Call to Artists: Birding By the Numbers

Birding by the Numbers

A Call to Artists from the Birds of Vermont Museum in celebration of our 30th Anniversary

We at the Museum like to say we are “where natural history meets art.” But flip through the files of time while birding in the last 30 years… what would ornithology be without math? What new facts and figures about feathered phenomena do you most appreciate? Join us as we play with birds and numbers!

We seek bird-focused art that incorporates a feeling for number with artistic expression. We are open to any media. Let your art—from imaginary to irrational, with birds silly and significant—populate our creative space!

Here is a tiny fraction of funky factoids to tickle your fancy and perhaps illustrate what we mean: Continue reading “Call to Artists: Birding By the Numbers”

Brook Trout carving workshop

Carve your ownbrook trout in this one-day class with David TuttleCarve and paint a Brook Trout with David Tuttle of the Green Mountain Woodcarvers. Wood blank, eyes, snacks, and coffee provided.

Saturday, February 20 at the Birds of Vermont Museum (map) • 9:00 am – 3:00 pm

All levels welcome. Do bring your tools and gloves if you have them; if you don’t, let us know. Dave often brings some knives, gloves, etc. to sell. Please bring your lunch.

Great for adults and teens. Younger kids need parental permission and Cub Scouts could show their Whittling Chip.

$30 for Museum and GMWC members • $40 for everyone else

Call 802 434-2167 or email museum@birdsofvermont.org to pre-register.

Season’s Tweetings

Season's Tweetings from the Birds of Vermont Museum 2015
Season’s Tweetings from the Birds of Vermont Museum

Art of Birds, clockwise from upper left: needle-felted Owls (Susi Ryan’s class); Flood Birds (carved by David Tuttle from trees washed out during the 2013 flood); Eagle quilt (Carol McDowell for the Birds of a Fiber exhibit); Northern Parula (wood carving by Bob Spear); Scarlet Tanager ornaments (carved by Dick Allen and painted by Kir Talmage); Wren (carving by Elizabeth Spinney)

The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 9: Remembrance: Tales of my Father)

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear
This post appeared first in our Winter 2015  issue of
Chip Notes.

In place of a regular Carver’s Daughter installment, I want to offer a few tidbits of information about my father that most people probably don’t know. Bear in mind that these are family stories and may have
been embellished through the years. (But not by me, of course!)

Our name shouldn’t be Spear. My great-grandmother, Julia Spear, eloped with a man from Canada named Ovitt, and disappeared for an entire year. One day she reappeared on her parents’ doorstep with a newborn baby and moved back in, simply saying that she was divorced. She took back the name Spear for herself and her baby, who was my grandfather, the first Robert Newell Spear.

My father did not grow up in Vermont, though he was born here. He was raised until he was about sixteen in Wyben, Massachusetts, where his family moved so that his mother could continue teaching after she got married. Vermont then had a law that only single women could teach school.

My father was kidnapped when he was a baby. One day his mother was sitting on a train platform, with my father in a basket at her feet. A woman passing by suddenly snatched him, basket and all, and raced off into the crowd. His mother tore after them, screaming. Fortunately, some people farther down the platform were able to stop the woman. The woman was, as they said back then, “mentally deranged,” and had stolen my father because he was such a cute baby. He slept through the entire experience.

My grandmother was my father’s early teacher, in a one-room schoolhouse. After her death, my grandfather moved to Colchester with his son and daughter. My father became friends with Charles Smith, and the two boys explored Lake Champlain together. Their role model was Yan, the hero of Ernest Thompson Seton’s Two Little Savages, a popular boy’s book of the time. They pitched a tent halfway between their houses and slept in it all summer. They were avid skaters in the winter and built their own iceboat, which, my father said, “went like a bat out of hell.” I’m sure they had no safety equipment.

One winter a Model T broke through the lake ice and sank near their fishing shanty. A man struggled to the surface, and the boys shoved their sled out to him. He grabbed on and they pulled him to safety—but he had a heart attack and died before they could get him into the warmth of their shanty. My father made me promise never to ride in a car on the ice. I never will.

