Art Beat: A Crow a Day
Zinta Aistars speaks with WMU art professor Karen Bondarchuk about her project "A Crow a Day."
Anyone who’s lost a loved one to dementia will tell you that it’s an especially hard kind of grief to experience, watching a person fade away a little bit at a time. For Karen Bondarchuk, a Canadian visual artist who’s now a professor of art at Western Michigan University, her way of coping was immersing herself in a year-long project as she watched her mother disappear into a world beyond her daughter’s reach. Along with a traveling art exhibit, Bondarchuk has published a book about the project, called Ergo Sum: A Crow a Day.
“The project actually started at a residency in Virginia, at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, in August of 2014,” says Bondarchuk. “I had discovered these wonderful new surfaces on gesso panels. I had gotten them from an artist friend in New York. I started working on this new surface in my studio and discovered that it was a super resilient surface allowing me to experiment with all sorts of different kinds of materials, which was very exciting to me because, prior to that, I had been working exclusively with charcoal and paper.”
As for the crows, Bondarchuk says that they had been an evocative subject for her for many years. The crow-a-day project evolved from a long-time passion for the birds.
“It also coincided with the time frame in which my mom was declining with dementia,” she says. “And so, I started creating a drawing a day, starting on August 1, 2014, as a way to mark the days she no longer seemed to recognize. Her dementia had gotten to the point where she still spoke, but it was really incomprehensible.”
Witnessing her mother’s deterioration from an intelligent, articulate, and accomplished woman who had been a legal editor to someone “speaking gibberish,” Bondarchuk says was a startling experience, but also made her keenly aware of the passage of time.
By end of the year, Bondarchuk had a collection of 365 panels showing crows in various positions and perspectives. The collection has become a traveling art exhibit, most recently at the Richmond Center for the Visual Arts at Western Michigan University through November 13, 2022. It will also appear in her companion self-published book, which she was able to publish through a Kickstarter fundraising campaign.