although I REALLY wanted to attach the wings right away I knew that would be a bad idea. I first had to make the owl’s face and attach it, as well as solder the fork feathers to finish the underbelly and sides, because it would be awkward and maybe even possible to do once the wings were attached. Also, I thought it would be best to attach the wings after I mounted the owl to the stump. And before I attached the owl to the stump, I would have to create and install the babies. The order of how the piece came together was important, as you can see, and the process revealed itself as I worked step by step.

The face is always the most fun and satisfying part of any wildlife sculpture, for me. It’s where the focus goes first, and where the life of the piece resides. The eyes, in particular, will make or break a piece. The unique shape of the barn owls head was tricky to accomplish, but I managed to shape a couple of tablespoons and solder them to the base of a wine goblet which accomplished the goal nicely, I think. I experimented using a few different pieces to make the head itself. First I tried out another wine goblet, but it was a bit too small, so I ended up using another cream container which I cut in half. The details on the eyes and nose were from the handles of spoons which I cut and shaped. I thought the silverware patterns really added a beautiful, intricate detail to the piece.

Now I was ready to attach the bird to the stump! Exciting times!!!

Before I attached the wings I thought it would be best to solder most of the feathers to the back. Some others would have to be added later.

Attaching the wings was also a very exciting step. I was starting to feel very accomplished as I could finally really start to see the general look of the piece. Although I wanted to have the wings dramatically offset, like the owl in the photo I was referencing, it didn’t quite work out as I planned. As it turned out, the wings are actually only slightly uneven, which suggests that the owl is firmly perched on the stump, rather than just having landed.  She somehow feels more solid and symmetrical this way, and seeing as she is a guardian and defender of her young, solidity is not a bad thing! Not as I had planned, but actually turned out better this way.

The last step (or so I thought) was arranging the last few forks along the back to “blend” the wings into the rest of the piece, but I ended up adding the arms of a set of sugar tongs to represent what would be the humerus, and radius/ulna. I just felt the wings needed a little more definition so they didn’t become lost in all the fork feathers. Finishing up a sculpture is always very feeling/intuitive based for me. Sometimes I need to sleep on it for a day or two…or even a week, and come back with fresh eyes. In this case, after a night’s rest I could definitely say that it didn’t feel finished. Something about the wings, still, was imbalanced or didn’t flow right. I experimented some more and decided to add one more feather to the end of each wing…..hollow knife handles this time……and I also added a detail to what would be called the “pinion joints” (sort of like elbows). I “capped” them with just the very end tip of some more hollow knife handles. This definition felt really important to me.

The Guardian, from start to finish, took me just over three weeks to create. As with most of my sculptures though, I was “incubating” the concept for much longer.

She is 22″ x 19″ x 11″ and weighs approx. 20 lbs.

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  • bob boden

    Cindy…I love all that you do, your words as you explain your work really bond with me, hard to explain but feels really good….THANKS TONS.

    • Cindy Kelly

      Aww…thanks so much, Bob! I’m glad to hear this. 🙂

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