For nearly four decades, David Crawford has been giving his view on reality physical form. Starting in jewelry and wooden furniture, David experimented with many different mediums and styles before finding bronze sculpture as a preferred creative outlet. Living in the tiny community of Halfway in the backwaters of a backwater corner of Oregon, using a foundry designed and built buy himself, he continues to forge his unique view of the world into a very real and permanent form.
If you aren't born wealthy there are only two ways to make a living in this world. One, is to get up in the morning (or evening) and go out and provide goods or services for the pleasures or needs of others, and the other is to steal stuff. Since I don't understand Wall Street, or house flipping, and since everyone recognizes you in a small town whether or not you're wearing a ski mask, I provide goods or services. Are my goods any good? I don't really know, but as long as people keep preferring them over my "services", I'll keep making them. Any job can be difficult at times, but I believe my job is pretty well suited to my personality and abilities.
I never know quite what it is I'm doing, and I never know who is going to support my doing it, but it does take real work, and I don't get much of it done. Over the years I've tried to answer people's questions about my process, or my work schedule, where my ideas come from, why does anyone pay me to do this, and I always feel like I let them down with my answers. I let myself down with my answers. The truth is that I don't know where the bulk of my ideas come from, my process is best described as a loosely organized sequence of narrow escapes, my work schedule is from when I was twelve until now, except when I'm not working, and I don't have any idea whatsoever why anyone buys my things.
Be that as it may, my work is rewarding, frustrating, exhilarating, and at times just plain tedious. I grind quite a bit, and would rather not. I stew a fair amount over details that nobody seems to notice or care about, and at times I wonder if it should be chicken or feathers for dinner. But all in all, for me there is no feeling quite like making something of nearly nothing, and having someone enjoy that something enough to support me to go and do it again. I am an artist who does work for the people. I satisfy my own visions of what to make, and how to make them, but I also want people to find the work interesting and engaging. I am not particularly interested in trying to educate or inform my audience. I believe them to be educated and informed independent of my influence, but I do hope they find something unexpected or new in my work. I don't generally think of various occupations to be superior or inferior to another, nor do I think of the well-to-do class as being more informed or enlightened than the less well off among us. I learned early and often that it is a tall order to find anyone that can't teach me a thing or two. We are, each and every one of us, masters of something that the person beside us in any crowd is not, and I sort of like it that way.
I make these points to put my efforts in perspective. Is what I do important? Only if art of others is important. We each get to decide what is important to us when it comes to art, and we risk missing some pieces of life by narrowly defining which art is and is not worth our attention. So I am grateful that I live in a time when one might live most anywhere and yet find a way to pursue his or her visions toward making a living and a life of that pursuit. These are the best of times, and since they are my only times, I intend to enjoy doing what I do, and eating some chickens now and then, along with the feathers.
I was born to make things, and I have no memory of a time that I did not. My earliest creations were born of desire for things that others had that I would like to also have. Be it a boat, or a bow and arrow, a sled, or trap, I spent a good deal of my energy making objects of desire. When objects of desire shifted from tools of exploration or destruction, to creatures who often wore skirts, my creations began to focus on things I believed these creatures might find beautiful. Instead of the rough utility of a crude plywood creek-plying vessel, what my product looked like became very important to me. Girls looked good, and seemed to make every effort to do so, and so my creations should look good if they were to attract any attention.
I began my career in art as a tool of courtship. I made jewelry and jewelry boxes, miniature furniture, larger furniture, and eventually a few guitars. I made these things mostly of wood, and often of walnut scraps or limbs I'd sawn into small boards. Every courtship I engaged in was marked by the presence of my creative endeavors. For money, from grade school on, until I was out of high school, I worked in the hay fields of the MC Ranch, one of Oregon's largest cattle operations based in the community of Adel, in the southeast quarter of the state. I like beef, and appreciate the effort that goes into making grass into a hamburger, but I didn't see any future for me in the cattle industry. I was not born to land, and had insufficient tutelage in animal husbandry, so from a very early age I knew I would not be making a living the way many of my classmates would likely do. I would more likely need to find my own way.
