Nature VS. Nurture

Have you ever seen something so beautiful you felt like you were being kicked in the heart? That’s what this piece does to me. It physically hurts. I get tears in my eyes at the title alone. What makes it even more special is I remember @sacredrelicstudio posting pictures of the nest, following the eggs as they hatched, all but one. Now it’s frozen forever in time. What a wonderful way to honor a life that might have been. -
— Stephanie K.

It snowed in Rhode Island late Saturday night into Sunday morning. The weatherman told us to expect a flash freeze around mid-day, and for once, they were fairly accurate. At about 1:00 pm everything froze solid.

Today, Monday, the temperature has not gotten much above 7 degrees, with a wind chill of -14 degrees. Bitter cold that is unpleasant to be outside in. Even my puppy Jack did not want to be out there long.

My gorgeous and amazing friend Stephanie wrote the above quote on a photo she re-posted from my instagram account, and it seemed like a good time to write about this piece and to remind myself, and all of us who are experiencing harsh Winter realities right now that Spring is coming…eventually.

So grab a warm beverage and settle back….there are pictures too!

In 2015, my husband and I lived in a live/work building for artists that used to be a textile mill back in the day. We lived in the furthest back building, also known as “Sal’s Building” because apparently Sal was the foreman in that particular location for many many years. We enjoyed living at the mill, and having artists neighbors. We built and organized a community garden there, and everyone planted a section…the mill bought us picnic tables, the residents collectively purchased a grill…it was pretty cool.

One day I was bringing my dog back from a walk, and we were climbing the three flights of steel stairs on the outside of our building to get back to our loft when I saw the most curious thing. There were piles of straw, I think seven in total, one per step on the flight of stairs between the second and third floor. The next day I watched a robin adding more to a few of them. This went on for several days, then it became clear that she finally chose one and building began in earnest.

I googled it, because I was confused as to why, in an area that had a river (yes, polluted, but still a river) surrounded by tons of tall trees, she would choose a steel staircase as the safest best place to raise a family. Google told me she had “environmental confusion” where she chose the strongest looking structure in her environment to build on. Despite the foot traffic on that staircase, most of it humans with dogs, she thought it was ok.

The tenants had a quick little meeting and decided when at all possible to take the dogs out the inner staircase so as to not disturb her. We were all fascinated with this process, the third floor tenants especially could stand on the landing and get “a birds eye view” of what was happening.

Within a week an egg appeared. A bright, beautiful blue egg. It was early Spring and the weather had not quite decided to be warm…so we had a few days of really cold weather. I worried about the egg. In the end, I believe this is the one that did not hatch.

Soon enough though, another brilliantly blue egg appeared, and a few days later another, and finally a fourth.

Momma robin started sitting on the nest all the time. We'd rarely see the nest empty of her fluffed out body and wings protecting her babies.

When the first egg hatched it was amazing, and true to form, a day later another, and finally a third. Three naked little babies huddled in that nest, eyes not yet open, helpless as can be. We all fell in love. Especially me.

Over the next several weeks we got to see these young ones, open their eyes, grow fluffy downy fuzz, and start to open their mouths and cry for Mom and Dad (who had shown up on the scene as soon as they were hatched) to bring MORE, MORE, MORE food.

These three grew bigger, feathers developed, and Mom and Dad were kept very busy keeping everyone fed and happy.

Soon, the three were getting bigger, and barely fit in the nest together. Mind you, the unhatched sibling was still in there underneath, so room was at a premium. Momma started taking them out of the nest to begin to teach flying lessons. I watched them sit on the metal stairway, perched rather precariously, wobbling back and forth. They would fly down to Mom on the ground, and it seemed to take hours for her to convince them that they could get back up. It was so awe inspiring to watch all of this.

The day finally came when the babies were ready to go. I was sad to have missed two of them flying out and away for the last time, but count myself blessed to have witnessed the last baby. He wobbled on the staircase for about an hour or so, then his magnificent, strong young wings opened, and just like that he was gone.

I like to believe they hung around for awhile. I’d see young baby robins down on the ground, and in the garden plots with a more mature Robin and tell myself it was them. And tears would well up in my eyes to know they were strong and healthy.

The nest was empty save for that first blue egg. I gave it several weeks to see if she would return, and out of respect. But I finally put gloves on, took the egg inside to dry out, and put the nest in a cardboard box that we stored in my friends motorcycle shop on the property (in case it had any little mites or what not in it). At the end of the fall that year, I went back for it. and stored it in my apartment in its box.

I started to think about how to work it into a piece of sculpture. When I came up with the idea for Nature vs. Nurture it looked a lot different than it actually ended up being…and I did not know how to execute most of the ideas I had. So I sat on it, and thought about it. I thought about it until May 2018, and then I began. The egg was encased in resin to preserve it, and the nest got a heart in it with the resin-ed egg embedded in it behind plexiglass.

As I worked on this sculpture it seemed to continuously “tell” me what it wanted, what direction it needed to go. It felt intuitive and collaborative in every sense. The piece I had been dreaming up for years took me approximately a week to start and complete.

There are ideas I get for pieces that feel so urgent and important for me to create, and I am so pleased with this piece. It felt, and still feels important to me. I don’t think I speak only for myself here, but I think the tenants at that time, in Sals Building nurtured that robin family as much as we could without interfering in natures course. And that one egg that did not hatch, the one I worried for when it was too cold for an egg to survive…well I felt it was important to memorialize that little life that could have been. I was as attached to him as I was to his living siblings.

So there you have it, the story of Nature vs. Nurture. I have not told that story in so much detail in a long time, and I have to thank Stephanie for reminding me of why that piece is so very important to me. <3

Below is a slide show of the nests progression…I hope you enjoy it!

The piece itself is currently showing at Enso Flats Gallery in Brockton, MA as a part of the Southern New England Artist Community’s annual Artist Invitational, and I am a guest artist for the second year in a row.