My father claimed to have paddled the first canoe on Malletts Bay since the Indians left. It was made of black canvas stretched over a wooden frame. It weighed about a thousand pounds when dry and twice that wet, and he claimed it was the best paddling canoe he ever had. Drivers on Lakeshore Drive used to stop and stare at him in his funny boat with points at both ends.

As a young man, my father frequented a roller-skating rink at Clarey’s Bayside in Colchester. Years later, when Gale accepted an invitation to a roller-skating party for herself and my father, she was afraid he
would be in for a miserable afternoon. But when she looked up from lacing her skates, my father was already on the floor, weaving in and out between people, skating backward on one foot. With a huge grin on his face, of course.

My father had a horse named Ned. He also had a cat he loved dearly, so much that after it died, he vowed he would never have another pet. He never did. (Though he was known to cuddle Gale’s cat Hussy quite a bit.)

He built himself a darkroom, learned taxidermy and astronomy from books, made two guitars and a mandolin, played them all, and could cut down a tree with an ax, dropping it exactly where he wanted it every time.

My father as a boy smoked everything he could get hold of. When cigarettes were too expensive, he smoked corn silk, which was all right, or rolled-up wild grapevine, which was pretty awful. Perhaps that was what cured him of the smoking habit before he became an adult.

My father was bullied in high school. He was young for his grade, small, shy, and smart, and therefore a target for tough Winooski boys. After he graduated, he vowed he would never set foot in another school as a student, and he pretty much didn’t, aside from a few night classes in math at UVM and his training in the Navy later.

He worked in a sawmill and on the Blakely Farm in Colchester, plowing and haying with a team of horses. He cut ice with a crosscut saw on the lake. He preferred the end on top of the ice when he could get it.

During WWII, he enlisted in the Navy against his father’s wishes. The results of his math tests landed him in Chicago for the duration of the war, putting his creative skills into the desperate need for radar development to detect German U-boats. It wasn’t what he’d hoped for; he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather and hero, Alonzo Spear, who fought in every major battle of the Civil War. But in time, he realized the importance of his work and reflected on the American lives he’d helped to save. Though I’m sure he always regretted that he hadn’t had a chance to take out Hitler with a well-thrown ax.

The need for radar experts on board ships grew desperate, though, by the end of war. My father had just been assigned to a ship in the South Pacific when the United States dropped the atomic bombs. Once, self-righteously, I criticized our country for causing such violence. My father quietly told me that if the United States hadn’t dropped the bombs, I probably would not exist. Neither would the Birds of Vermont Museum. I kept my mouth shut about that afterward.

My father used to have his own Boy Scout troop. He was like a magnet for troubled teenagers. When a parent thanked him from the bottom of her heart for turning her child’s life around, he’d shrug and say, “Well, I just had him help me clear a trail or dig a pond.”

My father almost blew up a man once. When he wanted to create a way down to the lakeshore from the property where he and my mother were building a camp, he got hold of dynamite somehow. He drilled into the ledge, planted the charge, and set it off. Rock rained down into the lake. And a man fishing in a rowboat shot out from behind a small island just offshore. My father said he was all right, but he was madder than a hornet.

My father was married twice before he met Gale—first to a woman named Eileen, then to my mother, Sally Stalker Spear. I am his only child. He wanted to name me Robin, whether I was a boy or a girl. They settled on Karen Joelle, but when he saw me for the first time, he said, “That’s not a Karen Joelle. That’s a Kari Jo.” It stuck. And I was never quite sure what he’d meant. My parents separated when I was ten and later divorced. I only saw my father on weekends or school vacations while he was the director of the Green Mountain Aubudon Nature Center.

My father hunted deer until, as he put it, he grew out of it.

My father voted Republican until, as he put it, he wised up.

He worked as a salesman at Sears for a short time before moving on to a career at General Electric doing further work with radar.

He disliked coffee and alcohol, except for an occasional beer.