After a hapless and somewhat wayward two terms in college I ran out of the money I'd saved, and had to find work. My most obvious paycheck was going to be of the agricultural labor variety, and so I went home to work for my old boss, operating a D-6 caterpillar, plowing open a previously un-farmed piece of land on the ZX Ranch based in Paisley, Oregon. The ground was sage covered, and had been burned in preparation for tillage. Neither the ZX nor the MC did anything small in those days, and this field was no exception. There were four of us working this ground, three crawler tractors pulling 4 bottom plows, and one large wheel tractor pulling a 5 bottom plow. When we started, we had completed a stripe of 17 furrows, halfway around the field by noon. We began before daylight, and quit at about 6PM. On day one we were done with one lap of the field. While away at college in a moister climate, I had become unaccustomed to the dry air of Oregon's high desert, and by the fourth for fifth day my lips were bleeding from the dust and diesel exhaust, and I had begun to wear a vaseline soaked rag in my mouth to try and heal up my college-boy soft skin. After eight or ten days of crawling our way around this field, I had a revelation!
It occurred to me that I was not straight-jacketed into this way of making a living, and I didn't really like it. I could likely get a job as a carpenter. On the following day I informed my boss of many years that I was going to look for work in the building trade. I feared he would fire me on the spot and chastise my pathetic work ethic, but instead he said, "Good for you! While you are looking for the job you want, I have a whole lot of parts bins I'd like you to build. When you find a full time job, finish up the project you are on that day, and go do what you like."
Not only was it the right move for me at the time, it proved to be a very good way to make ends meet as I worked my way through the rest of my college education. I enjoyed the work and I excelled at it. I understood what was important to learn and unlike "managerial business 302", I held on to what I learned. In my carpentry debut I had a great boss who took the time to make sure I knew what I was doing, and who wasn't afraid to throw some challenges my way.
One day while sawing a piece of finish grade T-1-11, plywood siding on a diagonal for a gable end of the house we were building, Casey, my boss, watched patiently as I drew and cut the panel to shape, to the specifications that he had read to me from the scaffolding. As I was preparing to carry the piece up to him he calmly said, "I think that one will be good for the other end."
I had cut the panel such that it fit with the textured finish-grade side facing into the attic space, as opposed to the weather side. Casey let me make mistakes and let me learn from them, and I thought I would never want to leave this job.
But as things happened, winter came, and the days turned gray. The thermometer looked like it must be upside down, and importantly my bank account looked right-side up. The blush on the rose of carpentry was for me apparently only for fair weather carpentry. In mid December I busted my nearly frozen thumb open when a roofing nail tipped over as I hit it, and as it was healing, my thoughts began to shift away from the project at hand, toward the warm, sometimes hot sculpture lab at college. A friend with whom I've remained close to this day was having the same sorts of thoughts from his night job sweeping planer shavings at the local lumber mill.
With all haste, we began plotting our return to school. I worked the following summer for another building contractor, and save a very few temporary odd jobs, I've been self-employed ever since. I would assume that at this point I am not employable in any capacity, as I have done things my own way for a very long time now. Should I have the good fortune to keep this up until I wake up dead, I will have pulled off what I consider to be a marvelous feat of self-determination.
No way of getting on in this world has ever seemed so compelling as the freedom to wake up to a challenge of my own making every day, and the option to redefine my challenges as my interests have wandered. I have been lucky, and in some ways I have been disciplined, but the ball has always been in my court, and whether I hit or miss as I dribble or drool my way to the basket of self-fulfillment, I will never regret the blisters, scrapes, and pulled hamstrings of this never ending analogy. I may never quite dunk the ball, but I've hit the backboard so often that it is time for a good scrubbing.
Put simply, I'm doing what I want to do, and it has been interesting.
