- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - At sunrise and sundown, art objects fill the winter sky above Terre Haute.

That’s right, crows possess artistic qualities. No living creature better symbolizes the outdoor look of this town’s cold-weather season. They flow into Terre Haute every October, spend nights around the urban lights, eat and drink in farm fields beside the Wabash River by day, and then leave in March. Oh, and they defecate prolifically, too. All 30,000 to 60,000 of them.

How could artists ignore such a dominant being?

“No matter what you think of them, it’s an image you can’t get out of your head - ‘They’re beautiful,’ ‘They’re ugly,’ They’re dirty,’ whatever,” said Susan Tingley, a Terre Haute artist who has depicted the birds in sculpture, drawings and jewelry. She likens crows’ public acceptance to that of black licorice. “People either love them or they hate them.”

She and her husband, Michael, a fellow artist, fall into the “love them” category. “I’m trying to get them in my yard,” Michael said. “They’re incredibly social. They have a family life. They’re inventive. They’re creative. They’re an amazing bird. I’m fascinated by them.”

The upstairs studio in their south-side home reflects that affection. Several pieces of their individual artwork feature winged members of the covidae family. Susan crafted necklaces graced by small photographs of crows in trees, a crow drawn onto an actual road map, and a sculpture of a crow gripping in its beak an actual McDonald’s French fry. Michael sculpted crows in a re-creation of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”

The French fry in Susan’s crow sculpture, as well as the cheeseburger wrapper the bird is standing upon, are from 2007, when she created the piece for a crow art show at Indiana State University. Inspired by the popularity of that event nine years ago, the local organization Arts Illiana decided to stage a 2016 “Crow Show.” It will run from Feb. 5 to April 22 and include submissions from artists in Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio, as well as readings of related literature such as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

“It’s going to be an interesting show,” said Michael Tingley, who also serves as gallery director for Arts Illiana, located at 23 N. Sixth St.

And fun. “Sometimes it’s nice to lighten up a little bit and think of art as kind of less formal,” said Terre Haute photographer and ISU art professor Fran Lattanzio.

Terre Haute seems a logical site for a crow art exhibit, given its distinction as one of the largest wintertime hangouts for crows in North America. The annual roosts here are equaled only by a few other cities, such as Auburn, New York, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s unclear, though, how many local residents would enjoy artistic renderings of the birds when less artful reminders already splotch people’s sidewalks and cars.

“We’ll find out at this next exhibit,” said David Erickson, a Terre Haute artist and retired ISU art professor. “There’s a limited market for it (here). Apparently there was enough for me to sell several (crow) images” from the 2007 show.

Artists worldwide generate crow art, Michael Tingley explained. For Susan Tingley’s crow jewelry, the interest is highest among Hoosiers. “It’s mostly still Indiana people,” she said. “And then a lot of people locally have bought crow necklaces, and it’s a celebration of the birds that come every year.”

An artist may notice the subtle detail of crows that a casual observer overlooks. “There’s a tremendous amount of iridescence to their feathers - blues and purples, depending on how the sun is hitting,” said Nancy Nichols-Pethick, ISU associate professor of painting and drawing. The outline of their dark bodies stands as the crows’ most iconic portrayal in art.

“It’s the silhouette,” Susan Tingley said, standing beside her crow-over-a-roadmap sketch. When you see it, “you know it’s a crow.”

Michael Tingley replicates the birds’ black tone by mixing four colors. “It’s the most natural black there is,” he said.

That thick profile pushes an artist to include movements. “That’s what I like about them; they’re so black it becomes all about their shape and posture and silhouette,” Nichols-Pethick said. “Especially when they’re all in a mass. They take on these unique gestures.”

Lattanzio spotted crows lined up one morning along the roof of a church across the street from her office in Fairbanks Hall on campus. “You couldn’t have arranged it better yourself,” she said.

One of Erickson’s striking, bold prints, “Le Grande Perch d’ Terre Haute,” shows a huge crow sitting atop the Vigo County Courthouse, while a murder of fellow birds flutter above the Wabash River. That relief cut print inspired Terre Haute poet Matthew Brennan to write a poem of the same title.

Its closing lines are: “At dusk, across the Wabash River, a yellow light remains, while swirling birds as black as ink, darken the sky like stains, then pack the leafless trees like pews, parishioners in a church; one, higher than the rest, has made the courthouse dome his perch.”

The 76-year-old Erickson, like several other artists, enjoys the crows, but quickly emphasized that he and his wife reside west of the city and, “I don’t have to live with their after effects that folks in the town have to deal with.”

“After effects” mean droppings. “If they weren’t so messy, nobody would hate the crows,” Susan Tingley said.

The unstoppable nature of the crows, and their droppings, illuminates nature’s upper hand on man. “We like to think we’re in charge of everything, and this murder of crows comes in and poops all over everything, and basically says, ‘So there,’” Nichols-Pethick said.

Even that aspect of the crows can be art. Several years ago, Lattanzio and Nichols-Pethick designed a table setting for the Arts Illiana TableScapes event, featuring a black tablecloth with white paint splotches, imitating crow droppings. “People thought it was hysterical,” Lattanzio recalled.

Terre Haute artist Becky Hochhalter noticed the stylish potential of crows. She’s creating a “Sketchy Crow” line of clothing, bags and pillows that is in its “infancy stages.” Her logo shows a crow in profile. The Terre Haute-themed items all will feature one of the birds. Hochhalter also worked on a fashion-oriented painting titled, “Haute Crowture,” for next month’s Crow Show.

The birds are both “loved and hated” among Terre Haute residents, Hochhalter said. Regardless, they’re ever-present here in winter.

“The crows,” Hochhalter said, “are an iconic part of Terre Haute.”

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Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, https://bit.ly/1nz3LNt

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Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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