The Storey of Raven and Rabbit was originally planned for New Zealand.
Sandra Grace Storey, born and raised in Whitehorse, spent her childhood summers in a cabin on Tagish Lake. At 18 she moved to Calgary for art school. Then she sailed to New Zealand.
New Zealand has no ravens, no predatory mammals and little folklore about animals. New Zealand’s native animal population includes lizards, birds and fish. Any of the furry and four-legged came with European colonists.
Storey first dreamt up this show on her return to the Yukon, just a visit at first. It would have evolved differently for a New Zealand audience. And that was the first plan, since it was to be a collaboration with her son, Tagish Corey, living in New Zealand.
Then she realized she would stay in the Yukon. “This is where my life, my future and health is.” The show changed. Now it’s for us.
Her return to the Yukon’s wealth of wildlife fascinates Storey. Ravens in particular she finds exotic. “I took them for granted in my youth.”
The rabbit wasn’t part of Storey’s own mythology or psyche until one “jumped into a drawing.”
Soon she was intrigued by the rabbit. At first glance they’re a timid, prolific pest. But then Storey considered the Brer Rabbit stories and Watership Down. They could be vicious, competitive and tricky.
Her son pointed out the dangerous bunny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Storey owned a rabbit once as a pet. It was a 12-pound Flemish Giant that would run at dogs.
She began to wonder what would happen if you put ravens and rabbits in the same arena. Then she started to draw, exploring “where they might please each other or conflict, meeting on an equal plane.”
This amount of drawing is unusual for Storey. Normally she begins with a feeling or concept and tries to put shapes around it. She moves right into sculpture, despite art school training to draw first: “If you’ve drawn it, you’ve done it.”
This show will include some of these drawings, as well as paintings worked up from the drawings, in addition to her intimate clay sculptures.
Storey describes the drawings and slightly more polished paintings as flat, resembling children’s book illustrations.
The clay sculptures all feature raven or rabbit or an interlude between them, as well as two other subjects: a wise, mothering wolf woman and a bird’s nest.
She still collaborated with her son on the show. “I always talk with Tagish about my work. Even though he’s 11, he’s a better engineer than I am. He’s interested in solutions rather than concepts.”
Storey was working on a sculpture for the show of a rabbit leaping. Its point of balance was tenuous, just its front paws touching down.
“Tagish said, ‘There’s a baby rabbit in the story, right? In karate we always spot each other on jumps. Maybe you could have the little rabbit holding up the big rabbit’s toes.'”
Storey has also explored new ways of finishing her sculptures for this show.
In the past, she hasn’t used glazes. Working in the Arts Underground studio and being around during drop-in sessions, Storey has learned to be a bit more confident with them. Some of the clay bodies will be treated with oxides, natural stains mixed with water, but Storey has also found some thin glazes she likes to work with in black and sandstone.
Storey also took some of the sculptures out to Paul Baker’s studio on Crag Lake. They collaborated on welding metal armatures for the raven’s feet. “I held the ravens with my head turned away,” she says, while Baker MIG welded the structures.
She then sculpted the feet over the metal with polymer clay. She got this idea from Lara Melnik. “It’s great to have friends like that.”
At time of interview, Storey was still working the bugs out of one installation. In this piece, the clay bodies will serve mostly as a source for their cast shadows.
All these elements will come together into a set-up “like a 3-D storybook.” The Storey of Raven and Rabbit will be like illustrations without a story, drawing the stories out of the viewers.
The Storey of Raven and Rabbit opens May 23 at 5 p.m. and continues until June 18 at Arts Underground.