(Click picture for next piece)
With my piece, "Marionette", I am playing with the idea that there is room within our confines for expression and a dignified way to define ones own direction. The body is not complete. There is work to be done. I believe we can be our own puppeteers, orchestrate our own show if we learn how to pick our battles. Confrontation has it's place, and in it's place there is sometimes no other option, but most often it yields a fortification of the lines that confine us. Most people are uncomfortable when the status quo is upset, and many are downright belligerent about it. Many of our civil rights have been won through much effort by those who are deliberate and thoughtful and have learned that courtesy is a good tool, often while a heated battle rages by the less diplomatic to little effect. Freedom is never absolute, and a concept that is never permanently won. It is more an ideal that we strive for.
I think it is important to control what we can, and not allow our convictions to be compromised because we end up fighting everything, instead of what our actual battle should be about. If we want respect, we should do something respectable, and we should respect others when we are asking for change.
I've lived a sheltered life in that I have never actually seen a clown dog, but I do know they exist. I imagine my clown dog as faithful friend to the "tramp", or sorrowful variety of clown, as opposed to "Bubbles the Happy Clown".
While it is often said that a dog grows to resemble it's "master", I believe it is also true that dogs often compliment their human companion with traits that person is deficient in.
With this piece, I see the dog as a bemused partner to the baleful clown; Piglet to Eeyore. Two gloomy figures just don't go together well. One or the other of any good pair has to be a bit of an optimist, otherwise there is no one to push the door open in the morning to let the sun in.
Many of us involved in relationships take turns being the motivational speaker for the day, kicking our partner in the pants to smell the roses, but who wakes up beside the august clown and says, "Well, this looks like a pretty good day!"? Sometimes the painted frown is not just a one day thing. It is an every day thing, and the wearer needs another face, like that of a contented dog, a dog that finds pleasure in simple things, and with a wag of it's tail, rubs some of that joy onto those around it, if only just a bit or for only just a while.
Dogs don't do everything right. They can't type, or sew, or garden very well. They don't mow the lawn or fix the car, and many lack in their social graces, but they do some things much better than their human friends. They know when they've got a good thing, they show appreciation for life's simple pleasures, and they wake up on the right side of the bed, almost every day of the world.
Lest I get carried away on the virtues of dogs, I suppose it is appropriate to at least mention that there are dogs who are curmudgeons and cranks, and otherwise unpleasant to be around, but it is my humble opinion that dogs of poor disposition are generally the products of people of poor disposition. Angry people often make for angry dogs.
But such is our fortune, that sad people seem generally to have happy dogs, and that is a good thing. I think it helps those with a sorrowful disposition get through the day. I've often noticed that a very somber person who may seem to barely endure his fellow man, may have a vibrant and joyful relationship with his dog. I suppose it's that unconditional love that nobody does better than our canine friends.
It is probably a good bet that fish don't look at things exactly like I do, but at some point our world views must collide. I don't have to deal with gill parasites, and a fish doesn't get in trouble for mud on his boots. But an angler fish fishes for actual fish to eat, as do I, and he uses whatever tools he has to catch them, as do I. In creating "Angler Fish", I tried to share with the creation, the tools that a fisherman might have at his ready, to see if any advantage might appear to be gained over his fellow angler fish. Or would my amalgamated predator look completely incongruent and be laughed off by his peers.
Of course I let my angler take whatever direction it seemed to be headed regarding the use of the man-made gear, and I think the result is a fairly resoundingly stupid construction that would be utterly useless in any environment. But I liked the overall image. Angler fish already have little bobbing head lights, fake bait and buoyancy stabilizing, as well as a swift and agile trap-like mouth. I realized I can't really out-weird this fish. Nature has seen fit to do fine without my ideas. But I have been intrigued by fishing boats all my life, with all the rigging, the booms, the hoists, ropes and cables, and the little cabin, so I just couldn't help myself.
The fact that almost none of the equipment on a fishing boat makes much sense to a land-lubber like myself didn't discourage me, as I don't think that it would make much sense to a fish either. At the bottom of the ocean, where a fish can go and peruse at his leisure, there are untold millions of tons of man-made objects for virtually any function imaginable; A veritable smorgasbord of wealth available for free right there in a fish's easy reach. If a man could be a fish, even for a few weeks, he could acquire wealth beyond anything he could do on land. But in a fish's world gold is a rock, the finest sunken vessel with all the latest everything is just a place to hide, or to look for something that is hiding. And with all that human wealth at their very fin tips, they are still better off just going about their business being a fish.
