But I wasn’t done with birch bark. Inspired by the Ojibway spirit house in the graveyard I decided to make one of my own. I had long been fascinated with the extraordinary ability of birch bark to resist rot. According to an architect friend its so resistant to decay that early pioneers once used it to line the window sills of log cabins. For years I’d been collecting hollowed out tubes of birch bark from the forest floor. These were the tubes of bark left intact when the fallen tree’s interior rotted away. They would come in handy to build a human figure: its limbs, trunk, and head.
I first built my spirit house as a line drawing in space with a classic rectangular base and a peaked roof. Then, using my collection of bush birch tubes, I constructed a figure to human scale: a “birch body.” When the two pieces were done I laid the body on the base of the house, but felt something was wrong. I then realized the body needed to hover in the space below the peak, suspended from the roof line. This was accomplished with that old studio stand-by: fishing line. The resulting piece floated on the Big Lake watched by passing Merganzers and freighters for several serene summer days. It was eventually tossed back on the beach by a big storm. Public reaction to the spirit house was mixed. Many really liked the piece, but one woman reacted very strongly against it. For some it felt transcendent, but for her the piece was just morbid.