How do monuments celebrate historical figures?
It’s a question that a new piece of Calgary art wants you to ponder as you walk by.
A bronze sculpture entitled Wolfe and the Sparrows was installed at the southwest corner of the new 12 Street Bridge in Inglewood on Wednesday.
It’s inspired by an 1898 statue of Gen. James Wolfe, who led the British army to victory over the French during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. That original sculpture by John Massey Rhind now stands in a Mount Royal park.
With a quick glance at Wolfe and the Sparrows, the piece looks like a traditional monument. But, upon closer inspection, a flock of sparrows — a species native to England — explodes from Wolfe’s head and shoulders, distorting them in the process.
Canadian artist Brandon Vickerd’s creation resulted from extensive community consultation.
“I wasn’t chosen as the artist to create this piece based on an idea,” Vickerd said. “I was chosen as the artist to come into Inglewood and connect with the community and develop an idea from those conversations.”
Several themes emerged through those discussions.
He called the piece a gateway to Inglewood — the “identifiable landmark” is transformative and doesn’t celebrate a historical figure.
“It talks about nature and how this urban centre also is connected with the nature around it — not just with the Bow River here and the parkway but also with the birds and other animals that occupy the city with us,” he said.
The project took two years, as Vickerd worked with local fabricators and installers like Bronzart Casting Ltd.
“Brandon has created a truly original and unique sculpture,” said Vaughn Stewart of Bronzart in a news release. “Due to its uniqueness, there were some highly challenging fabrication aspects for the foundry. By working hand-in-hand with Brandon, we were able to bring his vision to life.”
Vickerd said there was always something to learn throughout the process.
“It’s a traditional monument in a lot of ways, so I thought that it would be technically pretty easy to do but it proved to quite actually be technically difficult to create that sense of space at the top of the monument where air and light can permeate the traditional bronze,” he said.
While the monument’s subject may provoke criticism, Vickerd said it represents our different relationships to Canadian history.
“At its core, it’s addressing the notion of a monument and how we relate to monuments in our culture and the types of myths that they perpetuate in our culture and what we think about when we walk by them and connect with them,” he said.
He wasn’t apprehensive, anyway, because of the community input built into the project.
The city’s relationship with art
Vickerd was granted $220,000 to design, build and install the statue, according to the city. Funding came from the 12 Street Bridge $26 million capital budget.
The city is developing a new public art process that will be revealed in 2020.
Wolfe and the Sparrows is one of the remaining pieces that were underway before city council suspended all new public art projects. This year, three more projects will follow as part of the old program.