I think what I am pointing to is the fact that we humans are masters at nothing if not complexity. We are so far removed from a simple life that we begin to resemble my Angler Fish. With all the bells and whistles of modernity we keep creeping away from what worked so well to get us here. Maybe mother nature was right. Maybe we should slow down and take a look at ourselves. Take a look around to see what makes us tick. Perhaps as a species we get more interesting, while maybe we are getting less useful. I know that different people have different ideals, but a meaningful life is something to not lose sight of. The things and the people we love are not always the things and people that we have attached ourselves to.
I don't really want to go back to starving to death in a dark cave every winter. Just once would be unpleasant, but it seems we accelerate our complex environment ever more each generation, and to what end? None, of course. We know not where we are heading, nor if it is a better place, but we have the gear.
Archaeologists are always digging up things that they decide "need to be reconstructed" in order that us common dolts can appreciate the find. I am usually disappointed by these reconstructions, and wish privately (until now) that they would just leave things in the condition that they found them, so that we can imagine for ourselves what it is that they discovered, and enjoy how time and circumstances have affected the artifact in question.
Of course anything that defies explanation as to its' purpose falls immediately into the category of "ceremonial item". I expect many of these items are actually parts of watermelon peelers, (or perhaps parts to horse sculptures). I think Hippos Opus is my way of getting even with future archaeologists for ruining my museum experience. The pile of parts I cast to make this piece in no way resemble a horse, and should this piece be crushed into its' component parts through the passage of time, I believe, and hope, that it will befuddle any attempts at reconstruction. It almost befuddled me, and it was my idea.
So I hope I have created an image that people can enjoy today, and in the process, created a headache for future archaeologists. I like to think that in some way I have contributed to a long line of unidentifiable items "probably used for ceremonial purposes".
The strength, beauty, and endurance of the horse have inspired artists for millennia, but at times I have marveled even more at the agreeable disposition of this creature.
Among the various "beasts" of the world, some are accommodating of other animals' purposes and some are not. The horse has been particularly accommodating to the purposes of man. I don't know if horses are indifferent, if they just like the company, or if there is some subtle symbiotic relationship going on. Maybe a horse just doesn't know what they can do about being used by others, but it is definitely entertaining to contemplate this dynamic.
Human beings are no strangers to accommodating other animals, and are themselves used, if not abused by some creatures. The cat comes to mind, as nobody gets a days work out of a cat over it's entire life, but we choose to put up with being used because we are somehow soothed by the animal's total immersion in it's own comfort.
For it's many efforts the horse has been a beloved and often well cared for creature, but it has also been abused as a vehicle of labor and war, and a companion through many of the most horrific chapters in our long history together. While man seems to be capable of finding satisfaction by way of glory, I'm not sure the horse contemplates the victories and accomplishments shared with man as his or her own. A horse can clearly express a feeling of companionship with it's rider, but I think that in matters of war, a sense of survival might be the more common inspiration as opposed to that of glory.
Is the proud bearing of the horse a reflection of it's journey, it's accomplishments, or is the horse just born and bred to have a noble carriage? Whatever the case, in my piece, "The Curious Order of Things", I am exercising my imagination as to these interspecies relationships. The horse, always the trooper, keeps on under any and all hardship toward it's own threadbare condition serving others, while the birds sit plumply upon it's back as if this is the way things should be. It seems appropriate to me in this piece that a few plump birds might best represent us humans in that we have probably taken better than we have given. Often, throughout our past, whatever cobbling together the horse might receive has been done in the spirit of protecting one's investment. And while it may be that the human being is capable of the most altruistic of acts when it so chooses, (as is the current trend among horse lovers) this goodwill has come on the shoulders of a very long history of us more often looking out for number one, while in many cases, the well being of the horse be damned. In this marriage, between horse and man, we have "married up".
Though I wouldn't have it otherwise, why has this most excellent creature, the horse, been such a stalwart companion of man? Why aren't they more like a hippopotamus or a moose, either of which would just as soon kill us as look at us? Things aren't always the way they could be, or should be, but they are always the way they are. I guess this is just the "curious order of things".
