Community Papers

Tree sculpture now has permanent roots in North Van park

Standing tall - Mirare, a once-controversial 17-foot public art piece now stands proudly in Princess Park. - Justin Beddall
Standing tall - Mirare, a once-controversial 17-foot public art piece now stands proudly in Princess Park.
— image credit: Justin Beddall

Remember a few years back when plans for a public art installation in Deep Cove Park went up in smoke?

The 17-foot tree-like stainless steel sculpture titled “Mirare” was an homage to “the unique relationship that Deep Cove (and District) residents enjoy with their parks and natural environment,” according to the art piece’s fact sheet.

But many Deep Covers didn’t see it that way. Some detractors derisively dubbed it the “bong” —  intimating that it resembled a certain piece of pot-smoking paraphernalia. A petition was signed by 200 residents and a letter delivered to district hall.

“The inappropriate location, the scale and height of the project, and its controversial conceptual nature proposed for the site is deeply objectionable to us,” it read in part.

Residents were also fearful of the potential light pollution even though the spec sheet indicated: “An internal LED will provide a soft glow (on a dimmer switch) and will be set on a timer that can be adjusted to turn on and off at specifically designated times of the day).”

The Arts Office wasn’t prepared for such a negative response to the proposed public art installation. Something like this had never happened before.

It had seemed like the perfect fit. The trunk portion of the piece had been cast from a 100-year-old hemlock from the Cove area and as the artists noted, it works on dual levels: “depicting the physical form of an actual tree, while at the same time providing a more abstract reflection on the life-cycle of the rainforest in which we live.”

And this park art wasn’t just arbitrarily selected for the community of Deep Cove.

It was chosen by a panel of five — which included a Deep Cove resident, local artist, curator and member of the district’s public art advisory committee, and member of the park department — from a total of 37 art submissions made for the particular site.

It was to be part of the Necklace Project, a public art collaboration between 10 Metro municipalities that will be threaded together like “individual jewels on a necklace.” The budget for Mirare was $76,000.

But since public art is supposed to unite and reflect a community rather than divide it, after a well-attended public meeting to further discuss the controversial piece, the Arts Office decided to find a new home for Mirare, which in Latin means “to look at, to wonder at.”

That search is over. In case you missed it (I did) in late September, Mayor Richard Walton stood with Mirare’s creators, Cheryl Hamilton and Michael Vandermeer at a tree-lined meadow in Princess Park for the grand unveiling of the sleek silver sculpture.

And as evidenced by my short visit there last week, the piece already has plenty of admirers.

Out walking his yellow lab, Travis Lawrenuk, a young arborist-in-training, said this:  “It’s interesting. You don’t see art pieces in North Vancouver parks too often. It stands out and it’s unique.”

Pat Tupper, also out walking his dog, relishes having this piece of art in the park.

“I think it’s wonderful. I notice it every time I come through here and [I’m] very happy to see it. Public art I love.”

He says the piece, which has a shiny surface that reflects its surroundings, also changes with the seasons, like after a snowfall for instance.

(It doesn’t glow as originally planned because at the new location there isn’t any evening pedestrian traffic and the cost to power it was too high.)

Along with bringing an unexpected piece of art to Princess Park, the controversy initially created by Mirare in Deep Cove has had some other unintended and equally positive consequences.

“Art has never been talked about so much — which is good. And it’s subjective. Everyone sees something different,” says Ian Forsyth, director of the Arts Office.

When told about the piece’s somewhat controversial past and the dubious nickname once bestowed upon it, Lawrenuk seems surprised. He noticed the bark-like texture of the piece right away.

“It’s pretty obviously a tree I think,” he says.

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