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Burnaby Eco-Sculptures: Animals Made From Metal and Plants

Linda Crampton enjoys taking photographs and using digital editing software. She also enjoys visiting art galleries and viewing sculptures.

Crane eco-sculptures in Burnaby Mountain Park

Crane eco-sculptures in Burnaby Mountain Park

What Is an Eco-Sculpture?

One of the summer traditions in the city of Burnaby in British Columbia is the appearance of the eco-sculptures. The sculptures depict wildlife found in the province as well as animals from other parts of the world. They are made from metal and covered by living plants that represent hair, fur, feathers, and scales. The animals are placed in public areas such as parks, where they are admired by both the community and by visitors. I always feel a little sad when they are removed in September or October.

Although in Burnaby the term "eco-sculpture" has a specific meaning, elsewhere there seems to be no set definition for the term. Eco-sculptures or eco-friendly sculptures have some connection to protecting the environment. They are often made from natural, recycled, or found materials. The Burnaby sculptures may not be completely "eco" in their composition. They probably stimulate at least some people to think about the animals that share the world with us, however. All of the photos of the sculptures in this article were taken by me during my walks in different years.

The theme of the eco-sculpture display shown below was "Be a Bee-liever". The goal was to promote the importance of bees and other pollinators in our environment. An eco-sculpture display showing bears, bees, flowers, and honey was created on a trailer so that it could be taken to different events.

Composition of the Sculptures

The first eco-sculptures in Burnaby appeared in 2005. Their population is growing in both number and popularity. The basic building blocks of a sculpture are a mesh-like metal frame that holds compacted soil, landscape fabric on top of the frame, and living plants pushed through the fabric into the soil. Continuous metal is used for parts such as bird beaks and animal feet. The components of a sculpture are shown in the video below.

Creating the Animals

The first step in the creation of an eco-sculpture is a drawing by the sculptor. The next stage is the creation of a small model of the sculpture, or a maquette. More than one maquette may be needed. The sculptor needs to plan not only the appearance of the animal but also its strength, stability, and durability. The final construction needs to handle the often wet and heavy soil inside it.

Once the full-size animal is created, it's covered with a landscape fabric. Soil is then packed into the sculpture. The positions for the plants are marked on the fabric after the animal is stuffed with soil. The final steps are to make holes in the fabric with a dibble and a mallet and then to place plant plugs in the holes. The plants are given time to grow before the sculpture goes on display.

The time taken to create an Eco-sculpture depends on the sculpture’s size and design. In general, two weeks are needed to stuff a sculpture with soil and one week to plant the design.

— City of Burnaby

The Role of the Horticulturist

A horticulturist is involved in the last stages of making a sculpture. The final appearance of an animal depends on a number of factors, including plant type, health, and vigour, the distance between the plants, and their arrangement on the animal's surface. The plants that are used are generally annuals. A variety of Alternanthera is a popular choice.

The public plays a role in the final stage of making some of the eco-sculptures. Inserting the numerous plant plugs into the soil is time consuming, especially for the larger animals. Every year, the public is invited to help. There always seems to be a good response to the invitation.

If you visit Burnaby to look at the eco-sculptures, they may not look exactly as they do in my photos. The plants used to create the surface vary in identity or arrangement from year to year. Another point to consider is that the city sometimes replaces one sculpture with another one in a particular area.

Plant Care and Sculpture Appearance

Since the surface of an eco-sculpture is living, it needs to be inspected and maintained, like a garden. In a recent year, the crane sculptures at Burnaby Mountain Park (a highly photographed area), the horses at the Deer Lake complex, and the owls near City Hall were very visible to the public and were well maintained. When I took their photos in the second half of August, their plant coats were luxuriant. The landscaping fabric could only be seen at the seams or in places where it was deliberately exposed as part of the design. Some of the sculptures in other areas weren't doing as well, however. Some had patches on their surface where plants were dying or had died.

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It's noticeable that sculptures placed in locations where tourists are unlikely to visit have a lower density of plant plugs. This is perhaps understandable due to financial constraints. The potential of the art form can be best appreciated when a model is covered with a dense growth of plants, though. I enjoy looking at all the sculptures, but it's sometimes disappointing to see exposed patches of landscape fabric.

Burnaby Mountain to Deer Lake Park

In the section below I discuss the eco-sculptures in two places in North Burnaby—Burnaby Mountain and Deer Lake Park—and in the area around and between them. I also briefly describe the location of the sculptured animals.

Cranes and Kamui Mintara in Burnaby Mountain Park

Burnaby Mountain Park is an attractive place that offers a beautiful view of Burrard Inlet. It's located next to the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area, which contains walking trails that travel through a forested region. My favourite eco-sculptures out of all the ones that I've seen so far have been the cranes in the park. For many years, two tall tancho cranes held the place of honour on the mountain. They were created to celebrate Japan's efforts to save the bird from extinction. A different pair of cranes now occupy Burnaby Mountain, however. These birds represent the sandhill cranes that can be seen in British Columbia.

