|Reliquary for a Hen Harrier's Wishbone, acrylic, gold leaf, 2015|
The box measures 5.5cm x 4.3cm, and just under 2cm high. The wishbone of a hen harrier would fit inside exactly.
I was fascinated to discover in the collection that the wishbone (furcula, or "little fork" in Latin) of different birds are very different shapes. Some are quite straight and stiff, some very curved and fluid; some skinny, some wider and flatter. The hen harrier's wishbone is rounded, almost heart shaped. You can see the shape of it in the centre of the curling gold leaf.
It seems to me that the furcula is a very special bone. It is (almost) only birds that have them, and their function is to keep the bird's chest from tearing apart each time it beats its wings. The force of the wing stroke would be enough to do this if it wasn't for the strengthening power of the wishbone.
The wishbone is a charmed bone, too. I remember from my own childhood making wishes on these bones from the Sunday roast.
My Reliquary for a Hen Harrier's wishbone is an empty box. We still have hen harriers in this country, but their continued existence is threatened; their numbers are fast declining and the RSPB think that only three pairs bred in England last year. The hen harrier needs our wishes. I have left the box empty because it is a reliquary for the future, perhaps for the last hen harrier. I hope it will never need to be filled.
Click here to read the RSPB's appeal for the hen harrier.