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Spirit of the crow: Spirit Room marks 10 years of crow curiosity with new anthology

The front cover is shown for "In the Spirit of the Crow," a new anthology celebrating 10 years of the biennial "Crow Show" at The Spirit Room. Special to The Forum

For her submission in the upcoming "Crow Show" at the Spirit Room, illustrator Heather Franzen initially wanted to depict a "standard" crow using plenty of blacks and blues.

Instead, she decided to use warmer colors and have her crow inhabit a laden apple tree. The change stemmed from her longtime familiarity with birds.

"I went through a phase in high school where I wanted to be an ornithologist. I read about birds all the time and did a report on crows and how they're misrepresented in society," Franzen says, adding that her submission is intended to contradict the popular notion the crows represent only death and despair.

Franzen's about-face illustrates a central tenet of "The Crow Show," a biennial exhibition and evening of poetry and musical performance. For a subject as simple as one species of bird, the crow has some surprising metaphorical depth - its dark physical beauty, yearlong residence in our cold climate and notable intelligence.

Thanks to those abundant metaphors, "The Crow Show" prompts diverse, eclectic responses from visual artists, poets and performers, and sets the stage for a memorable evening for area arts lovers.

This year, the Spirit Room will capture some of those responses in a new anthology, "In the Spirit of the Crow: a Gathering of Art and Poetry." The book features the work of 27 visual artists and writers whose work has appeared in the exhibition and has been performed at the event in the 10 years since its inception.

In the book's forward, Spirit Room Executive Director and "Crow Show" founder Dawn Morgan illustrates the prominence of the crow throughout history by relating the story of Huginn and Muninn, companions of the god Odin in Norse mythology.

"Each morning at dawn they flew around the world to gather the news of the day, returning with stories in time for dinner at dusk," Morgan writes.

"Odin represents the god/man, the ethereal and imperfect being, who needs the spiritual connection of his natural allies. Ravens represent connection to the divine as they soar into the sky, into other worlds, worlds associated with wisdom, magic, prophecy, and memory of ancient times," she continues.

Anthology editor and Minnesota State University Moorhead English professor Thom Tammaro also looked to cultures far and wide for the book's "extracts," short snippets of text that explore the crow's role in places like the Old Testament, Chinese and Japanese culture, the writings of Wallace Stevens, and the music of The Beatles.

"The crow shows up in virtually every culture we're familiar with," Tammaro says. "It's a god or goddess figure, it represents wisdom, or tells the future. In other cultures, it's hated and despised as a carrion bird."

Photographer Dennis Krull, a three-time "Crow Show" participant, says he liked the challenge of finding an angle on the crow with which to work.

He's also fascinated with the ways various artists and performers externalize their own angles. The result is an exhibition and evening he considers a gem among local arts events.

"The crow seems like a mysterious bird to all of us and always has been," Krull says. "All those different aspects that have developed throughout the ages make it interesting to try to come up with something and figure out this odd little bird."

The result, as summed up in the anthology, is as surprising visually as it is conceptually.

"I was surprised by the explosion of color that we saw in so many of the images," Tammaro says. "And when people see this book, they will be surprised by how colorful the images are. There's also a kind of humor about the crow that shows through. 'Humor' and 'color' might not be two words that people think of when they think of crows."

If you go

What: "The Crow Show," an evening of visual art, poetry and music; book launch for the anthology "In the Spirit of the Crow" and a performance by Keith Big Bear

When: 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday; exhibit on display through April 11

Where: The Spirit Room, 111 Broadway, Fargo

Info: Admission for all events is free and open to all ages. Cash bar. Hors d'oeuvres available for $5.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, go to