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Porter was worrying, too: The bird didn't have the dynamism he sought. Then one day, in a flash of inspiration, he took one of the basswood "cornstalks" that was lying uprooted on the redwood base from which the bird rose and stood it upright but at a slight angle, just behind the bird's right wing.
"I can't tell you the excitement we felt at that moment," Brown says. "I could see that one small touch—the upright, angling cornstalk—gave me just what I'd envisioned. At least 90% of it, maybe 110%. It gave the entire grouping the height it had been lacking, and the broken top of the stalk points the way the bird is going—up and out. A lot of art critics might say that a work this detailed, or this 'representational,' isn't art at all, but rather mere copying. But at bedrock all art is imitative. Music grows from the sound of wind and water, the sounds of life on this planet."
By summer's end, with the bird nearly complete, Vermonters from miles around began drifting up the Browns' long, dirt driveway, past the low-slung split-level house Porter designed eight years ago, hoping for a glimpse of the bird through a studio window. All were invited in, but not for long. "They kept wanting to touch the feathers," Mary says. "They were convinced it was just another 'stuffed bird,' and although that was a compliment to our success in one way, it was also very dangerous. Each of those feathers represents a day in the life. And they're extremely fragile."
For previous carvings the Browns had received from $10,000 to $40,000 from collectors. The price tag on this creation—it has not been sold as yet—is $100,000. So hands off was the watchword.
One visitor, stunned by the work, asked how one could keep all those feathers clean and dust-free.
"We'll give the buyer a free brush," quipped Porter, "once the check has cleared."
Now Mary was not amused. "We don't do this for the money," she insisted. "Yet we set the price high because we value our own work, and we value the creation itself."
There's really no need to apologize. In this era of a surging "collectibles" market, particularly in wildlife art, the turkey would certainly seem to be worth its six-figure price tag.
The high point of pride for the Browns came when Wallin dropped by to study the bird. He stood for a long couple of minutes, eyeballing it, then walked around it, taking in every detail, even counting the primary and the secondary feathers. Then he stepped back and made his evaluation.