Yesterday on the first day of our Indian Summer gift from somewhere, leaving downtown on my bicycle towards the University of Rochester, two choices.
To the right of the river, looping past the old Civil War encampment, the bird mural on the abandoned warehouse and over the pedestrian bridge, or swooning to the left, past the basketball courts, the Erie Harbor Apartments, and the lunchtime joggers and walkers.
It was to the left and the right choice. Otherwise, I would not have not have met Jill Gussow and her Crow.
An artist living for thirty years in the South Wedge — Gregory, Hamilton and Averill — Jill may not need introduction.
Her artistic lineage to Rochester is deep. Her father, Roy Gussow, created the Xerox Square Sculpture. A great uncle, Bernard Gussow created the mural the East Rochester Post Office. Jill’s mosaics are in the East End Garage, with others works in the Coffee Connection, Natural Pet Foods and at SUNY Brockport.
To be finished in a few weeks, this yet untitled sculpture was commissioned by the City of Rochester. Jill is quick to praise the good work of the committee who oversaw this project: listening to the needs of the artists and helping them move through the myriad of logistics required for a public art project.
As we spoke and laughed, I learned even though Jill lives only one block away — “as the crow flies” — she shied away from this part of the river near a housing project. It was “just a housing project where the guy lived who robbed my house. A thing to fear.” Her previous relationship to the river. None. Just a place to go once a year to see the fire works.
She loved when the Somalian community lived in the old complex. The community added color and interest to the neighborhood. There was a store on Mt. Hope that sold Somalian food and clothing. All that changed when the building was torn down to make way for the Erie Harbor complex. After a few years of dust and ruble, the area now makes the river an accessible place to go. In the evening Jill walks by the river with her dog, noting the changes in the water level, heron sitings and enjoying the skyline and dramatic sun sets.
Now this place–and the new friends she made during the project–are part of Jill’s neighborhood.
So what is it about crows anyway?
My sculpture is of a mosaic covered crow. I grew up with eighteen birds which may be why I gravitate towards painting and sculpting them. I watch birds all the time, not to identify them, but to observe how they move, sound, eat, and relate to each other. Crows are of particular interest to me. They adapt to their surrounding, make use of what’s available, use tools when they need to, communicate with each other. They are creative souls, watching from the tallest trees, working hard for survival, dealing with a society that fears them and generally either ostracizes or ignores them. They are the very model of what it is to be an artist. So when they swarm into the South Wedge at twilight raucously calling to each other, announcing their arrival, I look up in awe of their strength and fortitude. They are oh so clever survivors. My sculpture is an homage to them.
In the crows themselves, Jill finds a metaphor for the South Wedge itself:
Crows are very adaptable, like the SW which has survived with a long rich history in spite of all the changes. For this reason. the crow is iconic to me and to the SW. We claim them here, write poems about them, even if sometimes we must wash our cars.
My sculpture makes the bird human size. To experience seeing eye to eye with her. To enable feelings of equality and empathy.
When you are taking the left turn on the river, see — as I did, literally eye to eye — Jill’s homage.
NOTE: As Jill and I were talking, Gail Siegel came by, also fascinated with the Crow. Gail, who lives six months in New York and six months in Rochester (and loves it), took most of the photos. In Gail, we hope to have what we desperately need. Contributors to Talker of the Town.
More on the South Wedge below