He could hardly swim a stroke and hated to get even his big toe wet.

He was a lousy cook. Aside from frying hamburgers, all he ever fixed himself for dinner was a can of Dinty Moore beef stew. And ice cream, of course.

He was so squeamish that he used to leave movies during gory parts. Once when I cut my finger, he had to go sit in the shade while I put on a Band-Aid.

He could mentally fight every battle of the Civil War and tell you where all the Vermont troops had stood in each one. He was also an expert on the American Revolution, which was far simpler and lacking in brilliant generals.

He designed and built a house, a camp, a museum, Gale’s retreat, countless bird blinds, and a bridge that withstood a flood that took out all the ground around it.

He sat through The Nutcracker ballet at least fifteen times, doing grandfather duty. And honestly said he liked it.

He occasionally liked to travel, driving across the country from one National Park to the next, giving all cities a wide berth. He went to the South American tropics several times, but never farther from home than that. I did hear him
say once that he’d like to go to Africa.

He had a unique sense of humor and delivered all his lines as a straight, deadpan part of his normal conversation. To a group of volunteers he was training to work in the nature center’s sugar orchard, I heard him say, “Audubon only allows us to run over three kids with the tractor per year. Choose them wisely.”

And to a student who pointed to a fat, furry woodchuck under the feeders and asked what it was, he said, “That’s a chipmunk. They lose their stripes when they get that big.”

He never went anywhere without his binoculars, even in an ambulance to the hospital. They see peregrine falcons around there, you know.

I asked him, when I was a child and first grappling with the idea of death, if he would ever die. He told me yes, but not for a long, long time. He was right.

At the end, when we were told he had only months to live, he did things his own way and wrapped everything up in three days. I was with him when he passed. He did it with the least amount of fuss possible, a recording of birdsongs playing quietly in the background. A few days later, Gale and I scattered his ashes at his favorite places around the museum grounds, as he’d requested. Then I sprinkled the rest into the brook, knowing they would wash down through the nature center and eventually into the lake, where he’d once paddled his odd boat with the points at both ends and raced an iceboat into the stars.

And one other thing I know for certain: as a friend said, he will have already added a Labrador Duck and a Passenger Pigeon to his lifelist.

 

Kari Jo Spear‘s young adult, urban fantasy novels, Under the Willow, and  Silent One, are available at Phoenix Books (in Essex and Burlington, Vermont), and on-line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: The Early Years
Part 2: The Pre-teen Years (or, Why I’m Not a Carver)
Part 3: Something’s Going On Here
Part 4: The Summer of Pies
Part 5: My Addiction
Part 6: Habitat Shots
Part 7: Growing Up
Part 8: My Dead Arm

 

 

Wren Woodcarving Workshop (February 28, 2015)

Carve and paint a Wren with us and David Tuttle of the Green Mountain Woodcarvers on February 28, in a one-day workshop (9a.m. – 3p.m.). All levels — bare beginners to decades of practice — totally welcome.

Do bring tools and gloves if you have them; if you don’t, let us know. Dave often brings some knives, gloves, etc. to sell. Please bring your lunch; we’ll have snacks and coffee.

Great for Scouts, teens and adults. Under 12 must bring Whittling Chip card or parental permission. (Yes, tools are sharp!)

$25 for Museum and GMWC members • $35 for everyone else
Please email museum@birdsofvermont.org or call 802 434-2167 to pre-register.

 

CarvingClass_Wren_2015_Flyer_web

The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 8: My Dead Arm)

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear
This post appeared first in our late summer 2014 issue of
Chip Notes.

My arm was killing me. Every muscle burned, my fingers cramped, and my shoulder barely fit in its socket any longer. In other words, I was in agony, and it was all my father’s fault. I was furious with those stupid birds of his and his stupid idea about carving every freaking bird that had ever been stupid enough to set its freaking feathers in Vermont. And I was mostly mad about his stupid idea to rebuild the barn on the old foundation next to Gale’s house and keep his stupid birds in there.