In the design stage of any of my pieces is a period of pondering about the meaning of the form. Sometimes I don't really understand it myself. Art is a visual language and words are not always up to the task of describing the work. In this piece, "Mending", I feel that the words I come up with are particularly inadequate.
The concepts I juggled in this piece are several. First I wanted the form to be youthful, in that she is finding her way. Some of the structure of her being is the product of her environment. Her home, her community, her culture and it's heritage are crafting certain of her parameters and some of her support is lent from that beginning. These are the ties that bind us.
Second, I wanted the form to convey that their are imperfections and flaws in the process of finding an adulthood. The materials themselves may not be perfect, in that she, like most any human being, may be burdened by inherited "flaws". The process of growing up and choosing a path may be imperfect, and in that process some injuries or wounds may leave scars. Some scars show, some are well concealed. Some disappear with time, and some grow more pronounced. These are the things we work around.
Third, I want the piece to suggest that the "mending" of the self is part of the making of the person. The repairs necessary to survive the rigors of reaching adulthood are often in the hands of the individual. Choices made are going to leave their own marks. These are the ways we move forward.
Lastly, if I am to sum it up succinctly, I want the piece to convey the idea that no matter the damage sustained in the process of choosing a path, there can be grace and dignity in the self one has made. Flaws can become character, and scars can become spice. Some of the most impactful people have had a very many obstacles in their way to becoming the person we revere, and it is likely that with an easier path, they may not have developed the characteristics for which we most value them. The ways we handle the things thrown down in our paths are what make us who we are.
Most everyone is familiar with the saying, "Never look a gift horse in the mouth", and I think most everyone has a sense of what it means. But the phrase gets intriguing upon closer examination.
First, what is a "gift horse"? It is so seldom an actual horse, that we can dismiss the animal outright as anything but allegory. In practice, it must mean something like, "beware, the gift", or "just be glad you got a gift". But what kind of individual would give someone a gift that they know to be of unsatisfactory quality without telling the recipient in advance of it's deficiencies? Is that a common practice in our society? Why should we not look to see if the "gift horse" is dangerous or worthless or otherwise unfit for use? Is it disrespectful to examine a gift for it's quality? Wouldn't the giver of a fine gift like you to spend some time looking over the workmanship or beauty of the thing? Are we such deceitful beings that we should just expect that a gift is an act of treachery?
Like giving your 5 year old nephew a puppy or pet chimpanzee for christmas to get even with his father for nailing you into a wooden box when you were seven years old, perhaps such silent aggression is commonplace. I have heard that sometimes poor college students will wrap up boxes of their household garbage in leftover gift wrap, because they are too cheap or poor to pay for garbage service, and then leave the "gifts" unattended in their unlocked car at the mall. As far as I am concerned, the "recipients" of those gifts deserve them, but I don't think many of us give gifts of malice, or select a gift so cavalierly as to not tolerate their inspection by it's intended reciever.
In my sculpting of "Gift Horse", I examine some of these questions. The physical soundness of the horse is clearly cobbled together at every joint. Like Don Quixote, his countenance is proud, regardless of his soundness. He may very well have some quality worthy of his pride. The boxes may hold valuable surprises. You just don't know. Of course almost any time I make an animal it is most likely to be cobbled together. That is maybe just the best I can do. My house, my fences, my vehicles are cobbled together. So are my kids! Well, that isn't right, but the point is that sometimes things that are cobbled together work just fine, and do represent quality. If you don't have a horse and you need a horse, and someone gives you a horse, I say go ahead and look in it's mouth. Appreciate that the horse was free, but don't risk busting out it's last tooth feeding it apricots because you haven't checked it's teeth.
When I first moved to Halfway, the owner of a gallery I work with said, "Oh great! Now you will be making cows."
