Remember the Vancouver crow who stole a knife from a crime scene? He did it for art's sake

Fan art by Canuck the Crow's legion of admirers is now on display at Roam Gallery in a special exhibition dedicated to Vancouver's favourite avian outlaw.

Crow M G! Canuck the Crow has his own art show.

Watch the skies. And the SkyTrain. Vancouver's favourite outlaw is Canuck the Crow, and the bird is the subject of a new art exhibition, on to July 30 at Roam Gallery. The title of this painting by Kathrine Churchill? Devilishly Mischievous. (Kathrine Churchill/www.roamgallery.com)

If you've heard of Canuck the Crow, two scenarios are likely: you either live in Vancouver, or you've seen this photo.

(Facebook/thecrowandI)

It's a picture that's awesome for all the reasons a crow holding a knife is awesome, but in May, the snapshot got a shot of significance when the bird — that's Canuck — flew off with a different knife, one it lifted from a crime scene on Hastings Street. The story went viral, generating headlines and way too many "murder of crows" puns from media outlets worldwide.

But now Shawn Bergman, Canuck's human best friend and the guy behind the bird's popular Facebook page "Canuck and I," says it was all a publicity stunt of sorts for an art show — a stunt cooked up by Canuck himself.

Until July 30, Vancouver's Roam Gallery is hosting a group exhibition inspired by the crow in question — an animal who'd established a local reputation by riding the SkyTrain and frequenting the race track before his infamous brush with the po-po.

Though the collection is largely fan art, much of it sent to Bergman through Facebook, he and Roam's curator Jennifer Angers Daerendinger put the call out for original work, too — and early this spring, the hunt for fresh talent wasn't going as well hoped.

Best feathered friends forever. Canuck the Crow and Steve Bergman on the day they met. (Facebook/thecrowandi)

So, Bergman told Canuck about his troubles.

It's less strange than you think, at least for this man and bird. People babble to their dogs and cats. And while Canuck's not a pet — Bergman says he doesn't feed him, nor does he keep him in the house — where Bergman goes, the crow follows, and it's been that way since Canuck was a youngster.

One day while walking, Bergman joked to Canuck, "Could you do something completely crazy and get yourself some PR — because we need this show to get off the ground here."

Says Bergman: "It was probably two days later that the knife incident happened."

Thanks to the media attention, Bergman says his Facebook page grew by more than 15,000 followers in a day and a half. Fan art followed — though he was already used to seeing his friend immortalized by strangers, and he says he gets a new piece every other month from Canuck-eteers around the world.

The show, for example, includes work by artists from Oregon and Washington, Toronto and Winnipeg. A Chicago artist, Catherine Dodge, created one of Bergman's favourite pictures in the collection — a "Picasso-inspired" interpretation of one of his photos.

Catherine Dodge. Canuck's Paradise. (Catherine Dodge, www.roamgallery.com)
Shawn Bergman. Leeside Story (Shawn Bergman, www.roamgallery.com)

"It's hard to say what everyone particularly loves about him, though there's plenty of reasons to choose from," Christian Casadei says about Canuck. The Vancouver artist's Fealty to Feathers, featuring a regal and snooty (beaky?) Canuck, currently hangs at Roam, and to Bergman, it's the painting that best captures his feathered friend's personality.

Christian Casadei. Fealty to Feathers. (Christian Casadei, www.roamgallery.com)

"[Birds] will walk across roads, steal food, crap on people and in a nutshell cause general shenanigans. I thought Canuck really epitomized that," says Casadei. "Couple that with the connection he has to Shawn, just another thing that makes him even more unique, and I guess that would my best shot at why I think he's garnered so much attention."

Roam's resident artist, Ellen Bradley-Cheung, says the fans have been the most fascinating aspect of the show. When she was asked to paint her take on Canuck, she'd never heard of the crow's reputation.

Ellen Bradley-Cheung. Canuck. (Ellen Bradley-Cheung, www.roamgallery.com)

Now, she's learning he's a local character. "People were telling me how they know Canuck — 'Oh, he comes to the PNE and visits me.' One girl, she works at a daycare, and Canuck would come visit her. He's very popular."

The fact that his fame is inspiring art is an endless delight to Bergman. "I was just in love with all of it. I thought it was so interesting to see everybody's interpretations of Canuck," he says — maybe they'd draw him "with more of a tough-guy attitude," or something sillier and more playful.

Courtney Naesgaard. Pacific Northwest Crow. (Courtney Naesgaard)
Shirley Anderson. Untitled. (Shirley Anderson, www.roamgallery.com)

Collecting everyone's work for a gallery show just made sense, he explains. "I figured it was just a logical thing to put out there, to try and get other artists to send in their interpretations of Canuck and it was really, to be perfectly honest, it was really overwhelming."

In addition to 35 participating artists, Bergman's own photographs feature in the exhibition, and half the proceeds of any photos sold will benefit the Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary.  

Ashley Rose Goentoro. Canuck the Crow. (Ashley Rose Goentoro, www.roamgallery.com)

"The first day that I met him, I ended up grabbing my camera which had laid dormant for probably a good six months, and right away I was snapping pictures like crazy. I think I have over 12,000 pictures of him," he says — photos which he often takes in extreme close-up, just an inch away from his patient subject.

"He's a great model to work with," he says of Canuck, crediting the bird with inspiring a new interest in photography.

And Bergman, in turn, could be Canuck's muse one day — or at least his enabler.

Of all the things he's flown off with — knives, flowers, coffee cups — Canuck also knows how to pick up a paintbrush.

(Facebook/thecrowandI)

But does he paint?

"That's something that's definitely in the future," Bergman laughs. "I'd like to give it a shot. Crows are highly intelligent and he likes to play, he really really does. So this might be a game for him."

But there's no pressure on him to crank out enough work in time for a follow-up exhibition. Says Bergman, "The closeness that we have, it's a real friendship."

Canuck & I. Featuring Shawn Bergman, Ellen Bradley-Cheung, Christian Casadei. To July 30 at Roam Gallery, Vancouver. www.roamgallery.com

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