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Snow geese symbolizing strength, discipline memorialize 3 guardsmen who died in '21 helicopter crash

Mary Taylor 6.jpg
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Mary Taylor holds feet she sculpted onto one of the three snow geese she was commissioned to create for a memorial to honor Chief Warrant Officers Christian Koch, Steven Skoda, and Daniel Prial. All three National Guardsmen were killed when their helicopter crashed during a routine training exercise on Jan. 20, 2021 in Mendon.
Mary Taylor 10.jpg
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Mary Taylor welds in her Mendon studio where she has completed one of the three snow geese she was commissioned to sculpt for a memorial to honor Chief Warrant Officers Christian Koch, Steven Skoda, and Daniel Prial who were all killed when their helicopter crashed during a routine training exercise on Jan. 20, 2020 in Mendon.

For the first twenty years of Mary Taylor's love affair with metal, she sculpted nothing but birds.
They ranged in size from a wee hummingbird to a snowy owl, great horned owl, peregrine falcon and a 13-foot California condor.

"It's all the flight and the mystery up there," she said of her aviary fascination. "What are they doing or thinking? Do they know about us or care about us?"
Taylor's parents were undoubtedly an artistic influence, too. They were both ornithologists, and although she said they had trouble tempting her to join them on their bird watching when she was a child, she grew to appreciate the beauty and variety of birds large and small.

Her sculpted steel works of art can be found around the country, from the Canada geese at the former Bausch and Lomb headquarters in downtown Rochester to the condor standing at the entrance to the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, California.

On a recent afternoon at her home studio in Honeoye Falls, Taylor talked about her most recent commission, a memorial to three fallen Army National Guardsmen whose Blackhawk UH-60 medivac helicopter crashed in a Mendon field on Jan. 20, 2021.

Mary Taylor 3.jpg
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Mary Taylor welds in her Mendon studio where she has completed one of the three snow geese.

"I have a propensity for memorials," Taylor explained. "Because I had a brother who died when he was a teenager, and I know what that's like to lose a really close family member."

When the town of Mendon asked her to sculpt a lasting tribute to pilots Steven Skoda, Daniel Prial and Christian Koch, Taylor began researching the symbolism of various bird species.

When she learned how some Native American and Celtic traditions describe snow geese - strong, family oriented, disciplined, tenacious - she knew she'd found what she was looking for.

"I was just blown away because that's exactly like the medivac people," she said.

The memorial will feature three life-sized snow geese in flight.

"They'll be flying close to each other, but different heights," Taylor said. "They'll be flying up on an incline toward the sky."

Mary Taylor 7.jpg
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Mary Taylor lays metal feathers she created on the wing of one the three snow geese.

Given the intricate detail of the sculpture, she expects it will take several months to sculpt each goose. First, she built the frames or skeletal foundations. Each of the large wings will contain hundreds of individual steel feathers sculpted with Taylor's welding torch. She'll create the heads and faces of the geese before the torch is put down and she paints the birds. They are mostly white with black wingtips.

Once it's completed and installed, the public will likely be able to visit the memorial sometime next year at Semmel Road Park in the town of Mendon.

"I hope they'll love it," Taylor said. "I hope they'll feel free and loving."

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.