Artists complain about ubiquitious bird-rocks

If you've been to a local art fair or a farmers' market in recent  years, chances are you've seen the bird-rocks for sale. Made of local stone and cast-iron, the birds are made by Osseo-based Francis Metal Works, and are sold at festivals and markets throughout the midwest.

But some of the artists sharing space with the bird-rock purveyors say they don't belong there. Felicia Parsons, a Prior Lake goldsmith who sells her jewelry at local art fairs, says the bird-rocks are hardly the hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind sculptures they are advertised to be. Parsons says the birds are just mass-produced tchotchkes that devalue the work of the real artists at the fairs. As evidence, she points to a shipping manifest that shows more than six tons of metal bird shapes shipped to Francis Metal Works from China.

"This kind of thing hurts the real artists, who are trying to sell their own truly hand-made creations," Parson says. "But it also hurts the consumers, who think they're getting an original handmade work."

Parsons says the company also violates the rules of some of the fairs where it sells, which require artists to be present at the fair with their works.

Chuck Adams, the artist behind Francis Metal Works, says he's the victim of copyright thieves and petty jealousy. He says all his work is produced by hand, and denies violating any rules. But he says copy-cats, some of them impersonating Francis Metal Works, have shown up at other shows.

Adams says in the last year he's had to legally challenge four bird-rock rip-off artists. He says he can't talk about the cases because of gag orders, but federal court records confirm that Francis Metal Works filed suit in January against North Carolina-based Noelle Enterprises for infringing on copyright with bird-rock clones.

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