When I was small, l I would go golf ball hunting with my stepfather. We would park the car and get our bags, heading into the wooded woods next to the golf course. Golf ball hunting was such a gloriously fun task. It was like hunting for Easter eggs but more rouge. Many times, I would find golf balls that were hit into the woods and place them gingerly into my little grocery sack and later realize that I snagged the bag on a stick and put a hole in it, losing the bounty of my foraging along the way! Not many words were spoken on these little quests, the woods spoke in windy whispers and the ground chimed back in decay.
On this particular occasion it was the beginning of Fall and I was seven and a half years old. We were in the woods early as it is illegal to golf ball hunt in the woods next to the golf course. I was like a baby crow, enamored by fungus and shiny things, while every once in awhile spotting a golf ball and collecting it in my bag. All of sudden my stepfather spoke in a quiet and low tone, “don’t move” he said, I was immediately frightened. He was looking up into the low branches of a tree and now, so was I. We both set our gaze on this huge thing. It could have been a bird or a person, I was not sure. The only thing I was sure of was that I was looking at it’s back and then it’s head turned and I saw the owly face. My stepfather told me to walk slowly back to the car and under no circumstances was I to run. I took another few looks at the giant owl in the tree and walked steadily back to the car. My stepfather following closely behind.
When we were both safely in the car, I asked him what it was. He said it was the largest owl he’d ever seen in his life and I told him that I thought it was the size of a man or a boy. We agreed that it was more the size of a boy and rode toward home in quiet. In my seven-year-old mind I concocted an anthropomorphic owl child that flew though the woods frightening golf ball hunters…. From that day on there was Bigfoot, Yeti, Loch ness monster, the water rat (which I later discovered was my aunt in a brown blanket) and Owl boy.
In the weeks that followed we didn’t talk about it, but it was in the recesses of my mind. My stepfather had his friends over to play poker one evening and my mother tucked me into bed but I always listed to their banter before I drifted off. On this night the conversation centered upon the owl. He told them about seeing the monster bird in the wood and his fear that it could, if it wanted, swoop down and steal me away. They all had indulged a bit and were a little tipsy but one of the men said, "Bill, how big do you think the owl was?” “Oh, an easy 4ft tall” he replied. My smile widened a little more because I too was 4 ft. tall. The owl boy was my same height which made me feel akin to him in some way.
Now, it could be said that my stepfather only took me with him because if we were caught hunting golf balls illegally, he would probably be let go if he had a child along with him. Possibly the owl was not 4ft. tall, but he was huge and lastly, he could have been all owl and not part boy, but he will live in my imagination till the day I die as owl boy.
Now, fast forward to 2017. I was looking at the work of American painter Lori Nelson. She has a cryptotween series that touched my heart and as I became drawn in, there he was... Owl boy on the subway. I immediately was transported back to my seven-year-old self and the magic I felt to have conjured my own Owl Boy. My own mysterious bridge between the mythical and the woods.
I began sculpting with a feverish impetus. I had him in my mind again and now and as doll maker, I would create him. I had a need to deliver him from my imagination into my magical world. As I sculpted, I took liberties with him. The original Owl Boy from my memory had gained an anthropomorphism about him. He didn’t wear clothing last time I saw him and he wasn’t foraging for mushrooms, but he was real and he was my bridge to magic.
** My owl boy is 19 inches tall. He has been sewn using vintage and found fabrics. I used my sewing machine and hand stitching to accomplish his look. He is hand sculpted using papier mache and hand mixed clay. I've mixed my paint by hand, like I always do, concocting magical recipes for each doll. I call him Opal, Opie for short and he will make his debut at Bewitching Peddlers of Halloween fine art show in Marshall, Michigan this Fall.