Rapid changes in our environment have fledged so many warnings from the scientific community, and now comes one more. Our birds are vanishing in North America. “And that,” said conservation scientist Ken Rosenberg of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.”
WAIT A MINUTE! WAIT A MINUTE!
What about the title of this post? Does that contradict the scientist? And the wings on that bird look bluish, not black. Where are you going with this?
Well, the wings of the raven as painted by Santa Fe artist McCreery Jordan are iridescent, as is true in life, and she has captured in its open beak the energy of a strident call to action.
The raven’s darkness has long been associated with the void, the source of all that has not yet come to be. In myth and legend, it has been seen as a messenger reminding us that we have the power to shapeshift our lives for the better, to become our own light in the darkness. As we look at our imperiled world, that challenge seems to have gone universal.
THE SANTA FE RAVEN
There are more than 240 art galleries in Santa Fe, a city of about 84,000 people, and the raven is a frequent subject of both paintings and sculpture–and very notably in the gallery of artist McCreery Jordan. Her art and her life are closely linked to a Santa Fe myth that people are attracted to the town by the vibration of quartz in the soil or obsidian in the mountains (the story varies) at a time in their lives when they are ready to grow. I have seen many paintings and sculptures of ravens in galleries, but there is a mystical element in McCreery’s work that challenges the observer to go deeper than mere admiration.
McCreery moved to Santa Fe from Toledo, Ohio, in 1993. She had discovered her talent for art in elementary school and, mentored by two teachers at the Toledo Museum of Art, had acquired the skills to flourish financially. However, she was also on a spiritual journey, had latent artistic potential to explore, and a childhood trauma to resolve. After researching destinations that might inspire artistic expression more closely aligned to her true self, she chose Santa Fe.
Her childhood trauma was being sexually molested at age seven. After settling here, she went into therapy for two years. True to the message of raven, she entered that dark history and found the light within to shapeshift her life and activate a stunning new artistic talent. As I said, she had been very successful with landscapes and what she described as “pretty” paintings. Now she moved into a new zone of achievement, receiving many awards and honors, her work shown in galleries around the country and appearing in distinguished private collections around the world.
I met McCreery just recently, another example of the kind of synchronicity that tends to guide my writing. I had been wanting to address the vanishing birds of North America and was guided to her gallery by visiting former high school classmates who knew her. There I found her working on a magnificent sculpture of a raven and learned that she (as Laura Stong) had attended the same high school in El Paso, graduating two years after me and my friends. Within minutes of viewing the stunning art work on display, I knew I wanted to interview her for my blog.
McCreery has long been on a spiritual journey that she sees as collective; and the idea is, I think, that humanity has much greater potential than we have so far achieved. All of her work, whether of humans, birds, or animals, seems to capture “essence” more than likeness, and it gives one pause, reason to wonder about the meaning. But back to the raven.
I don’t remember ever seeing many ravens until I moved to Santa Fe, but they are very visible here, even downtown harvesting tidbits in the litter that collects around many outdoor tourist activities. After all, they are members of nature’s clean-up crew; and wherever we humans go, they find plenty to eat in garbage, crops, and roadkill.
And consider this: According to genetic evidence, the raven has existed on the planet for millions of years, compared to our 200,000 or so as humans. In addition, compared to all the species in decline in North America, their numbers are actually increasing. As we expand, so does their habitat. In fact, they notably flourished during the years from the Middle Ages to the late eighteenth century when they could feed continuously on the battlegrounds of Europe.
On the ground, the commanding beak of the raven is most noticeable; but in the air, they have a wingspan of almost four feet. McCreery’s art and sculptures wonderfully capture a power and presence that demand attention and respect. And its history is such that, no matter what happens to our own imperiled species, it will no doubt endure–even feeding on us if it comes to that.
So perhaps we need to attend to its legendary role as messenger from the void. Can it be that it is time for each of us to contend with the darkness within that has brought us to this dangerous moment in human history–and find the light also within to transform our story? The wingspan of each of us as we shapeshift and grow could serve to lift the whole. If you hear its call someday, you may want to consider the bright potential within this time of darkness.