By Victoria Cook
In a cul-de-sac in Irondequoit are small, cozy homes where neighbors take care of their yards, plant lovely flowers, add a koi pond, maybe, and feed the birds. While traffic whizzes by busier streets, this lane remains quiet, peaceful and just a little bit lazy, a small bit of paradise in an otherwise chaotic world. Two gifted artists live in one of these homes: Robert “Robin” Salsbury and Jacqueline “Jackie” Salsbury. Robin is self-described as a “bird carver extraordinaire,” and Jackie is a goldsmith. The couple met when they both worked at the Regional Office of the New York State Department of Transportation.
As a young boy, Robin learned to carve neckerchief slides in the Scouts, which led to a gift of gouges and knives from his parents. He got his start in art during high school, where he carved a bear climbing a tree, put a bulb on top, added some guts and declared it a lamp. Although it was his first carving, he showed great promise. But it wasn’t until 30 years later that he signed up for a carving class at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. He soon discovered there was a whole world of carving out there: He joined the Genesee Valley Woodcarving Club, learned to carve decoys for a decoy festival and, when he began carving birds, found loads of festivals and won buckets of ribbons, which he proudly displays in his studio.
Robin’s birds have personality and a realness you can’t find in store-bought birds. Today, his blue-ribbon bird carvings reveal how much he has learned as the years have passed. Carved and painted feathers and beaks, little glass bird eyes, carved feet with clinging claws and woodpeckers on carved tree trunks are some of the truly extraordinary birds he has replicated.
When he was asked to teach carving as an adjunct at West Irondequoit School, he jumped at the chance. Each year, he distributes wood and a pattern for that season’s bird carving, with some of his students (as well as his wife Jackie) coming back year after year. One year, a student asked if they could carve a fish instead, and it turned out Robin had a talent for carving fish as well as birds! He teaches three classes a year.
Most of the birds Robin carves are from their yard and Lake Ontario shore, although he also gets inspiration from magazines. A commissioned bald eagle soaring the sky and looking for lunch is so realistic you can almost count the feathers. Robin focuses on birds found in the northeast, where he says “he can easily find them in the wild.” He continues to take bird carving classes and attend various bird carving festivals throughout the eastern United States, including the Ward World Wildfowl Carving Competition in Ocean City, Maryland, which he describes as “very inspiring.” Robin keeps an eye peeled for inspiration wherever he goes.
Jackie found her artistic passion when she lived by the beach as a youngster and collected shells and beach wood to make jewelry. Under her grandmother’s watchful eye, Jackie learned how to create the appearance of wet wood grain by using varnish. She loved working with wood, but her real passion was stone. “I loved figuring out how to polish it to maintain the look of the stone when I picked it out of the waves,” she says. Her interest in astronomy has inspired her Earth And Moon series of pendants, made with mokume-gane – a Japanese layered metalworking procedure – or sterling silver and sapphire, tourmaline or garnet. She is inspired by the “shape of a leaf, the way a stem of a vine will wind around its support,” she shares.
Robin supported Jackie’s artistic dream by putting his carving career on hold for a short time. They stayed home on Saturdays so she could pursue classes on soldering and welding jewelry pieces. Cutting rough stone, cutting the sterling to fit the stone, shaping and polishing, adding the attachment piece for chain, adding clips on both sides for bracelets or a handmade sterling ring to the back for a ring – these are the things that feed her soul.
The couple used to rescue Florida greyhound dogs that had been retired from racing, occasionally keeping one or two for their own. But with the end of dog racing in Florida, they no longer have to rescue them. Their greyhound Rainey, Rain for short, is a pretty girl with funny greyhound habits like clicking her teeth. If you happen to see a man and a woman walking a greyhound along the Lake Ontario shore, you have just encountered a goldsmith and a bird carver extraordinaire.
This is Victoria’s first published article. She received her BA in Creative Writing from SUNY Empire State College in July of this year. (At a ripe old age. But a lady never tells.)