I was going to be maimed for life because of this! I was never going to be able to use my right arm again. My fingers were ice cold and I could barely feel them, much less move them. Any doctor would agree this was child abuse. I should be put into foster care and live in a nice, normal apartment in a city and never have to look at another bird again as long as I lived!

And not only that, my hand was sticky, and I hated that more than anything.

But I forced my smile back on. “And what would you like?” I asked a sweet little girl standing in front of me.

“Chocolate, please,” she said with an eager light in her eyes.

“Chocolate it is, then,” I said, and bent over the cooler again, trying to hide my pain.

I had been scooping ice cream for three hours. It had seemed like a really good idea at first. My father was hosting his first open house. It had been advertised all across the media. His “project,” now officially called the Birds of Vermont Museum, was open for visitors. In reality, today’s open house was a test to see if anybody was interested. To see if anybody was insane enough to make the drive all the way out to Huntington to see a bunch of wooden birds. Of course, there was no charge. We were still ages away from having all the permits and stuff that were required to become a business, even one not for profit.

To sweeten the deal, my father was offering a free dish of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to everybody who showed up that day. For some stupid reason, the ice cream gurus had donated a bunch of bottomless cardboard tubs of the rock hard, icy, sticky stuff for the occasion. And for some stupid reason, I’d thought that was really nice of them and volunteered to be in charge of it.

And now my right arm was totally dead. I didn’t think anything could ever make me hate chocolate. But this afternoon was doing a good job of it.

“Here you go.” I handed the little girl her dish and dragged my eyes to her mom. “And for you?”

“Vanilla, please,” she said.

I decided to hate vanilla, too. I made my poor, abused fingers close around the scoop that lived in the vanilla tub.

“And how were you lucky enough to rate this job?” the mom asked.

I looked up at her as though she were out of her freaking mind. Beyond her, the line of people reached across Gale’s kitchen, down the hall, out the front door, along the path, across the driveway, and down the side of the road all the way to the shop. Which we were now supposed to call the Freaking Birds of Vermont Museum.

“I’m his daughter,” I growled.

“Oh, how marvelous! Your father has such incredible talent! Such patience! Such vision.”

I looked at her again to see if she was sane or not.

“To create such a project! And not want to make any money at it! All that work, to educate people about nature and conservation and – oh, everything! I had to come up here the minute I heard about it. This is something that must happen. I wanted my daughter to be able to say she’d seen it in its earliest days.” She nodded at the little girl dripping chocolate all over the place, who nodded back vigorously. Then the mom looked back at me. “You are so lucky to be part of all this.”

I looked up at her, my arm suddenly feeling a little less leaden and sticky. Did she really mean she hadn’t come all this way for free Ben and Jerry’s?

“I mean, look at the turnout!” she said. “There are hundreds of people here. You must be so proud.”

“It’s amazing,” someone behind her said.

“They look alive,” someone else said.

“I’m going to start a life list,” another voice added.

No, don’t! I almost said aloud. It won’t lead to good things! But then I found myself really smiling as I handed the mom her little dish. “Here you go,” I said. “Thanks so much for visiting the Birds of Vermont Museum today. And what kind would you like, sir? We have chocolate and vanilla and suet with sunflower sprinkles. Just kidding,” I added.

He laughed. “Chocolate, please.”

“Coming right up. Don’t let it drip on your binoculars.”

Everyone laughed. What great people, I thought. What a momentous day!

And what big muscles I’m going to have.


Kari Jo Spear‘s young adult, urban fantasy novels, Under the Willow, and  Silent One, are available at Phoenix Books (in Essex and Burlington, Vermont), and on-line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: The Early Years
Part 2: The Pre-teen Years (or, Why I’m Not a Carver)
Part 3: Something’s Going On Here
Part 4: The Summer of Pies
Part 5: My Addiction
Part 6: Habitat Shots
Part 7: Growing Up

The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 7: Growing Up)

Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear

Things were starting to get out of hand.

