Search and Photo Session: Sculptures by J. Seward Johnson, Jr

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“Search” in Devonian Harbour Park

Vancouver has two popular sculptures created by J. Seward Johnson, Jr. Search can be found in Devonian Harbour Park, which is located next to Stanley Park. Photo session is a multi-figure sculpture located in Queen Elizabeth Park. All of the statues in the two sculptures are life-sized and have realistic features. This is one reason for their popularity. People like to treat the statues as they would real people in some way.  The surroundings of the sculptures are interesting to explore, which adds to the enjoyment of a visit to see them.

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Flowers and trees in Devonian Harbour Park by the Search sculpture

J. Seward Johnson, Jr is an American sculptor who was born in 1930. He’s known for creating realistic sculptures of ordinary people performing everyday activities. According to the City of Vancouver website, the process of creating the bronze statues is a painstaking one and involves the following steps.

  1. Create a clay model of the figure showing the correct pose.
  2. Work with a live model and sculpt the face.
  3. Create a plaster model of the subject.
  4. Sew clothing onto the plaster model.
  5. Apply resin to the clothing to stiffen it.
  6. Cast the sculpture in wax and refine it.
  7. Make a ceramic mold.
  8. Make a bronze cast from the mold.
  9. Add further details in bronze.
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A plaque on the seat of the bench identifies the sculpture and the sculptor.

Search was placed in Devonian Harbour Park in 1975. The park is located within walking distance of the downtown area of Vancouver. People walking along Georgia Street from downtown Vancouver will eventually reach it. An ocean inlet is located on the other side of the park.

The park is pleasant to explore. It contains flower beds, a pond, two sculptures, and a large area with grass and trees. Joining the walking and cycling path located beside the inlet is very tempting.  The journey to Stanley Park is a short one. Stanley Park is much larger than Devonian Harbour Park and is a major attraction in its own right.

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Where did I put my glasses?

The lady in the Search sculpture is sitting on a bench near the Georgia Street entrance to the park. She’s taking a case for glasses out of her purse. She looks puzzled by the fact that her glasses aren’t in the case or her purse. She has apparently forgotten that she put the glasses on her head as she searches for them. The folds, texture, and accessories on her clothing and purse add to the realism of the statue.

People sit on the bench beside the lady to get their photo taken. They also like to give her a bunch of flowers to hold. The cultivated flowers that are presented to her are sometimes picked from the beds in the park, which people aren’t supposed to do. The tradition of giving her flowers is a long one, however.

It’s enjoyable to see the lady at any time of year, even in winter. Though Vancouver doesn’t get much snow, some falls in most winters. It’s interesting to see the lady bravely searching for her glasses while she’s partially covered with snow.

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Part of the Photo Session sculpture in Queen Elizabeth Park

Photo Session is located on the top of Little Mountain, which is the site of Queen Elizabeth Park. The summit of the mountain is the highest point in the city of Vancouver. The park is enjoyed for its lovely quarry gardens, its arboretum, the Bloedel Floral Conservatory, a restaurant, and other attractions. It’s located a significant distance from the downtown area but can be reached by public transit.

The Photo Session sculpture was given to the city in 1984. It shows two women and a man getting their photo taken. The attractive background of the figures includes the city of Vancouver and the Coast Mountains. The photographer is also part of the sculpture. He’s in the correct position for taking the photograph and is directing the other three “people”, as shown below.

Real people like to join the statues shown above to get their photograph taken by a friend or relative. This is a popular activity. I was lucky to get a photo of the scene with no one else in the picture. People soon came into view after I took the photo.

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The photographer in the Photo Session sculpture

In 2008, the photographer in the sculpture disappeared, along with some metal plaques from Queen Elizabeth Park. There were fears that the sculpture was going to be melted down for its metal content. Two months later, police found the photographer in an unused field in Aldergrove, a community about thirty-three miles away from Vancouver. He was undamaged. The missing plaques were found as well.  The investigation involved police from multiple areas. They have never revealed how they found the statue. The photographer has been returned to his correct location in QE Park and is once more photographing his friends.

Search and Photo Session have been popular for a long time and remain so. They are sculptures that many people can relate to, which is part of their charm. Whenever I’m visiting the area where they are located, I visit them to see how they’re doing. The statues’ hair styles and clothing and the photographer’s camera in Photo Session are not  the most modern varieties, but this doesn’t appear to matter for visitors. The statues are very appealing for many people.