I am not too terribly interested in cows as friends, or even the aesthetic amenities of cows. In fact I am almost impervious to "bovine magnetism". The horns do get my attention, and they should. A Brahman bull, or most any older bull can command a fair amount of attention with or without horns for their surprising agility and power, but what really interests me about cattle is how much of our lives in the west revolve around cows and their place in our landscape. Our land is fenced and irrigated and groomed more or less in perpetuity because of our relationship with cattle and other livestock. Where horses might imply wealth, in this age cattle are wealth. Essentially they are living storage facilities for accumulating seasonal vegetation into a useful product. Nobody raises cattle for lawn ornaments, at least not where I live. With a few exceptions, beef cattle aren't even particularly domestic. They have been bred for manageability, somewhat, but mostly for meat.
The most obvious qualities one notices of cattle are their amazing girth, the sheer meat-on-feet efficiency of the body, and the little "nobody home" sign in their eyes. Of course anyone who spends any time around cows know that this "nobody home" sign can flash "OPEN FOR BUSINESS" in a heartbeat. While it seems intuitive that a human being with his or her "BIG BRAIN" would outthink a cow every time in figuring angle and speed of pursuit and fence sturdiness, but if the human is on foot, the betting man should go with the cow.
Is a cow an appropriate 'objet d'art'? I don't know. It's a real squeakier. But if art is about our experiences in this world, a small bunch of cows can very effectively exercise ones entire emotional spectrum. Because we pasture cattle, I have personally run the gamut of feelings from bucolic serenity, agitation, anger, determination, pursuit, rage, humiliation, fear, panic, retreat, despair, defeat, acceptance, wonder, hope, and contentment, all in the period of about ten minutes, more or less in that order, and often several times in a single day.
And I am not alone. These are not surprising words of wonder to the rancher. I once happened upon a seasoned cattleman standing covered in dust, glasses askew, humiliated and exhausted, holding a length of two-by-four in the middle of a corral with a single cow. The cow was, by my calculations, no worse for the wear. With tears streaming down his face, and his only words completely incoherent, it was my impression he too had been "through the emotions".
Aesthetics aside, for pure efficiency, whether as storage facility or as engine of emotional exercise, the humble bovine I think well deserves it's place in our artistic repertoire. With my "Cache Bull" image, I try to express our history with these creatures, for both what nature has provided in the equation, and what we humans have contributed over thousands of generations of selective breeding. My bull is both bovine, the animal, and man made artifact of a long and deliberate history.
So for you doubter, maybe the creature isn't worth sculpting, but don't tell it to the cow.
It's hard to let a pet go. We try to keep them topside as long as we can. It's just natural to hang on. But sometimes the old guy is just not going to make it. They have used up eight of their nine lives, and there is no getting around the fact.
In his last year of life, our old cat reached the point that he began to elicit pity from practically everyone who came by. Even very old cats like adoration and petting, and attention in general, but they don't much like pity. Pity does not appeal to their sense of dignity.
While old veteran dogs seem to wear a look in their eyes that says, "I'm not sure how much I can do to help out, but I'll be there to do what I can," old cats eyes seem more to be saying, "Couldn't you make yourself useful for once, or is it not obvious to you that I could go for some new and exotic treat about now?" Or, "I had this yesterday, and the day before, and probably the day before that. Is it too much to ask that you give me something I would like, for a change?"
Of course cats verbalize these sorts of messages much more than do dogs. Old dogs are as quiet or quieter than they have ever been. Old cats "find their voice" in their autumn years.
We have always had indoor/outdoor cats, and in their prime, they almost don't care what we do for them. A bowl of dry cat food is plenty enough. And of course letting them in and out and in and out and in and out. (And then back in.)
My "Ninth Life Pajama Cat with Minor Repairs" is in honor of our last cat. I came up with various "plans" to fix him up, propping up his sagging backbone, supporting his tired old head and feeble legs, but he was just not to be fixed. I'm not saying my repair ideas were good ones. Even in my most optimistic moments I didn't figure he could be maintained much longer, but this piece shows some of the ideas I had to squeeze the last bits of feline companionship out of his weary old hide. But as with all things, his days came to an eventual end. Griping, cranky warrior to the last, he must surely hunt the nights away with his ancestors, in the land of the flightless birds, free of the boastful tauntings of his youthful prey.