Today I’ll put the finishing touches on the six-foot-tall fiberglass “Bucky Badger” statue that’s been in my studio since January. I might add a fresh layer of paint to his big grey toes. Maybe I’ll find a couple fabric edges that need more glue. I’ll probably fuss over him a bit more than I need to, because I’ll miss him when he gets returned on Saturday to the organizers of Madison’s “Bucky on Parade." And actually, he’s a great conversationalist – witty, insightful and, surprisingly, kind.
OK, so I hear those two alarm bells going off. And yes, I talk and he talks back, and yes, beyond all that fierceness, he is kind. And just for the record, I know you either talk to your plants or you’re telling your dog that the Facebook video was really not that funny, so enough with the eye-rolling.
I think it started somewhat early in the project, when I was cutting up the fabric I am using to create the collage artwork on the surface of Bucky. I gave him the name “Bright Idea Bucky” and asked anyone and everyone to write on the fabric, giving their answers to the question “What’s the bright idea you can contribute to the world?”
As I looked over the hundreds of writings, I know he heard me muttering things like “I can’t believe that’s all you could come up with?” And I might have said “Really? Just signing your name is the bright idea that you would add to the statue of the mascot for the University of Wisconsin?”
So, I don’t think I actually heard his voice, it was more like I had an impression of his voice. Kind of like when the dog gives you that look as you’re heading out to work and you find yourself saying “These pants are not too short and you know it.” And I realize you don’t know my high school art teacher Mr. Price, but Bucky reminds me of him. Funny and forgiving at the same time, since he knew your biggest problem was not that you couldn’t draw, but that you were getting in your own way.
Anyway, I recall Bucky saying something like “So, that’s not the ‘right’ kind of bright idea, is that it?”
Eeeesh, he stopped me right in mid-scissoring. “I just thought people might reach a little higher, you know, think a little bigger?” I thought back. “I just want your statue to be filled with thought provoking, inspiring ideas.”
“What if those writings that say ‘read a book’ or ‘smile at someone’ have just as much power as big ideas about saving the world and inventing things? And if a person just signs their name, maybe they’re saying ‘I don’t know what to write, but I’m here showing up and that’s what I can offer?’ ”
He was bugging me now, like Mr. Price used to do when he would walk by my desk in art class and say things like “Maybe you want to draw what you see and not what you know.”
“OK, I get what you mean, and I like it even better,” I told him. “Because now the writings all feel like unique little voices that aren’t trying to impress anyone. Kind of like the family reunion dinner table where everyone talks at the same time and somehow it all works.” And just like that, I had an entirely different view of what his statue was going to look like, and I loved it even more.
I shouldn’t have been surprised about where he would go next. I mean this is Bucky Badger, after all. “One other thing,” he began. “When we’re out there on the field, we know what we need to do to win the game, so we try different plays. We know how it feels to win, but we don’t have a set-in-stone vision of how to get there. Keep your eye on what’s happening right now, and switch it up if you need to. And I think you missed a spot on my toe.”
I’m gonna miss that badger.