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WXPR's We Live Up Here series is a home for stories that focus on the people, history, and culture that make the Northwoods of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan such a unique place to live.You can keep track of We Live Up Here and all of WXPR's local features on the WXPR Local Features podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

Contemplating Life and Death Through Birds

A unique art exhibit has been the focus at ArtStart Rhinelander for the last few weeks.


Mackenzie Martin has this report from the opening reception in June.




Over the past two years, Karen Bondarchuk has found more dead birds than at any other time in her life. The exhibit at ArtStart Rhinelander through August 18 is called - And by the Wind Grieved - and it’s all recreations of dead birds, both sculptures and paintings.

In June, Karen Bondarchuk came to the opening reception and this is what she had to say about the exhibit...

“For me, the most important part about these sculptures - aside from the fact that they’re made of scraps of tires that I’ve collected on the side of the highway is that they’re human scale,” Bondarchuk says. “It’s really about this material that is kind of throw away, it’s dead, it’s part of that culture in Michigan that has been so big a part of Michigan. You know, automobile culture. And that getting a new life. When the crash happened in 2007, 2008, the automobile industry was really tanking… picking up this material on the side of the road was like akin to people having to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on after they’d been laid off and fired and there was no work in Michigan and it was really pretty desperate times. And for me, really the work kind of embodies all of that and that’s kind of what makes them powerful for me.”

The exhibit wasn’t just powerful for Bondarchuk though, here’s what those attending the opening reception for the exhibit had to say:

David Jones: “You can just tell that these birds have a soul and they have a story to tell and she is able to get that across in a way that I think is a little uncommon.”

Sarah Juon: “It speaks a lot to your soul because I think everybody up in the Northwoods, we relate to our animals, our birds, our deer… the things we see along the road, we relate to them personally.”

Melisse Carr: “The meaning of life, the meaning of death, our interrelationships or our interactions with nonhuman populations. All of that passes through my head when I’m looking at it.”

Rod Linder: “It seems a little morbid with the dead crows, but then what I thought was really cute was a young person coming in and saying ‘oh, they’re sleeping’ because my first thought when I saw them was ‘oh they’re all dead.’ And then I thought, well wow, what a great way to see this. Such a more refreshing way to look at the world.”

Debra Durchslag: “For her to bring them back to life with the eyes and the titled head and the neck. It just is explosive to be exposed to an artists’ thinking about how she approaches these animals and their incredible intelligence.”

“For me, crows are really the underdogs in the bird world,” says Karen Bondarchuk. “Because nobody likes them particularly. Have you ever seen someone come home and exclaim that they saw a crow today and that it was wonderful? Well, I’ve done that, but most people don’t. We humans are strange because we discriminate. And we discriminate against people, things, ideas. To me, it’s kind of amazing that we could just decide that this bird, because of the way that it looks, its behavior or whatever other set of factors that are there… we’ve decided that they’re not as valuable. For me, there’s a little bit of that cheering for the underdog and I think in some ways… I think sort of sticking up for myself in that.”

You can see Karen Bondarchuk’s exhibit And by the Wind Grieved at ArtStart at 68 S Stevens St in Rhinelander until August 18th.

Bondarchuk was the 2016 Master Artist at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum Birds in Art exhibition. The exhibit at ArtStart was supported by funds from Western Michigan University’s Faculty Research and Creative Activities Award and a Frostic School of Art Faculty Development Grant.

This story is part of our We Live Up Here series, where we tell the stories of the people and culture of northern Wisconsin. Some music for this story came from Podington Bear


This story was funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.

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