July 2015: Spirit Catcher

/ Spotlight on the Collection

Spirit Catcher. Frank Fleming, 1982. Unglazed porcelain. Museum purchase with funds from the Members of the Birmingham Museum of Art, 1982.204a-b.
Spirit Catcher, Frank Fleming, 1982

The unicorn-human hybrid in Fleming’s Spirit Catcher sits on a tree stump looking out at the viewer, seemingly unaware of the small bird alighting on his outstretched hand or the snarling dog at his feet. The unicorn man and the dog appear in marked contrast to one other – calm versus rage, enchanting fantasy versus harsh reality.

The art of Frank Fleming has been described as whimsical and intriguing. Though his fantastical sculptures have endless stories to tell – and sometimes seem to embody a biting darkness – he rarely speaks about what they mean to him, preferring instead for viewers to invent their own stories. In his 1982 exhibition Personal Mythologies at the Museum, Fleming said, “We’re in an age where we are bombarded by all kinds of external media. It’s most important for each of us to be able to turn inward to listen, hear, and respond to the personal myths that might (but not necessarily do) dwell inside us.” Throughout our lives, we are shaped and molded by external influences, like family, school, friends, or the media. In sorting through these pressures, we find a personal balance between fantasy and reality.

The unicorn man in Spirit Catcher, one of 18 sculptures in the Museum’s exhibition Between Fantasy and Reality: Frank Fleming (February 27 – August 9, 2015), may represent the imagination of childhood, while the dog may signify the reality of adulthood. Spirit Catcher seems to encourage us to hang on to our individuality and to ignore the voices that tell us not to believe in unicorns who wear button-down vests.

Explore more!

Visit the Beyond Fantasy and Reality special feature in the Museum’s smartguide to explore more works from the exhibition and to hear commentary from artist Frank Fleming.

Join the conversation!

Every day, we handle family dramas, difficult coworkers, deadlocked traffic, and countless other stressors. What do you do to deal with stress or to escape reality? Check out the following links, and join the conversation below!

“The Dalai Lama’s translator explains why being kind to yourself is good for the world,” The Washington Post, May 14, 2015

“How innovations can help us reverse the impact of stress,” The Washington Post, July 3, 2014

“Dialing Back Stress With A Bubble Bath, Beach Trip And Bees,” NPR, July 16, 2014