Oak Bay goes nuts for public art

Oak Bay is determined to be “the art capital of the capital city.”

Now beginning its third summer of public art activities, the municipality is again playing host to a complement of artist-painted pianos. And this year, outdoor sculptures have been installed in 13 sites for the year. These were chosen from submissions from across Canada, and one from the U.S. You are invited to vote with QR codes on your phone, at the municipal hall or at rec centres. The popular choice will be purchased by Oak Bay.

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Last year, David Hunwick’s cast of two whale ribs, which form a sort of heart shape, was installed at the intersection of Oak Bay and Foul Bay roads, and won public approval. It has recently been purchased as a permanent installation.

The first purchase, made two years ago, was Salish Sea, a handsome water-cut steel panel by Chris Paul, which is installed at Turkey Head near the Oak Bay Marina. When you drop by to see it, be sure to take a look at the superb cast-bronze sea horses, door handles to the Marina Restaurant made many years ago by the late Harry Schaefer.

Beside the marina, at Queen’s Park, The Hunt will surely distract drivers on Beach Drive. It’s an installation by Ken Hall of Mulmur, Ont. A pack of five welded-steel wolves bound realistically across the park in pursuit of an alert buck. He’s cut out of plate steel, and acts as a window to the yacht basin beyond. Considering Oak Bay’s deer dilemma, Hall’s installation is timely and provocative.

A self-guided sculpture tour around the neighbourhoods of Oak Bay will amuse locals and visitors alike. Beginning at the municipal hall on Oak Bay Avenue, you’ll discover the “sleeping giants,” a witty response to the oak trees that overarch the lawn. The giants are two huge acorns cast of concrete by Fred Dobbs and Nathan Scott. Across from them at Wilmot Street is a modernist abstraction in fibreglass by Pavel Barta.

Farther up the avenue, two alarmingly slender women, cast in bronze by Ginny Glover, are named Bliss and Swept Away. These waifs could clearly use a visit to the nearby Rogers Chocolates shop. A little farther along, you’ll discover the quirky wooden carving of an owl under an oak tree, by Scott Gilles. The owl is carved from a burl, and the oak tree, like a parasol, has individual wooden oak leaves cut and tied on to make the canopy.

Sited in its own garden at Hampshire and Oak Bay, the dynamic Double Spinner by Lyman Whitaker of Ivins, Utah, is a sort of copper windmill that moves in two directions at once. Another mobile, this one at the Monterey Activity Centre, presents giant lacy leaves moving as a sort of delicate and complex weather vane. It was made of stainless steel by Doug Taylor of Vancouver.

Up at Monterey and Oak Bay, our senior carver Maarten Schaddelee presents an eagle in grey stone in the streamlined style well-known from his work at Clover Point and the Memorial Arena.

Sculptures on the forecourt of Winchester Galleries at Monterey and Oak Bay, though not officially part of the show, are well worth a look. Three bronze stele by Elza Mayhew, a cast figure by Fran Semple and large bronzes by legendary potter Wayne Ngan of Hornby Island are always outside.

More new art in Oak Bay includes the Salish totem by Butch and Clarence Dick at Oak Bay High School and, behind the school, a sort of “earth art,” is the remediation of Bowker Creek.

Estevan Village merchants got behind the project this year, hosting two installations. Ellen Scobie of Burnaby created a demure sitting cat, plump and poised meditatively on a stand outside Boutique de Laine. Across the road is Maturity Turn by Nathalie Quagliotto of Toronto. This participative sculpture, a sort of 16-part tic-tac-toe, seems just right in front of Crumsby’s, the kid-friendly cupcake shop.

Across the road at Lokier Park is a suite of seven coloured metal flowers, relatives to the ones at Victoria Airport. Created with panache and his sure sense of scale, they are yet another contribution to our urban landscape by Illarion Gallant, a professional in the field of urban art and landscape design. Gallant’s subtle installation at Fort and Foul Bay, an older project remembering Bowker Creek, involves much more than the aluminum arbutus tree trunk visible when driving by.

On Cadboro Bay Road near Estevan, in front of Pure Vanilla, David Hunwick has installed a gathering of seven hares, his signature animals deftly modelled and cast in bronze. They’re surprisingly delicate, not much more than life-sized, and frolic in a ring at eye-level. As you become attuned to all this sculpture, you’ll certainly notice the two “lying lions,” a permanent fixture at the entrance of the Kingston Willows building a few feet away.

Take a trip up to the Henderson Rec Centre to discover a huge red fibreglass heart by Ronald Simmer. It’s anatomically correct and is expected to have pulsing light and a sound component, though technical problems are holding it back.

Considering the limited budget, short lead time and difficulty in getting the word out about a new public-art competition, the organizers — in particular Oak Bay art laureate Barb Adams — have worked wonders. Visitors have a new reason to come to Oak Bay, and locals have come to see these civic grace notes as a part of life.

The future for the “art capital of the capital city” looks bright.

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