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Carved Bird Collection by Joseph Zupsich

through August 27, 2006


The addition of bird carvings to the Tarble Arts Center Folk Arts Collection is being celebrated with an exhibition of the Carved Bird Collection by Joseph Zupsich. The exhibition of the collection will continue through August 27 in the Tarble's eGallery. The Tarble Arts Center is located on 9th Street at Cleveland Avenue on the EIU campus.

The collection totals 52 carved and painted birds. The birds were created between 1997 and 2000 by EIU alumnus Joseph Zupsich. A linguist, and not trained as an artist, Zupsich took up carving birds for his own enjoyment. Stated Zupsich in a letter, "I enjoy carving with wood because wood shows lines, color and texture -- lines apparent even in [the] painted birds."

Depicted are many species, from native songbirds, such as the Oriole and Nightingale, to exotic types including the Toucan and Wry-Neck Flamingo. Each bird is recognizable by its carved shape and the colorings painted on by Zupsich. But part of the collection's charm is that, when viewed as a collection, the carvings were not necessarily done to scale. So while some carvings are approximately life-size others are not which makes for some interesting juxtapositions.

The carved birds were recently donated to the Tarble's Folk Arts Collection by Dr. Dario and Madeline Covi of Louisville, Kentucky. In 1997 Madeline Covi began commissioning Zupsich to carve birds for her. The Covi's collection was amassed from 1997 through 2000. The Covis have supported Eastern in other ways, including establishing the Joseph and Cecilia Covi scholarship through the EIU Foundation in honor of Dr. Covi's parents.

Dario Covi, also an EIU alumnus, graduated from Eastern in 1943 with a degree in Art. Covi was from Livingston, Illinois. Zupsich lives in Bellwood, Illinois, but is originally from the White City-Mount Olive area of southern Illinois. He graduated from Eastern in 1942 with a degree in Latin. The two met as students at Eastern and have maintained a friendship for over 60 years.

Each bird to be carved is thoroughly researched by Zupsich. Some are created from personal observation and others from photographs or sketches. In a letter to the Covis, Zupsich commented that he was working on a "Yellow-bellied sapsucker, which I have never seen except for the neat ring of holes he makes in tree trunks."

The artist is most careful about the woods used. Zupsich is knowledgeable about different woods and their grains, sometimes "sandwiching" different woods together to get the desired effect. The woods used include cherry, oak, Osage orange, Honduras mahogany, ash, maple, poplar, and African soft mahogany. At first the artist used enamel model paints but switched to acrylic.

The Tarble Arts Center Folk Arts Collection encompasses nearly half of the center's permanent collection. It includes approximately 500 pieces, all by artists from Illinois. Begun in 1976 by the then EIU College of Fine Arts, the collection was transferred to the Tarble when the center opened in 1982. Most of the holdings were acquired in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but works by Illinois artists continue to be added to the Tarble's Folk Arts Collection.


(above: Joseph Zupsich, Painted Bunting, carved and painted wood)


(above: Joseph Zupsich, Song Sparrow, carved and painted wood)

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