My father’s carvings had been well received during their debut in the art gallery in Montpelier. People had flocked in to see them. Photos had been taken. Articles had been written. In short, Vermont was interested in his project. After their few weeks in fame and glory, my father returned his carvings to his shop in triumph.

The problem was, they seemed to have grown while they’d been gone. Or else the shop had shrunk. The first day they were back, I stood in the doorway, surveying the long, rectangular room. Or trying to survey it. I couldn’t really see it, or the bench, or the wood stove, or any of my father’s tools. Or my father, for that matter, and even in his younger days, he wasn’t hard to miss. (Meaning that he wore red shirts back then, too, of course! I don’t mean to imply anything about his general recognizable shape.)

The whole room was full, as far as I could tell, of green, leafy branches, tree trunks, and bright spots of plumage.

“I’m back here!” My father’s voice came from somewhere near the window. I turned sideways and squeezed between Plexiglas cases in his direction, stopping to glance at my favorites — the red-winged blackbirds. Yup, the mud I’d painted down at the bottom still looked good.

I finally found my father sitting on his stool, peering in my direction.

“You made it,” he said.

“Yeah, it’s getting a little tight in here. What’d they feed these guys in Montpelier, anyway? Did they put steroids in the suet, or something?”

My father didn’t laugh. “I’ve been talking to the Shelburne Farms people. And the Ethan Allen Homestead.”

“About?” I prompted.

“Housing them,” he said. “The collection.”

So he’d evidently noticed the overcrowding of the avian population in the room, too.

“What are they thinking?” As tight as it getting in here, I suddenly felt kind of funny about the carvings all going away permanently. I’d kind of missed them just while they’d been off on their maiden flight. And would strangers take good care of my mud, and everything? I mean, that mud was the first and only mud I’d ever painted! It wasn’t just any mud, after all. It was part of my childhood memories.

“No one seems to think they’ve got enough room.”

“Are you kidding me? Those barns at Shelburne Farms are huge!”

My father cleared his throat and said something that sounded like “…more cases, and a wetland diorama, and endangered species…”

I blinked. “You mean, there’s going to be lot more? A lot more?”

My father looked kind of sheepish and muttered something about investors and interested parties. I didn’t know much about that kind of thing, but I knew that he was talking about money. For the first time, I began to realize that this project might get really, really big. And not only that, it might really happen.

‘Holy cow,” I said. “Are you like going to get famous?”

My father suddenly looked horrified and leapt off his stool. “Let’s go canoeing,” he said in a rush, and he was gone as though he’d grown wings himself.

It took me a lot longer to find my way to the door of the shop. Something in the atmosphere had suddenly changed. I looked at the cases and the birds inside them in a new way. Yeah, they were bigger all right. Even my mud didn’t feel as though it was all mine any longer. Whatever was starting to happen here might get really weird, like turn into a legacy or something. And outlast my father.

And even me.


Kari Jo Spear‘s young adult, urban fantasy novels, Under the Willow, and  Silent One, are available at Phoenix Books (in Essex and Burlington, Vermont), and on-line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: The Early Years
Part 2: The Pre-teen Years (or, Why I’m Not a Carver)
Part 3: Something’s Going On Here
Part 4: The Summer of Pies
Part 5: My Addiction
Part 6: Habitat Shots

Upcoming event: Wood Duck Carving Class with David Tuttle

Come to a one-day carving class with David Tuttle of the Green Mountain Woodcarvers. We will carve and paint a Wood Duck. Wood blank, eyes, snacks, and coffee provided.

No carving experience required! Beginners are as welcome as experts. Do bring your tools and gloves if you have them; if you don’t, let us know. Dave often brings some knives, gloves, etc. to sell. Please bring your lunch.

Saturday, February 15, 9am – 3pm in the workshop at the Museum
Great for teens and adults.
$25 for Museum and GMWC members • $35 for everyone else

Please pre-register by email or phone: museum@birdsofvermont.org or (802) 434-2167

Changes and updates will be posted on our website, at http://birdsofvermont.org/events.php, when possible.