Close to 250 people bring in their personal artifacts that might become part of Burlington’s recoded history .

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  February 6, 2013  They came to be part of the city’s history.  They brought big items, small items, personal items and significant items.  Everything they brought was photographed, recorded and then pressed into clay from which artist Peter Powning would make a casting out of bronze and place in the Spiral Stella that would sit outside the Performing Arts Centre at the intersection of Locust and Elgin Streets.

The fascinated eyes of children – these two are totally focused on what artist Peter Powning is doing with an artifact they brought in as part of the cultural mulch event held at the Burlington Art Centre.  Artifacts were collected to become part of the Spiral Stella that will be erected in front of the Performing Arts centre in July.

Close to 250 people brought in their “stuff” . Don Graves, a local artist, who happened to be at the Burlington Art Centre last Saturday hosting his first solo exhibit had his wife take his walking cane to have a clay impression made.

Jonathan Smith,  Curator of the Permanent Collection at the Burlington Arts centre,  brought in a pocket watch with a fob engraved with the words St. Andrews College, 1929 in cursive type.  That kind of craftsmanship isn’t seen anymore.

Melanie Booth on the left hands over her Olympic Bronze medal which she won as part of the Women’s soccer team.  Jeremy Freiburger, on the right,  chief cheese at CoBalt Connects, the company that manages Burlington’s public art program registers the medal which was later pressed into clay to make the impression from which a bronze casting will be made.

The stunner for some was Melanie Booth’s Olympic Bronze medal that brought out a very small faux pas from Powning, who to be fair was seeing a lot of artifacts and didn’t realize he had an Olympic medal in his hands.

He asked Ms Booth: “What’s the story behind this” as he arranged a slab of clay to make the impression.  Powning hadn’t read the words on the medal, he was trying to figure out which side he would make the impression from but when Ms Booth said “it’s my Olympic bronze medal given to the Canadian woman’s soccer team” Powning’s head shot up when he replied – “really!”

This is an example, called a maquette, of the type of sculpture Peter Prowning will be doing for Burlington.  Each sculpture he does is significantly different.  The bands wrapped around the first nine feet of the 16 foot sculpture will hold the bronze casting being made from the clay impressions done this past week in Burlington.  It will be a very impressive piece of public art

The way the gold medal for soccer was lost is something few Canadians think much about now.  If it ends up as part of the Spiral Stella it will become part of the visual history of the city.

Powning was holding what he called a “cultural mulch.  An event that had him looking at everything he was given, nothing was turned away if he could make an impression in clay, and at the same time thinking about how each piece might be used.

The bronze castings would be worked into the sculpture which will tell part of Burlington’s cultural past.

One man brought an old, rusted pair of roller skates, the kind you had to strap onto your shoes.

Dan Lawrie, the man who felt there should be some art outside the Performing Arts Centre put his money where his mind had gone and funded a portion of the cost of the sculpture.  Lawrie who paints when he isn’t working had impressions made from some of his art implements.

With 240 impressions made into the slabs of clay Powning now takes everything back to his studio in New Brunswick and begins the process of casting the bronze pieces that will be part of the first nine feet of the 16 foot sculpture.

He will be doing all the forge work at his studio in New Brunswick and shipping the work to Burlington where it will be installed – which will get a little tricky.  With art there are no firm time lines – not quite like making a pie and knowing that it needs 35 minutes in the oven at 425 degrees.

Some excavation work has to be done at the front of the Performing Arts centre to get the base in place. There is a pipeline right underneath that has to be dealt with.  The pipeline people will be on hand to make sure someone doesn’t bite into that line.

And then there is a wedding scheduled to take place at the Performing Arts Centre at that time.  The bride is not going to want to walk down the “aisle” to the sound of a jack hammer.

But it will all come together and sometime during the second half of July the sculpture will be in place and we can expect groups of people to gather at the site for years to come.  One wonders what the Tourism people will do to promote the sculpture.

Johnathan Smith, Curator of the Permanent Collection at the Burlington Art Centre brings in a pocket watch with a fob that has a 1929 inscription on it. Peter Powning presses the fob into clay from which her will later make a bronze casting that will become part of the Spiral Stella that will be erected outside the Performing Arts Centre

Burlington has done some exceptionally good work with sculpture.  There is the magnificent naval memorial at Spencer Smith Park where the bronze casting is more traditional.  Then there are the orchids which are a delight – just in the wrong place – a point that Councillor Taylor commented on at a recent council meeting.  At some point this city just might do the “orchids” justice and put them in a location where they can be both appreciated an enjoyed.  Stuck at the entrance to a railway grade separation is close to the stupidest things the art people in this city have ever done.  Why didn’t someone stand up when that decision was being made and ask: “Are you kidding?”  But we didn’t – we will get there.

A local videographer, Bob Fleck, has been following Peter Powning around and we can expect to see a bit of film at some point.

CoBalt Connects, the organization that manages the city’s cultural plan has been talking to students at Mohawk and McMaster about the idea of doing a three-dimensional video on the sculpture that would allow people to look at the detail and spot artifacts that they contributed.  Good idea.

We are seeing a different approach to how we create, display and promote the arts in this city.  The long-term cultural plan will address some of the concerns local artists have about not being included or taken seriously.  Progress.

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