By: Elizabeth Klein
Will you help him? Will you help this poor bird who has lost his way? He once had everything. Now, he has nothing. No family. No friends. No home. No way to escape the gym locker of suck that his life has become. At first, it seems that there is no way out. Sumatra, once the paradise of his kind, has become a macabre scene. The duck roams the island alone, fully aware that the ground he covers is built on top of the blood of his people. There is nothing I can do, he whispers as he cries himself to sleep. I am just one duck. What could I possibly do?
And you, viewer, what can you do? This duck, made alive by the expertise with which his likeness is portrayed, can be helped through understanding. To accomplish this, the painting commands its viewer to look and be looked upon, then to view and view intensely. This piece is not for the passing glancer. It is for the seasoned thinker, for those weathered enough by life and its trials to consider—truly consider—that which is put before them. To comprehend the complexity of Schweickert’s Fledgling, the viewer must know the Fledgling’s past. It’s more than just knowing what the featured duck lost on Sumatra. It’s knowing his full story in its three stages, which are represented in three respective reflections of the duck.
The first stage begins with the bird shown in the front left. We have already covered this period, this epoch ante bellum—before the war. This first duck in the painting is the biggest and brightest, painted with the most vibrant hues. His bill is a practically glowing shade of neon orange. He shows to us one side of his face that contains a wide eye and shining collar. At this stage, our protagonist was living happily on his little Sumatran Elysium. But all that, as we know, would soon change.
The second stage, that fateful time when the trappers came and left behind only our hero, is represented by the dingy duck in the back left of the painting. His bill is dull and dirty. His once electric pink plume shows dark masses of blue highlight a sadness that seem to come not from the feathers, but from the duck himself. The eye he shows to us is small, sad. A light-colored tear bores a small crevice underneath it, evidencing the pain he has experienced. This sense of loneliness and despair is stained into every fiber of the canvas. It’s as if the artist collected the raw, unrelenting tears of the saddened duck and mixed them into the paint itself. Like a teenage One Direction fangirl, this piece lives and breathes emotion.
But soon, something incredible happens to the duck. Something that defies all known laws of evolution and aviation. Something that disrupts the ebb and flow of all natural life forms.
The duck becomes the Fledgling.
Ah, the Fledgling. The duck painted proudly and prominently in the right foreground. Less happy than his larger counterpart on the left, certainly, but notably more content than the duck in the background. He radiates an assured sort of pink. He faces the viewer full-on, showing both of his calm eyes. And, unlike any of the other likenesses, the soft green of his neck extends above the blue line of his collar, providing a stark but not unpleasant yellow-green contrast.
What can account for the miraculous change that our duck—nay, our Fledgling, has undergone? From countless nights spent sobbing alone, he rose to liberation and freedom. He took the broken pieces of himself and made them anew in a rebirth comparable to the god Osiris. Somewhere between Back-Left Duck and Front-Right Duck, the Fledgling was born.