There is a flock of metaphorical crows hovering over Andy Acker. Crow-related artworks, meanwhile, have taken over the Omaha-born artist’s home studio in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
The 69-year-old Acker creates bizarre sculptures out of carvings and miscellaneous domestic detritus: keys, old coins, nuts, bolts, and other random bits.
A figurative painter earlier in his art career, he cuts a striking figure himself at just over 6 feet tall, slender, with glistening white hair and beard, a boyish smile, and mesmerizing green eyes.
Crows are now his figurative obsession. Acker says they started creeping into his work 20 years ago.
He began crafting sculptural assemblages when he was working at Heartland Scenic Studios in Omaha. At first, they were just fun projects using leftover bits of wood from the carpenters in the studio. But the pieces eventually took on deeper artistic and philosophical significance for the artist.
“I love to find art in our everyday surroundings and to show others the beauty in a tree shadow, patterns in broken parking lot surfaces, peeling paint, or our sunsets,” says Acker, who moved to the Milwaukee area with his wife in 2013 to be closer to grandkids.
He began seriously considering a career in art as a student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the late ’60s. He majored in art, dabbling in various mediums—oil and acrylic painting, sculpture, drawing, ceramics, etc.
After graduation, he joined his wife’s family business helping out at the New Tower Hotel in Omaha. Eventually, Acker found his way into teaching art at McMillan Junior High. He taught there for 10 years and adored his students.
After teaching, he spent the subsequent decade painting large canvas backgrounds and building stage sets for local theaters, museums, commercial clients, and various other venues.
Starting during his time as a junior high school art teacher, Acker would draw cartoon caricatures of departing colleagues as going-away presents. All the co-workers would sign his poster-sized drawings.
“We would zing them with all the things they would say,” he says, explaining how the caricatures would roast the outgoing colleagues with funny quotes written onto the posters. “We had one teacher that would come into the teacher lounge and cuss about kids like a railroad worker. He hung it in his den, and it was popular. I also did that for retiring co-workers at Heartland Scenic Studios.”
Cartooning was another of Acker’s favorite artistic formats before the crows flew into the picture. “I used to always do our Christmas cards as cartoons, but even those have been taken over by the crows,” he says.
His interest in crows began in Omaha. One morning, while driving to McMillan to teach art classes, he heard a crow caw. It seemed to be following him. The bird flew alongside his car through several lights. Finally, it gave one last “caw, caw” and turned into a cemetery nearby the school.
Acker went about his daily routine. But the crow’s cawing nagged in the back of his mind. He began to notice crows more and study their behavior as well as the historic place that the crow has in history, literature, and art.
A crow is often a symbol of either bad luck or death, but that is not always the case, he says. A crow may be a symbol of life, magic, and mysteries. The prophetic bird also symbolizes intelligence, flexibility, and destiny.
Soon, Acker started to notice crows appearing almost everywhere he journeyed. He began to study crows, and that eventually led to them appearing in his varied mediums of artwork—painted, sculpted, carved, and showcased in mixed-media assemblages.
In his art, the crow offers a reflection on the human condition, a foil for various universal struggles. For example, “Crow Dreaming of Becoming a Man” shows the carved bird riding on a train engine.
“My future is to continue to experiment with different media and characters from nature to explore human feelings of isolation and wonder, leading to bigger questions relating to our human condition,” Acker says.
His work last showed in Omaha during a group exhibition, Tinkerbell’s Mausoleum: Assemblages from Whimsy to Macabre, at the historic Florence Mill’s ArtLoft Gallery on July 1-Aug. 31.
This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.