This is a carving that I had in my mind for 30 years before I finally got around to doing. In the late 1970s a friend had a shed mule deer antler that caught my attention. I could imagine a magpie perched on it, but just never firmed up a good composition in my mind. Most folks who grow up in the West have strong opinions about magpies. Because they are so intelligent, these beautiful birds are ingenious about finding food, often causing issues with their human neighbors. I’ve lived around both yellow and black billed magpies, and have had my share of frustration with them scavenging waterfowl and upland birds before I retrieved them. But I never fail to be impressed by their beauty.
When I finally set out to develop the carving I couldn’t seem to find a way to do a single bird on the antler that worked, so I began to think about something larger. Magpies, like all corvids, are very intelligent, and very curious. I began to think about carving an entire skull, with the bird inspecting the ivory white skull. From there, I began to develop a scenario…a logical situation that would explain the bird’s behavior. Gradually I decided to carve a mature buck that had lost part of an antler during the rut, and hadn’t survived the winter. Because mule deer are common in the intermountain Great Basin, I decided to nestle the skull among basalt rocks common in the basin, so I carved several rocks to complement the composition. The skull is fresh, having just melted out of the snow, and has been cleaned by rodents and snow melt. I took the composition a step further by placing one magpie on the broken antler so that its upraised tail would complete the curve of the broken antler.
Magpies roam the sagebrush ecosystem of the basin much like wolves. They make their way across an area searching for food, and as soon as one bird stops, others close in to share in the find. In this case, the first bird has been attracted to the shiny skull and two more have joined it, only to find “Slim Pickins’.