Human Weather Vanes

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This past Thursday I was downtown for most of the day. In the afternoon, I had coffee with a friend and we sought out a place to sit in the hot afternoon sun.  We were soaking up what, based on the weather advisory issued by Environment Canada last night calls for 5-10cm of snow tomorrow, which in turn would indicate that probably was the last non-coat wearing day of the year.

We found a nice coffee shop with sunny, street-level, outdoor seating alongside the building with the handsome and ruggedly elegant Beverly Pepper sculpture outside the front doors, across the street from Bankers Hall.

While sitting there I noticed that within the last week or two construction hoarding has gone up surrounding the series of Colette Whiten and Paul Kipps life-sized sculptures of people walking just outside the doors of the Bankers Hall East Tower.  The series of outdoor pieces are continued inside the building and reside in the cavernous lobby on similar mounts.  They are entitled Weather Vanes and probably work as described, as the sculptures are mounted on poles and are quite flat and made out of what I would assume is copper sheeting which appears to be hammered or shaped in some way.  If nothing else they give the impression that they probably move in the wind as you can see by the photo I took earlier this month.

It would not surprise me if this is the intent to work with the wind.  The building owners of Bankers Hall also placed what I can best describe as giant kitty litter scoops which in my own personal opinion only, are completely out of scale for the confined space on Stephen Avenue Mall between Bankers Hall and TD Square, almost to the point of being oppressive and overbearing [1.].  I am sure that they would be quite appropriate in a different context, but in my opinion, not there.  As I recall, when they were placed around the time the second tower went up, it was indicated in the media that they were intended and designed to break the wind that gusts in that corridor.  Whether they actually do that or not, I have no idea.  But I digress.

The city is very fortunate that we have two major sculptures by Colette Whiten.  As an artist Colette Whiten just won the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts earlier this year, which recognized her achievements over the past number of decades.  As a result of this Award she was included in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada between this past March through July.  One of the pieces included in the show entitled Watermark bears a continuation of thought from this work where it is stated she “rais(es) ‘home life’ from the realm of the mundane to that of art.”[2.]  In the Bankers Hall work, she used images of everyday Calgarians which brought together a cross-sampling ranging from mother holding the hand of a child to lunch-time athletes and business people – where, as in Ottawa, she raised the mundane to art.

The other major work of hers in the city, is located at the University of Calgary just outside of the Kinesiology Building near the Olympic Oval and MacEwan Hall.  It was commissioned by TransCanada PipeLines in the time leading up to the 1988 Winter Olympics.  For a brief post-Olympic period of time, it was located in front of City Hall and its short tenure there was full of controversy.

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I exaggerate, but not by much, as this was the case with almost every other piece of public art connected to the Olympics.

One of my early jobs was working in the public relations department at TransCanada PipeLines.  During that time I was fortunate to join the team which planned the move of her sculpture from City Hall to the University of Calgary on the Sunday of ArtWalk in conjunction with ArtCity.  Unfortunately I was unable to take part of the move, (even though I did get the tee-shirt which was destroyed in a bicycle accident a few years later) as I had previously committed to sit a commercial gallery for a couple who observed their religious practice on the day, as they had done in years prior.  If I was to guess the move happened probably in 1992, maybe 1993.  It has certainly found a very good home on campus where it is definitely appreciated and suits the surroundings.

With my short (ok maybe not so short) diversion – I go back to the hoarding and the Colette Whiten sculptures.  This summer I have noticed a lot of construction happening in lobbies and exteriors of buildings in the downtown core.  Why this is happening, I do not know.  Maybe it is an outcome of the flooding during the spring, maybe it is keeping up with the Jones’, maybe it is the economy, maybe it is an awareness that the buildings just need to be updated.  Whatever it is, it does not matter.

Obviously some sort of work is planned for the building lobby, or exterior, or both.  What it is I do not know.

What does intrigue me about office building renovations of late in Calgary, is that more often than not, artworks (and especially publicly situated artworks) are usually the casualty when this happens.

In renovations, the artworks seemingly disappear without a trace, often leaving behind sterile environments without any real personality.  They end up looking a lot like every other corporate lobby (lots of polished stone and glass), which is just slightly different from most others, based on the architect used to design it. [3.]

