Rick Bartow

From the Mad River to the Little Salmon River, or The Responsiblity of Raising a Child, 2004

Sculpture cast bronze  
100 x 20 x 40 in

Edition of 10

The original wood sculpture was carved in the Spring-Summer of 2004. The first bronze casting was completed in February 2005.
This sculpture is inspired by Rick’s mentoring work at an Oregon penitentiary, McLaren Youth Facility, and by the concerns of single parenthood. It began in a very dark place. Many of the incarcerated boys that he works with have girlfriends and babies out in the world thus creating a hard cycle of raising a child alone. Separation, guilt, and frequently, addiction add to the challenges that these boys face. Bartow reflects on lessons and hope for this difficult situation by balancing symbols of personal history and cycles of the natural world.
Centering this sculpture is coyote, a trickster, representing life out of balance. We can learn as much from what coyote does as what he does not do. On the back end of the coyote is the Grandmother mask crawling in the opposite direction. In many tribal communities matriarchs are the doctors who bring lives back to stability; they inform on right and wrong conduct. This Grandmother mask bears a chin tattoo of 111. As a young girl, Rick’s mother saw this on the oldest women at the Siletz reservation. It is a cryptic marking that neither Rick nor his Mother can explain. The Grandfather mask rests nearby on the coyote’s right hip.
Several birds are found on this sculpture, and they are covered with faces and eyes- reinforcing their spirit-like image. Right above the Grandmother is a coastal bird, the Killdeer. This protective mother distracts predators away from its nest by acting wounded and hobbling quickly away. Flying above the coyote is the eagle with an elder’s mask on its back. One wing points north: the place of the elders, clean air, and origin of the eagle. There is also a supplicant hand reaching upward. On the eagle’s tale is the moon (feminine); on the side of its upper wing is the sun (masculine). Ravens fly around the eagle, as they often do. They are not threatening to the eagles, just taunting - Rick calls them humblers.
Representing the struggles of parenthood Rick placed a pair of salmon circling a burden basket. Salmon endure great hardship and eventually give up their lives to have children. A lamprey eel feeds on the male salmon showing us a naturally occurring interdependence of species; an integral life challenge. Observing how humans mess with nature a human hand emerges from one salmon’s tail. Nestled between the salmon is a carved human skull: a memento mori. Peering out of the burden basket is a smiling infant (Rick’s daughter, Lily). Once only woven by women, it is now common for men to weave baskets too. On the sculpture’s base is a cockle shell… Rick has found these in upland areas surrounded by coyote tracks, suggesting that even he feeds from the ocean.
This sculpture started out expressing the difficult circumstances and troubled lives of some young parents. It evolves through the reassuring child looking out of the basket and the watchful elders mending the family. When Rick placed Lily in the basket he felt that the sculpture turned the corner and became an encouraging, optimistic work.

PIN: BAR1464b


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