The two-metre sphere is made of hand-crafted blue glass tiles, tiles that catch the light. Get up close, and you’ll see the glass panels feature historic images of Edmonton and Alberta taken from the heritage photographs of the Provincial Archives. It’s the work of southern Alberta glass artists Julia Reimer and Tyler Rock.
A six-metre monument to the explorer David Thompson and his Métis wife and fellow explorer, Charlotte Small, will be crafted out of three huge aluminum canoes, etched with writings from Thompson’s own diaries, and topped with a working weather vane in the shape of Thompson looking through his sextant. At night, the canoes will be lit from within, creating a show of northern constellations. It’s the vision of Red Deer sculptors Dawn Detarando and Brian McArthur, best-known in Edmonton for their “giant legs” outside Southgate Mall.
A sleek elegant stone pillar, crafted in multicoloured layers from 13 different kinds of rock, quarried in Canada’s 13 different provinces and territories, comes from the imagination of Edmonton artist Sandra Bromley, the co-creator of the world-famous Gun Sculpture and the massive Big Rock sculpture in Rice-Howard Way.
A 2.7-metre curved sculpture of solid white and grey Vancouver Island marble, carved in the interlocking shapes of a buffalo, the remover of obstacles; a bear, the symbol of healing; and an eagle, a symbol of courage, love and soaring height, is the creation of Leo Arcand, a sculptor from the Alexander First Nation, who made international headlines last year when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave one of his pieces to then U.S. president Barack Obama.
A giant modernist mobile, topped with three colourful twirling round shapes representing the past, the present and the future, a salute to the denim-clad working people who built this place, is a statement from Ken Macklin, who’s been crafting his signature metal works from his studio near Onoway for decades.
Five completely different statues in five different mediums — all soon to take their places along Capital Boulevard, the five-block stretch of 108 Street that connects the legislature precinct to the MacEwan University campus.
Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of public dollars to gussy up the street, with brickwork, planters and glass finials on the lamp-posts. Still, it hasn’t been easy to turn the street, north and south of Jasper Avenue, into a welcoming promenade.
But this summer, Capital Boulevard will become a sculpture walk, with five art installations, designed to mark Canada’s sesquicentennial — one per block.
“These are five different ways of telling the Canada 150 story,” says Linda Wedman, executive director of The Places, Edmonton’s public art and design program, which commissioned the works.
“We’re on a very, very fast track. We plan to have at least one work to unveil on July 1. After that, we’ll continue to unveil and party as we work our way up and down the site until September.”
It’s a $1.2-million project, funded with $300,000 from the federal Canada 150 fund, $300,000 from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, $300,000 from the City of Edmonton and $120,000 from the Edmonton Downtown Business Association.
Each artist was given a budget of $80,000. The rest of the funds is for the infrastructure, lighting and installation of the art pieces.
“They told us the plan was for July 1, and everyone is, ‘Oh God, can I do this?’ ” laughs Macklin.
Says Bromley: “It’s hard to get rock out of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories this time of year. I’m learning lots, working with geologists and prospectors.”
“It’s a super-tight turn-around,” says Reimer. “But I can’t wait to see what the other artists are doing. I think it’s going to be amazing.”
The Places invited 48 Alberta artists to apply for this competition. A jury narrowed a field of 15 finalists down to the five winners.
“I felt honoured,” says Arcand. “I know, for native people, there is a lot of sensitivity around celebrating this 150th year. But I see this as growth, as moving forward. I love to share my knowledge, not just with my own people, but with others.”
Of course, public art inevitably attracts controversy. Some people will love these landmark sculptures. Others will loathe them, not just for their esthetics, but for the public expenditure they represent. And of course, statues alone can’t animate 108 Street. What it really needs are more parties, more programming, more people. Cafes and food trucks and buskers would bring more life to the street than steel and glass and stone.
But if the whimsy, the beauty and the challenge of these artworks help attract the people — and the food trucks? Then that might be a pretty grand 150th birthday present for all of us.