I have mentioned this before, and will mention it again as an example.  There was a major work by Takao Tanabe from his The Land series from the 1970s.  It was restrained, almost monochromatic and powerful, but yet at the same time it was very meditative.  If I was in the building and had a minute or two, I would stop in and pay tribute.  It was located in the main lobby of the Dome Tower in TD Square.  The building is part of The Core which has been undergoing renovations over the last number of years.  Somewhere along the way it disappeared and was replaced by a wall of polished marble and nothing else.  I am going to put this out there.  If someone reading this knows where it is and if it is currently unloved and under-appreciated in a warehouse – if the owner wants to give it to me, I will be humbled, but very happy to find a good home for it.

I could mention other examples, but I do not want to make this into a really long essay, as it is already long enough.

In closing, if this work by Colette Whiten is to be moved or removed, and I sincerely hope that it does not.  But if it does, it would be nice to find a home where the works will be appreciated – maybe even somewhere it could have an interesting dialogue with Bill McElcheran’s sculpture of two businessmen talking entitled The Conversation located only two blocks away.



[1.] White, Richard. Calgary Herald.  October 26, 2013.  Public art best when it spurs debate. see

[2.] Mallet, Josée-Britanie.  National Gallery of Canada press release dated March 20, 2013: see

[3.] Krause, Darren.  Calgary Metro.  October 29, 2012.  Unbuilt Calgary.  Maverick mentality should extend to city architecture

Challenging conventional wisdom

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It is usually a good thing when one figures that conventional wisdom must be true – and then in an unexpected moment this conventional wisdom is proven wrong.  It reminds us to always question one’s assumptions and that the search for knowledge should never end.

Today was one of those days.

The conventional wisdom.  Barbara Kwasny and Elaine Peake published a book in 1992 entitled A Second Look at Calgary’s Public Art.  In this book which contains 165 pieces of public art, there is little mention of any public art east of Centre Street north of the Bow River, or east of the Elbow River between the Bow and continues south along Macleod Trail from where they both meet near the Stampede Grounds.

There are three exceptions listed (which qualify as the term “little mention” as indicated above) – two of the three barely count if you know the area. They are:

  • two large sculptures and a small sculpture located at Deerfoot Mall,
  • The large Dinny the Dinosaur located on the zoo grounds, and;
  • a large installation dating from 1988 by Rick Silas entitled Out West located in Inglewood that has subsequently been removed from the location and it is believed was subsequently destroyed.

First a caveat.  Kwasny and Peake’s book focused on three-dimensional sculptural work, usually of a traditional material (i.e. bronze, wood or stone).   In the book, there was no mention of murals or two-dimensional work even if situated in a public place.  There were also gaps in terms of what they included and what they did not include.  In their defense, there will always be gaps no matter how thorough one tries to be in this type of endeavor.

I am also aware that the City as part of their 1% for public art program on large capital projects has subsequently situated new public art in this area during the past five to ten years.  As a result certain things have been added to the public art inventory since the book was published.

My big surprise.  I had a meeting to attend in the northeast earlier today.  I stopped in briefly to Sunridge Mall to pick up something I required for the meeting on the way.

I look up and what do I see?

A flock of geese (or maybe just birds that remind me of geese) suspended from the roof.

My mind immediately traveled to Eaton Centre, Toronto and the three-dimensional photographic flock of geese which occupy the Atrium.  They were created by the very influential Canadian artist, Michael Snow entitled Flight Stop, 1979 and are a major tourist attraction in their own right.  As I gazed upon the birds flying inside Sunridge Mall I could see the wind in the mall moving them slightly which was obviously the artist’s intent.

Now I was curious about who made these flying birds as there was no signage visible.  I made my way to the administration office to find out more.  I met with two lovely women – the receptionist and another woman called in from one of the offices nearby.

The outcome of our conversation.  There have been a number of management and ownership changes over the years since the mall was built in 1984 (for comparison Eaton Centre was built in 1978/79).  The receptionist was able to tell us that she remembers them from when she first worked at the mall.  She could place that time, to when she was pregnant approximately 20 years ago.  As a result, the two women came to a decision that they most likely have been there since the mall opened.  Based on that conversation, I would also tend to agree with them.  Although I still know nothing more about these birds than I did yesterday.

The mystery still remains.  Who created these works?  What are they called?  When were they made?  How did they end up there?

My request for help.  My hope is that some architect, builder, artist, contractor or person with information to share will help me figure out the answer to these questions above.  If you know, please send me a message.  I would very much like to talk to you.