The park contains a second sculpture. This could also be classified as an eco-sculpture according to one definition of the term because it's made of a natural material. The construction is known as Playground of the Gods, or Kamui Mintara. It consists of a series of wooden totem poles that tell the story of how the gods descended to Earth to create the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan. The bear, the owl, and the orca are involved in the story and are shown in the sculpture. The poles were carved by sculptors from Kushiro, Burnaby's sister city.

Tancho cranes in Burnaby Mountain Park

Tancho cranes in Burnaby Mountain Park

Bears, a Salmon, and Frogs

In every year since 2016, three bear sculptures have been located in the golf course near the base of Burnaby Mountain. The sculptures are appropriate because black bears have been seen on Burnaby Mountain. The public has access to the golf course, although people are only allowed on the grass if they are playing golf. Public benches are located next to the bear display, so it's easy to observe the sculptures. In the winter, wire-frame sculptures of birds are located in the area.

The grounds of the golf course have some lovely floral displays as well as a small lake that birds visit. The lake is known as Squint Lake. In the early 1900s before the golf course existed, the local residents joked that the lake was so small that people had to squint to see it. This gave the lake its name. The area is really a large pond. It’s a popular habitat for ducks. Canada geese often visit the lake (and the grass of the golf course), and crows can always be seen nearby.

In the recent past, the salmon sculpture was located at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex. This area is a collection of facilities aimed at amateur sports groups and the general public. The sports complex is located next to Burnaby Lake Regional Park, a wonderful place for nature lovers. The salmon was eventually replaced by a group of ten frogs—five green and five red. They had interesting poses that definitely attracted attention. Some seemed to be waving at the traffic driving by. The frogs have made other appearances at the complex in recent years, and so has one of the horse sculptures described below.

Sage and Parsley are sculptures that mimic horses on the carousel at the Burnaby Village Museum. The horse sculptures are often located in Deer Lake Park by the highway. The park contains nature trails and quiet, uninhabited areas. In one section there are buildings, however. These buildings include the museum and heritage homes, some of which are used for different purposes from their original one. Burnaby City Hall is located next to this section of the park.

The carousel was built in 1912 by the C.W. Parker company. By 1989, it had travelled from place to place in North America and had become dilapidated. The PNE (Pacific National Exhibition), a Vancouver organization, owned the carousel at that time. They announced that they were going to auction off the horses one by one. This was very upsetting for some carousel fans.

A group of people banded together to raise money for the purchase of the carousel. The Burnaby Village Museum agreed to build a building to protect it. After many hours of painstaking restoration done by some very dedicated volunteers, the carousel was ready to use. It's a popular ride for children today.

Cows at Burnaby Village Museum

Burnaby Village Museum is a re-creation of a typical small town or village that existed in the area in the 1920s. The buildings are open to the public and are interesting to explore. Some equipment in the buildings is in working order. The printing press functions and is run by volunteers, for example. The same is true for the blacksmith's equipment.

A cultivated meadow is located next to the carousel building. It's a nice place for children to run. A few years ago, it was also the home of the cow and calf eco-sculptures. The cow was ready for milking, and the calf was lying on the grass near her. The photos below show their appearance at the end of the season. Both had seen better days with respect to their plant covering, but they were still attractive. I liked their yellow and green colouration and the spots on the calf. In the following year, the cows were moved away from the museum, but a spider and other sculptures could be seen nearby.

Birds in a Linear Park

Eco-sculptures are also displayed in Willingdon Linear Park, which is located near my home. The park contains a wide paved area for pedestrians and bicycles that travels by a main road. The path is bordered on either side by grass, trees (in some sections), benches, and attractions. The attractions include permanent sculptures, a fountain, coloured and patterned fences and containers, and at some times of the year, the eco-sculptures.

I think calling the path and its surroundings a “park” doesn’t really make sense, but it’s definitely a nicer place to walk than a sidewalk. If I need to walk along the route, I make sure that I travel along the path. I took the photos below in September at the end of a hot and dry summer. The sculptures were in good condition, but the grass wasn’t.

The sequence below shows photos from the linear park as well as three special sculptures created for the annual fair at the PNE. The fair is held in Vancouver just beyond the road that separates Burnaby from Vancouver, but three colourful sculptures were created by Burnaby artisans for the event.

A Growing and Changing Collection

Although I've heard of eco-sculptures located in other places in British Columbia, by far the greatest concentration is in Burnaby. The city seems to have been the pioneer for eco-sculptures (according to its definition of the term), at least in this part of the world. There are other animals in Burnaby's collection in addition to the ones that I've described. New animals sometimes appear.

It's always interesting to see what sculptures are on display each year. It's also interesting to discover how the appearances of the animals changes. The different colours and types of plants that the horticulturists use and the different designs that they create with the plants remind me of an artist at work. A sculpture from this year may have the same shape next year, but it won't look the same if its plant covering has changed. Eco-sculpture in Burnaby is an interesting combination of art forms.

Questions & Answers

Question: I volunteer in a park. I would like to have beautiful sculptures in this park. How do I get started?

Answer: I suggest that you search for and contact sculptors in your area to see if they are willing to create public art. You may find artists in an educational facility or in an arts organization where you live. You could also advertise for sculptors or ask your acquaintances if they know of any artists who could create sculptures.

© 2016 Linda Crampton

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