Eco-Sculptures in Burnaby: Living Works of Art

Every summer for many years, eco-sculptures have appeared in the city of Burnaby. I always enjoy seeing them because they’re related to three of my favourite topics: art, animals, and plants. Most of the sculptures represent animals found in British Columbia. They consist of a metal mesh model stuffed with soil and covered with porous landscape fabric and plants. The living plants represent the hair, feathers, scales, or skin of the animals. The sculptures are an attractive addition to the city.

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Sandhill crane eco-sculptures at Burnaby Mountain Park

The same animal eco-sculptures appear every year in the city, but since they’re covered with a different arrangement of plants they don’t look identical to their previous incarnation. Sometimes a new animal appears, which is always an enjoyable surprise. The sculptures are placed in parks and similar attractions where they can be easily observed by many people. It’s a little sad when they’re removed in the fall.

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One of the three bears

It’s noticeable and perhaps understandable with respect to the budget that the plant layer is denser and better maintained on the sculptures in tourist areas. In areas less likely to be seen by tourists, fewer plants are used, more landscape fabric can be seen, and plants are generally not replaced if they die. The sculptures are still interesting to see, though, due to the underlying model.

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An interesting group of frogs

The sandhill cranes are often located in Burnaby Mountain Park, which is popular for its lovely views. The carousel horses shown below are often located in Deer Lake Park near or on the grounds of the popular Burnaby Village Museum. Two owls are also placed near City Hall in some years. These sculptures are covered by a rich layer of plants and look lovely all through the season.

The bears have been located at the Burnaby Mountain Golf Course for the past few years. They look nice, but not quite as good as the sculptures mentioned above. Tourists aren’t likely to visit the golf course unless they love the game so much that they must play it even when they’re on holiday. The frogs are often located in an area devoted to community sports and have a relatively sparse coat of plants. Their postures are amusing to see, though.

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A red frog

Parsley and Sage are eco-sculptures of carousel horses. The city describes them as their “signature” pieces and keeps them in good condition. They were inspired by the carousel at the nearby Burnaby Village Museum. The museum is a re-creation of a 1920s village that might once have existed in the area.

One of the museum’s most popular attractions is the C.W. Parker Carousel, which was created in 1912. When the vintage carousel arrived at the museum, it was in bad shape. A group of enthusiasts lovingly refurbished the carousel and its horses, creating the colourful and attractive version that exists today.

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Sage

The first step in making an eco-sculpture is to design the sculpture and make a drawing of what the final version should look like. The sculptor then creates a small wire model of the sculpture known as a maquette. Multiple maquettes are often produced. They enable the artist to check the three-dimensional appearance and properties of the sculpture and allow others involved in the project to offer their opinions.

Once everyone involved is happy with a maquette, the full size metal frame sculpture is  created. Continuous metal is used for items such as eyes, hooves, and beaks. The process of creating the metal sculpture can take a long time. The City of Burnaby website said that it took six weeks to create the frame for Parsley.

An example of the metal sculpture can be seen in the baby sandhill crane in the first photo. The bigger sculptures may have a metal core inside the frame, which reduces the amount of soil that’s needed. The shape, size, and weight of this core is another factor needing careful consideration as an animal is designed.

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Parsley

The sculptor must take into account not only the final appearance of an animal but also the ability of the sculpture to withstand rain, wind, and other weather conditions. The soil inside it may get wet and very heavy, which must be kept in mind for safety reasons. There’s a lot for the artist to think about, but the result can be very worth while.

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This looks like a wise owl.

Horticulturists are involved in the next stage of creating the eco-sculpture. They have to make a decision about the types of plants to use and about how the plants should be arranged on the sculpture. The horticulturists print out a blueprint (also called a planting pattern) of their design. Like the sculptor, they are artists.

The planting pattern is marked on the sculpture. A dibble stick is used to poke holes through the landscape fabric and into the soil beneath. The final step is to place plants in the holes. The sculpture is then left for a while for the plants to grow before it’s placed in its new home. Maintenance of the living covering of the sculptures is needed during the season.

Based on a formula of 400 plants per square metre, Parsley required 4,000 plugs while each salmon eco-sculpture needed twice that many. (City of Burnaby website)

Creating the eco-sculptures for a season is a labour-intensive process. The city invites the public to help cover some of the sculptures with plants. People seem eager to help create holes in the landscape fabric and put plants in the right locations, including children. It’s a great opportunity to become involved in the community.

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Tancho cranes

Some of the sculptures change their location from one year to the next. The handsome tancho cranes shown above used to have the place of honour at Burnaby Mountain Park. A few years ago, they were moved to another location and replaced by the sandhill cranes shown at the top of this page.

Exploring the locations and appearances of the sculptures is an enjoyable summer activity. I’m looking forward to seeing the eco-sculptures this year. Some will likely be old friends, but there may be some surprises as well.

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