By: Jen Jackson
Early this year, when Snowtown Film Festival board members were wracking their brains for a way to repay Viggo Mortensen for his involvement in the event, searching for something to reflect both the artist and the area in which he grew up, one thing came quickly to their minds. Well, three things that is — The three giant, iconic crows alongside I-81 outside of Alexandria Bay, sculpted by local legend and acclaimed artist Will Salisbury.
Mr. Salisbury was soon crafting “Rascal” the crow and presenting him to the clearly ecstatic actor, on-stage at the 2017 Snowtown Film Festival to accompany the newly created north country Inspiration to Artists Award.
Both Mr. Mortensen and Mr. Salisbury were at the heart of the film festival’s artistic endeavors for board member and organizer Steve Hunt.
“(They) really epitomize what we’re trying to do, which is to celebrate the arts and the north country,” Mr. Hunt said.
Mr. Salisbury was born in Syracuse and began sculpting as a teen in the ‘60s. His career has taken him cross-country and overseas, but he ultimately returned to the Thousand Islands region and built his current studio in Omar in 1991.
“The north country has all kinds of people. And this part of the north country is unique,” Mr. Salisbury explained. “A lot of artists come out of the woodwork up here. People who like the outdoors, who want to experience the creative aspect rather than… politics or what have you.”
“We cold-called both guys. Knowing our requests, it was kind of crazy it turned out in both cases!” Mr. Hunt said of Mr. Mortensen’s and Mr. Salisbury’s involvement in the film festival.
When Mr. Salisbury got the email, he asked Mr. Hunt out to his studio to talk.
“It was really cool to meet Will Salisbury, too,” said Mr. Hunt about visiting the artist’s studio with his family in tow. Mr. Hunt, astounded by the artist’s work and craftsmanship, pitched the idea.
By the end of the day, Mr. Salisbury had agreed to drop his other projects to work on the rush-order crow with just 12 days to go until the festival.
A crow statue was chosen for Mr. Mortensen’s well-documented affinity for the intelligent (and regionally abundant) creatures.
“We wanted to honor him for his work and his dedication to the north country… And we knew he loves crows,” Mr. Hunt recalled. “It was a proud moment to be able to do that. Viggo was very appreciative… He was talking about (the sculpture) backstage, and beaming.”
That avian appreciation is another thing the two artists have in common, making the projects a perfect fit. When Mr. Salisbury created “The 3 Crows” on I-81 he was looking for something whimsical to herald in the new century. Mr. Salisbury helps the baby crows he comes across every once in a while, fallen from their nests, to survive and says he is amazed by them and their abilities.
“They have 19 or so calls, you know, and I can imitate a lot of them. I tend to confuse them,” Mr. Salisbury laughed.
He also appreciates their “spiritual aspect” and the role crows hold in Native American cultures.
Rascal the crow was made of welded steel, heat treated, and given a clear coat. When surprised with the work of art and award after the showing of his film “Captain Fantastic,’ Mr. Mortensen thanked Mr. Salisbury and drew him back out onto the stage to show his appreciation.
“We created the North Country Inspiration to Artists Award, and with it we wanted to hand off a piece of art representing both the region and Viggo.” Mr. Hunt said. “Will symbolized what we were going for, too.”
“It was a real honor to be asked and a great experience,” Mr. Salisbury said.
Perhaps the North Country’s ability to bring art out of the artist can’t be defined. Maybe it can’t be pinpointed. But – just maybe – it’s the spirit of the crow.