The phoenix was artist Ted Speirs's symbol of choice.
It was a form that emerged periodically from the driftwood and fallen tree branches he carved into pieces of art. He called his work space The Phoenix Studio. And it was also the shape his final red-cedar sculpture was taking, before he died Jan. 11.
"He felt that the driftwood was kind of cast off and he gave it new life by sculpting it," said his partner, Linda Woodbury. "It was like the legend of the phoenix rising up from the ashes."
A Ted Speirs Tribute exhibition will be held on what would have been the artist's 77th birthday, Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at The Sculpture Studio in Vic West.
The show will feature the untitled red-cedar piece, along with other samples and photos of his work, many on loan from local collectors for the show.
Speirs was born in Burnaby on May 6, 1935. He worked for B.C. Tel most of his life and moved to the Cowichan Valley to work as a lineman in 1981. It was around that time that he became interested in sculpting, said Woodbury, who met Speirs in 1998 at Xchanges Gallery in Victoria.
Speirs enjoyed walking along beaches and picking up pieces of driftwood. He was particularly inspired by First Nations art, she said.
"I guess he was just attracted by the spirit of it," Woodbury said.
Speirs found a mentor in Simon Charlie, a Duncan elder.
"He sat and watched him work for a long time, and then finally, Simon gave him a knife and a piece of wood and said, 'Do something,' " said Woodbury.
"And Ted, it took him quite a while to figure it out, but then he kind of developed his own style with driftwood, following the curves, and got very adept at it."
Spirituality, mythology and symbolism were common elements of his art work, which had titles like Orca Spirit, Golden Eagle, Inner Echo and Joy of Life.
Over time, Speirs participated in several local fine arts shows, including the Sidney Fine Arts Show and the Sooke Fine Arts Show. One of his pieces received an honourable mention last year at the Look Show, hosted by the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria.
Woodbury, who is also an artist, says Speirs's work matured over time.
"It got more refined and I think more abstract," she said.
David Hunwick, a friend and colleague of Speirs as director of the Sculpture Studio, where Speirs often showed his work, called Speirs a passionate artist.
"He loved company and he would stop and talk to anyone, so I think he was very open in that respect," said Hunwick.
"But he was very intense, and had an intense connection with his work. You'd see him just staring at one of his pieces, and just thinking about it."
Woodbury is creating a legacy fund in Speirs's memory that will award a cash prize to a local sculptor each year. Those wishing to contribute can contact Woodbury at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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