Call it inspiration from above — a silver lining to some sloppy droppings.
The messes from murders of crows that routinely roost in downtown Rochester became a source of inspiration for a pair of local artists. A seasonal frustration, the crow leavings on city sidewalks, benches and cars have been described in many ways, but probably not as “art.”
John Sievers thought otherwise. He strategically placed canvases underneath trees throughout downtown where crows were huddled overnight on a chilly Tuesday. The birds then covered the canvases overnight — not with paint.
“When saw the canvas for the first time, I thought, ‘wow, this is art,’” Sievers said.
Sievers said the idea struck him when he found an abandoned canvas downtown. He had been helping Tyler Aug make a documentary about the crows that roost en masse at various locations in the city center each autumn through early spring.
“On one hand, it’s kind of a silly thing to do,” Sievers said. “On another, it’s interesting to see the chaos of nature create something cool.”
Sievers said he was surprised with the results.
“There’s some negative space on this one that’s interesting,” he said, reviewing one of the feces-covered canvases. “I mean, it’s not too far off a Jackson Pollock.”
Aug has been filming a documentary about the crows and some of the lengths both public and private efforts go to decrease crow droppings.
“It’s kind of turning the poop issue into something funny,” Aug said.
Every fall since 2013, the city’s Park and Recreation Department undertakes a three-month effort to disperse crows. One- or two-person crews use a variety of techniques — distress calls, lights, lasers, Airsoft pellets, and starter pistols — to unsettle the crows. The crow abatement duties are performed secondary to other priority tasks such as snow removal.
Aug was interested in those efforts.
“It became a question point,” Aug said. “For me, it became an issue of, is the poop disturbing the peace or is dealing with it disturbing the peace?”
Aug blames loss of habitat as trees are cut down for development for the continuous congregations of crows downtown.
Aug said he sees art in the pieces too.
“He got a really good one with a huge splat,” he said “It must have been coming in at an angle.”
Sievers said he got some “paint” on his coat waiting and filming with his phone to document the pieces come together. However, he didn’t catch anything landing on the canvas before his battery gave out.
Instead, they left the canvases overnight to give birds undisturbed time to digest their would-be art media. They left signs by the canvases that said, “Do not disturb — art in progress. Caw caw caw.”
When Sievers posted on social media about his crow-dropping covered canvases as he collected them midday Wednesday, his wife, Beth Sievers, reached out immediately.
“She texted me asking where I put them,” he said, adding he put them in an outdoor shed. He plans to try to varnish them to protect the pallet — and anyone who might be interested in keeping the art.
“If I wasn’t going to get the bird flu or whatever, I’d be into putting this on a wall,” he said. “They might always live outside, though — I don’t know yet.”
This art endeavor will make it into the final documentary, but Aug said it could make a fun, short standalone video, too. Aug said he is still wrapping up work on the documentary. Sievers said the availability and eventual home of the crow canvases depends on his success safely sealing the work.