Artist: Steve Tilden

What Steve Tilden says about Magpie: "Magpie is made mostly of foundlings, including an aluminum spoon found in Russia, steel blades from street sweepers, nuts, bolts, and other indescribables... They were collected, magpie-like, by a human who has a sense of retrieving lost meanings and keeping them safe in a cigar box. So this Magpie collects, and keeps safe, these things."

What Ellen says about Magpie: The magpie was conceived in one of those lucid flashes of insight when disparate elements suddenly join in your mind. I had been collecting "road trash" and various "found objects" on my daily walks for several years. I called them my magpie findings. They included all kinds of things, mostly shiny metal things like washers and coins, but also broken sunglasses and pieces of broken crockery and a little pleated circlet of fabric that fell off the top of someone's umbrella. Buttons and keys I always considered particularly lucky.

Meanwhile, Steve had been making these incredible bird sculptures out of scraps of metal and found objects. We had already bought one of his pieces, Emily's Watcher. I don't know why it took me so long to think of commissioning a magpie, to be made from my magpie findings, but the moment I thought of it I knew it was a right thing.

I remember the day I went down the block to Steve's workshop with my collection. I dumped the findings out on his bench and we began picking them over. I told him the stories behind some of the pieces, like the large aluminum spoon with a broken handle I found in a ruined church outside Kazan, Russia. Steve picked up a shiny little brass thing that looked like a question mark. It was one of those clasps like on the end of a dog's leash or a removable purse strap, the kind with a little sliding doohicky that you push with your thumb to open the clip, and a tiny spring that pushes the doohicky back to close the clasp. Only this clasp had lost its doohicky and spring. Steve turned it over in his fingers for a moment, and then he started talking about the essential frailty of human construction and he had all these marvellous insights into what it is about something like this, something that had its purpose but now is broken and lying discarded in the street, that would attract me. In fact, he was a lot more articulate about the meaning of the magpie findings than I can be, which is why I'll stop putting any words in his mouth now. But I was thrilled that he saw so much meaning with which to invest this work.

It was a long time after this meeting that the magpie was completed. In the interim, I'd run into Steve now and then, and I'd say oh how's the magpie coming, and he'd say, well I'm playing with the pieces, or well, I've been working on something else lately. Sometimes he'd show me the something else, and it was exciting stuff.

But one day there was a knock at the door, and there was Steve and there was the Magpie, and she was magnificent.

There are people who can capture an expression on paper with one sure stroke of a conte crayon, but to have captured the attitude of a bird, as Steve has so deftly done, to create this tangible image out of a collection of nuts and bolts and miscellaneous junk brazed together to bound space -- well, this is a continuing source of wonder and joy for me.


©2001 Ellen Vanderslice
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