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Eco-Sculptures in Burnaby: 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 2016, 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 other sculptures weren't doing as well, however. Some had visible holes in the fabric where plants were dying or had died.

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 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 2016, 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. In 2017, the salmon was 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.

Horses Sculptures and a Carousel

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 a linear park 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.

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


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 15, 2020:

Hi, Audrey. I appreciate your comment. I see the sculptures ever year, and I never get bored with them!

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on April 15, 2020:

These Eco Sculptures are fascinating! I could linger for hours admiring every detail of this most beautiful art form. Thank you kindly for sharing this excursion. I love it!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 11, 2019:

Hi, Mary. They are worth seeing. I always look forward to their appearance and am sad to see them disappear.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 11, 2019:

These are works of art. I wish to visit this place one day.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 20, 2016:

Thank you very much for the comment and for sharing the information, Rolly. I'll look for the peacock next time I'm in Alberta. I would definitely like to look at a 12 foot eco-sculpture!

Rolly A Chabot from Alberta Canada on November 20, 2016:

Hi AliciaC... it has always been a favourite place to stop during the summer months to marvel at what Burnaby has created. By far the leaders in Canada at this form of living art. We have very few in Alberta, one I have found is rather interesting is at the entrance to Bowden Prison on the main highway between Calgary and Edmonton, just south of Red Deer. It is off the beaten path but well worth the stop. The creation is built by prisoners and it is impressive,a 12 foot Peacock in all its finery... very well written hub my friend...

Hugs from Alberta

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2016:

Thank you for the visit and comment, Devika.

DDE on September 20, 2016:

A fascinating topic and you have thoroughly researched with patience.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 12, 2016:

Thanks for the kind comment, Larry. Good luck with the professor thing! I hope you enjoy it, despite the marking involved.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on September 12, 2016:

Such an interesting art movement. You always find the most interesting things to write about.

Sorry for long time no see. Been doing the professor thing. Between you and me, I far prefer reading your articles to comp students, lol.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 09, 2016:

Thank you for the comment, ChitrangadaSharan. The sculptures are time consuming to create, but like you, I think the results are lovely! I hope the sculptures stay around until well into the fall.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 09, 2016:

These Eco sculptures look so beautiful and so creative!

Lot of hard work must have gone in creating them. I remember seeing similar structures in botanical gardens in some Indian states.

Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures and details!

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on September 06, 2016:

Oh, that's interesting. It must make so much more work to do it in cooler climates. Thank you for replying and telling me about it.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 04, 2016:

Hi, Deb. Thanks for the comment and for sharing the information. It's good that the whooping crane situation has improved, although it's still worrying. I hope the population continues to increase.

Deb Hirt on September 04, 2016:

These eco-sculptures are a fabulous idea and it it nice to see the Sandhill Crane.

Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta is the breeding ground for the endangered Whooping Crane, who now has a population of over 60. That beautiful, tall bird came back from the brink of extinction, but took almost 100 years to be where it is today. If it was not for Canada's boreal forest, we would not have been so lucky.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 27, 2016:

Thanks for the visit and the comment, Mel. It's been interesting to see where the sculptures exist by reading the comments on this article. I hope the idea for creating the art spreads. The more artists that are involved, the higher the potential for great designs!

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 27, 2016:

I would love to see these stunning sculptures. I am going to have to investigate to see if this trend is catching on here in San Diego. Great hub!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 27, 2016:

Hi, Peggy. I agree - the old carousels are often lovely works of art! Thank you for the comment. I appreciate the share, too.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 27, 2016:

Hi, Bill. Yes, the scenery where the sculptures are placed is often lovely, but it looks even nicer with the added art. I hope you have a great weekend, too.

Peggy Woods on August 27, 2016:

Thanks for showing us these beautiful eco-sculptures in your area. They do remind me of the many topiaries I have seen in places. Since they are planted with annuals those eco-sculptures would not be as long lasting as some of the topiaries that are planted with perennial vines and such. All need tending however to keep in good shape. I am happy to hear that the people got to keep their carousel. Those old ones are true works of art! I really enjoyed this! Sharing!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on August 27, 2016:

Hi Linda. What a beautiful addition to an already scenic area. I absolutely love the eco-sculptures. Wish we had something similar here. Great job, have a wonderful weekend.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 26, 2016:

Hi, Faith. I think it's great that the public helps to create the sculptures, too. The art can be a lovely addition to a city environment. Thanks for the visit.

