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A Funny Old Bird

Remember how Teddy told me I should put some people in my new drawing? Well, I agreed that it needed something, so I added a pelican.

Why a Pelican? It always reminds me of my grandmother, who loved this poem,

A funny old bird is the pelican

His beak can hold more than his belly can

But I don’t see how in the …

you know the next line but she would never say hell.

I love the pelican; graceful in flight, slightly goofy on land, full of character. He is the unexpected answer to a problem for me, that is, how to I express my faith in my art? How do I declare my faith without preaching?

My dad gave me a clue in this story.

He made friends wherever he went, such as the people who ran the Quick-Stop where he bought his morning coffee and the paper. They invited him to a baby shower for their daughter. He knew that meant buying a present; most men would delegate that job to the wife but Dad took himself to a baby store, bought two little outfits and had them wrapped with a blue bow-he knew she was having a boy. Then he went to a Christian book store for a card and said,

"I'd like a card that's Christian but not too Christian."

"I don't know what you mean," said the lady at the counter.

"Well," Dad said. "I'm a born-again Christian. The person I'm sending this to is not. I'd like her to know what I am but I'm not telling her what she should be."

"Oh. Well, yes, I can help you with that," said the lady.

Thanks, Dad. Christian but not too Christian? I can hear my evangelist great grand-parents rolling over in their graves.

But. Do we really believe that wisdom was given only to us? Do we really believe that the omnipotent creator of the universe, by whatever name we call it, who thought up the Grand Canyon and the maple tree, the whale, the mosquito and the gazelle couldn’t come up with a personalized messaging system for a diverse audience? Really?

Life, especially life in this big city, not to mention marriage to a cynical but very cute Jewish guy, has led me to see how many paths there are to wisdom, joy, enlightenment, salvation, the sublime--whatever it is we're seeking.

But what's that got to do with the pelican?

Have you ever seen a pelican in a cemetery? Or in a stained glass window?

It's a symbol of Christ and His sacrifice. According to legend, in a time of famine a mother pelican would draw blood from her breast and give it to her children. So the pelican is a standard symbol of selflessness and sacrifice, an animal of "exemplary moral virtue, commonly associated with the virtues of humility, sacrifice, generosity and unity." Huh! I think that suits this gentleman by Audubon.

I don't think I knew that when I first copied this.

I just liked his look but isn't it interesting how things work out? I've written before about how I made this collage. I drew the pelican, stealing from Mr. Audubon with many thanks. Then it sat in my flat files for a few years until the day I decided to clean house and I put him on this table by the window and Eureka! The colors, the way the curve of the curtain echos the bird's breast; some would call it the Holy Spirit at work. Some would call it my muse. Whatever, it was one of those wonderful moments that don't come all the time but when they do, all I can say is thank you.

The pelican shows up in all sorts of places. Look at Queen Elizabeth I here.

this is called the Pelican Portrait, because of the brooch at her throat.

A pelican feeding her young.

The pelican also appears in Hamlet, Act IV where Laertes says, ‘To his good friend thus wide I’ll open my arms. And, like the kind life-rendering pelican Repast them with my blood…” Watch, now--you're going to see pelicans wherever you go. I'm grateful that something I just thought was beautiful, graceful and slightly goofy, so perfect for me, could mean so much to my art, and give me a way to express what's important to me in a subtle way. I don't often think of Dad and Emily Dickinson in the same breath but this poem reflects what he said in the card store. Tell all the truth but tell it slant— Success in circuit lies Too bright for our infirm delight The truth’s superb surprise As lightning to the children eased With explanation kind The truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind—

March 10, 2022

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