“Girl in a Wetsuit” is an iconic sculpture in Stanley Park, Vancouver. The girl is located on top of a large rock near the seawall. The rock may or may not be partially covered by the tide, depending on the current conditions, but the girl is always visible. She’s meant to be seen by people travelling along the path on top of the seawall and is a popular sight. She’s sometimes referred to as the “Little Mermaid” after the famous Copenhagen sculpture.
Elek Imredy and his Girl in a Wetsuit Sculpture
The sculpture was placed on the rock in 1972 and was created by Elek Imredy. It’s located on the north shore of Stanley Park next to Burrard Inlet and is best reached from a route or path near the waterfront. Imredy (1912-1994) was Canadian and lived in Vancouver but was originally from Hungary. He is known for the creation of other statues as well as “Girl in a Wetsuit”.
The statue was based on the pose of a model named Debra Harrington, who was one of Imredy’s friends. It’s made of bronze and depicts a woman sitting on the rock. She’s wearing a wetsuit and has a mask on her forehead and flippers on her feet. She seems to be thinking about something as she looks into the distance.
There’s often more to see than just the girl. Birds such as gulls and cormorants perch on her head and bull kelp can sometimes be seen bobbing on the surface of the water around her, as seen in my photo above. The backdrop of activity in Burrard Inlet is often interesting as well as the condition of the water and the sky.
Rumour and Controversy
The sculpture is much-loved but is also somewhat controversial. A rumour says that it’s a loose copy of the “Little Mermaid” sculpture in Denmark. Imredy knew of the rumour and denied it. He said that he wanted to create a sculpture of a life-sized scuba diver for the rock, since the sport was becoming popular in Vancouver at the time, and that he had no intention of copying the Copenhagen sculpture.
The Little Mermaid Statue in Copenhagen
“The Little Mermaid” also depicts a girl sitting on the rock, surrounded by the ocean, and looking into the distance. Her expression looks more sad than pensive, however, as befits the character that she represents. In this case the girl is a mermaid who is wearing no clothes, as might be expected for the mythical creature. The statue was unveiled in 1913 and is located by the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen.
The mermaid was created by Edvard Eriksen (1876-1959) and is made of bronze. She has an interesting history. She is based on the little mermaid in the fairy tale written by Hans Christian Anderson. Two women posed for the sculpture. One was a Danish ballet dancer named Ellen Price, who posed for the head and face. The dancer refused to pose in the nude, however, so Eriksen’s wife Eline was the model for rest of the body.
Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid
Hans Christian Anderson published his story in 1836. It a sad, dark, and somewhat disturbing tale about a mermaid who wants to become a human. She yearns to obtain an immortal soul after she falls in love with a human prince. She experiences physical pain and psychological heartbreak in the effort to reach her goal.
In the original ending of the story, the mermaid fails to achieve her goal and disintegrates into sea foam. In a revised ending created later by the author, she is told that if she does good deeds for humans for three hundred years she will gain an immortal soul. The story can be read for free at the Project Gutenberg website, which is a great resource for public domain books and stories.
The Vancouver Sculpture
The Vancouver sculpture is linked to none of the pathos of the Danish one, so from that point of view it could be seen as unrelated. On the other hand, it does depict a female on an ocean rock close to shore who is looking into the distance and the girl does have flippers that are reminiscent of a mermaid’s tail.
Both sculptures are interesting. The only one that I can visit in person is the Vancouver one, and I’m happy to do so. I always stop for a little while to look at the girl in the wetsuit before I continue my walk along the seawall.