Faith Reaper on August 26, 2016:

Oh, I love these beautiful eco-sculptures because they remind me of topiaries, which I have always loved. I think it is important that they invite the public to help out too.

I think these art forms are especially perfect to add interest outdoors in cities. The sky's the limit it seems when creating these lovely sculptures.

Thank you for sharing of these lovely art forms.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 25, 2016:

Thank you, Dianna. I appreciate your comment and the information about your neighbourhood. I think that art can add both beauty and interest to an area. It's a great asset.

teaches12345 on August 25, 2016:

What a charming article! I love art, especially when used to beautify a city. I recognize the sandhill cranes as true art form -- we have a few in our neighborhood.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 23, 2016:

Hi, Audrey! Yes, it must be fun to create the creatures, though I think it must be a lot of work, too.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 23, 2016:

Hi, Blossom. On the southwest coast of British Columbia we don't get a very cold winter, though the rest of the country does. I know that the eco-sculptures are put into storage over the winter, but I don't know if all of them have their covering completely removed. Thank for commenting. It's interesting to hear about the sculptures in other parts of the world.

Audrey Howitt from California on August 23, 2016:

These are wonderful! What fun this must be to cultivate these creatures!

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on August 23, 2016:

Interest in eco-sculptures seems to growing around the world and they certainly add to our enjoyment of the outdoors and the world around us. I really enjoyed this article and the images, too. I first saw them in Taiwan some years ago. In warm countries they can be exhibited year-round, but I'm wondering what happens to them in the cold Canadian winters.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 23, 2016:

Thanks for the informative comment, vespawoolf. It's very interesting to hear that the sculptures are popular in Peru!

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on August 23, 2016:

Believe it or not, I've seen a lot of ecosculptures in Peru. I'd always wondered how they were made so I appreciate your explanation. You have some beautiful photos of ecosculptures and I thought the story about the carousel was interesting. Thank you for sharing.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 23, 2016:

Hi, Blond Logic. I agree - it is wonderful that the city places the art outside where everyone can see it for free. I'm glad that I have access to it.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on August 23, 2016:

These are beautiful. I love the fact that art is outside where everyone can enjoy it and not only stuck in a museum.

These remind me of the floats in parades, although these last much longer. What a joy it must be to know your city is providing these fabulous creations.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 23, 2016:

I wish the idea of creating the sculptures would spread, too, Bill. It would be interesting to see what artists in different places produce.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 23, 2016:

Hi, Jodah. Thank you very much for the comments. I always enjoy seeing the eco-sculptures, especially the ones that are covered by lots of plants.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 23, 2016:

Hi, Flourish. I live near some great botanical gardens, too. I see topiary there, but I've never seen eco-sculpture. Thanks for the visit.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 23, 2016:

These are amazing eco-sculptures. Great hub, Linda.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 23, 2016:

I love public artwork like this. I wish more cities would spend funds for such beauty. I would gladly have my taxes increased for such a movement.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 23, 2016:

The eco-sculptures are amazing. Thank you for sharing the information and photos.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 23, 2016:

Absolutely stunning! I love these ecosculptures and sure wish they weren't so rare. I'm not sure which is my favorite. I live near some nice Botanical Gardens that would surely be complemented with this type of artwork. I've seen just about everything else there but not this.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 22, 2016:

I think they're beautiful too, Jackie. Your comment about seeing the sculptures where you live is interesting. Thanks for the share!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 22, 2016:

These are so beautiful, what a talent. I am starting to see these locally now and then so I think their popularity is growing.


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 22, 2016:

Hi, peachpurple. Thank you very much for the comment. I appreciate the share, too! Perhaps the idea of creating eco-sculptures will spread to your country one day.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on August 22, 2016:

oh those are so beautiful tree scupltures!

Too bad I don't find these creation in our country, thanks for the beautiful pictures

Share your hub at my Facebook, I am sure my friends would love them

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