With public art, sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. A glance at West Vancouver’s newest installation might even leave you stumped.
Before you make like Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker on the lawn of the district’s community centre, there’s a publicly available explanation of the meaning behind the piece.
Small World is comprised of two monolithic Western red cedar creatures born from urban salvage slated for redevelopment in Deep Cove and Horseshoe Bay, according to a statement.
“The two sculptures are nicknamed Mama and Baby, as they mirror the dynamic of parents bringing their children to the community centre, keeping an eye as they socialize,” the explanation reads. “Their uncanny silhouettes stand tall, creating a focal point for community interaction both interpersonally and with nature.”
The district said the sculptures are intended to enliven children’s imaginations and encourage unstructured play. For adults, they are a talking point to connect and rediscover child-like curiosity.
“Their peculiar appearance is a reminder of the wonder of nature and the value of acceptance for the unfamiliar.”
After putting out a national call for submissions, local artist Brent Comber said he was approached by the art committee after they weren’t able to find a fitting piece of artwork for the space.
They met with him to see if he had anything he could contribute to the process, and became intrigued when they saw two large tree stump pieces sitting at his studio.
“I thought of them as sort of alien-esque forms, which may look a little peculiar, and maybe even scary for a young child, but soon after playing around them, and maybe even climbing on the smaller one, and feeling the warmth of the wood … that they would be embraced as part of their play,” Comber said, whose two kids grew up half-a-block away from the community centre. At the time, their main source of play was climbing on trees, a practice he said is largely missing in West Van today.
“These sculptures aren't like a swing or a slide or something that kids generally know what to do with. They're kind of weird and wonderful,” he added. “The art committee, by and large, liked that idea.”
Comber has made connections with certain arborists and people in the community that he’s interested in getting urban salvage, so he’s collected a number of these tree “creatures” from various development projects on the North Shore. In return, the owner or builder saves on the cost of having the trunk taken away, and Comber will often gift them a piece of furniture or something down the road.
The community centre art project was funded by Enhance West Van through a donation from the Lalji family, whose Larco Group owns Park Royal and manages several major hotels in Vancouver, Whistler and Toronto.
The district said one of the initiatives recommended by the project was to commission a piece of public art reflecting the essence of the community: nature, outdoors, family and connection.
It was unveiled at the end of June, and got a final wood stain in mid-August.
This article has been updated with comment from artist Brent Comber.