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A Murder of Crows


By Shona Lockhart, of London, England

I have always liked birds, but I have never liked crows. My interest in birds is not as a bird watcher, but stems from their symbolism. I like to take a “bird’s eye view” of life, seeing the bigger picture from above. Taking a bird’s perspective often seems to be the wiser route. Birds often feature in my mosaic art, both for what they represent as well as for their beauty.

The crows, prepared for Shona's mosaic outpouring.

The crows, prepared for Shona's mosaic outpouring.

However, this summer everything changed: I had to face my nemesis and explore my distaste for crows.  My father, a very difficult man, died suddenly in June. His death was announced to me by two crows flying over my house in the early hours of the morning screeching, “He is gone.” Walking my dog the next day, a crow flew down and attacked us and I screamed, “Leave us alone!”  A few days later my husband confessed to two decades of adultery, leaving my children and me alone. The crows had landed.

A few weeks after these events I attended a mosaic class at West Dean College in Chichester with Sonia King.  I had booked this summer course months before with no clear plan in mind for any particular mosaic project.  As I prepared my materials for the course it became clear to me that my mosaic project would involve crows and words and would give me the opportunity to give voice to my still-raw feelings of anger and betrayal.  

West Dean College is a place of great beauty and calm.  It is the perfect retreat from life’s vagaries.  I always look forward to spending a week there. I normally approach a mosaic project with a very clear vision in my mind of what the end result will look like. This year’s course felt different to others I had taken: it was more about the process than the end result and I imagined I would probably discard the crows after I had completed them.

Sonia King (let) counsels Shona Lockhart on her  3-D "Crows"  project during a summer course at West Dean.

Sonia King (let) counsels Shona Lockhart on her  3-D "Crows"  project during a summer course at West Dean.

The best art is art that is personal, Sonia King advised in her opening lecture. The more of ourselves we put into our art the more original it becomes.  I can honestly say that I have never been as 'up close and personal' with my mosaic art as during this course.  It was personal -- really personal -- but the everyone in the classroom supported me in exploring my feelings so publicly.

I brought the forms of three crows ready to cover with black shattered windscreen glass and broken plates. I cut letters from the rims of plates and used the letters to spell out what I needed to express.  As my alphabet was not complete it was like playing a game of Scrabble to create as many appropriate words as possible from the letters available.

“We need to talk,” my husband had announced before his shocking confession when what he really meant to say was “Let’s talk about me.”

We Need to talk crow.jpg

His cowardly behaviour was expressed as “Spineless Toad” on the crow’s back.  He had kept me “in the dark” for years but had finally revealed his “true colours” to me.  Both my father and husband had used humour to deflect issues they chose to avoid, so the words “Ban sad jokers” appeared on the side of one of the crows. 

I do not consider the process of making mosaic art to be therapy but it is definitely therapeutic.  As the crows gave voice to what I had experienced, others shared similar stories with me. For me this is the power and the healing property of making mosaics, or indeed any other form of art. In sharing a personal story through mosaics others are able to say, “I see that, too” or “I’ve been there.”  Making mosaics always enables me to get in to a state of flow and to focus for a period of time on the now. 

I made two crows during my week at West Dean. A fellow course participant told me that the correct phrase for a flock of crows is a “murder of crows.”  It felt appropriate.  I intended to make a third crow to add to my flock but ran out of time.  It was to be a baby crow to symbolize rebirth and new beginnings.

Since the summer course I have started to work on the baby crow. “Free at last.” are the first words which have emerged on the baby crow and she whispers to me of a future pregnant with possibilities.  Those possibilities will include mosaic art and hopefully a trip to IMA in Berkeley.  Sometimes when I am working on her I even hear her quietly singing a beautiful Nina Simone song and I realize that I am beginning to make my peace with the cold-eyed crows:

Birds flying high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze drifting on by, you know how I feel.
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me
And I’m feeling good.

For the moment the crows have landed in my home and sit on top of my bookcase.  I can look them in the eye now and they do not frighten me. They are a constant reminder that it is time to move on to new mosaic projects and new possibilities and that feels good. It feels very good.

One of Shona's crows comes to rest in her garden.

One of Shona's crows comes to rest in her garden.

Contributed by IMA friend Shona Lockhart, in London, England.