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Me and my Pet - Michael Kusz and Jo the crow

PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 March 2019

Michael and Jo hard at work in the studio (not really; they�re just larking about)

Michael and Jo hard at work in the studio (not really; they�re just larking about)

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Sculptor Michael Kusz wings the praises of his unusual apprentice

Jo the crow was kicked out of the nest as a chick with a lot of white feathers, which suggests a calcium deficiency. Other crows tried to kill him off, destroying his wing and tail feathers, so he was pretty helpless.

Luckily, he was rescued by a group of children who took him home and kept him in their bedroom for a few months, feeding him pasta because they didn’t know what birds ate. This is when he became ‘imprinted’, thinking of himself as a small child rather than a bird and adopting some of their sounds as his own (even now, he often sounds like children playing in the distance).

His rescuers lived abroad for part of the year, so they needed more of a permanent home for him. An imprinted bird is not allowed to be released into the wild for their own safety and because people find a crow suddenly swooping down and landing on their shoulder somewhat unnerving.

Usually, imprinted birds have to be kept in a zoo or an aviary, but I’d looked after an injured crow in the past and was happy to offer him a place with me. I wasn’t expecting him to be quite so tame, friendly and downright mischievous though!

Crows are monogamous and bond with one other in particular. This can be a problem as your partner is seen as a threat, so it’s best to introduce them to a lot of people. It’s ideal for him here at my studio as people call in all the time (many revisiting just to see Jo).

The kids named him Jo because they didn’t know if he was male or female (it’s notoriously difficult to sex a crow as there are no external clues other than behaviour) so until he lays an egg (which he hasn’t done in the five-and-a-half years he’s been with me) we continue to call him a ‘he’.

I’ve been interested in corvids all my life, as a child watching rooks playing and tumbling on lazy summer Sundays it was clear to me that they had a lot of fun. Twenty years ago, a friend asked if I could make her a bird from copper. This was the first of my Rooks and I had a lot of fun making it.

This began a series of themed works: ‘Rookies’, ‘Rook the Boat’, ‘Rooket’, ‘Rookavator’, ‘Rook Around the Clock’, ‘Between a Rook and a Hard Place’, ‘Rooket Airlines’ and a bird on a fork called ‘Doug’.

Jo loves to ‘help’ and I describe him as my apprentice but he is actually an agent of entropy attempting to reduce everything to beak-shaped snowflakes. He has stashes everywhere and knows where all the ‘treasures’ are. If he gets a chance to nick one, he’s off. And if you haven’t noticed, he’ll parade it in front of you until the chase is on.

Spending most of my days with Jo, it’s clear that what I always thought about corvids and tried to express in my work is that they are very playful and entertaining but awfully mischievous. They are impossible to discipline and just looking for fun.

You can visit Michael Kusz and Jo’s studio at the Dales Centre in Reeth as part of North Yorkshire Open Studios, which involves more than 100 artists on June 1st, 2nd, 8th and 9th. For full details, visit nyos.org.uk.

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