Art For Everyone : Public Art Installations

Read about the whole point of "Looking Around London" at this link here.

Get started with my pictures and thoughts on the London Tree Trunk Tour here.

The Tree Trunk Tour is going to be on Hamilton Road, and I'm blogging its creation here.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Sad Times on the (Shorter) Tree Trunk Tour

It is with a bit of sorrow that I write this post. After seeing this article in the London Free Press, I was able to confirm that several of the carvings have been designated for removal, as they have been deemed unsafe. The following carvings are either already gone, or will be removed soon, according to Tourism London.

On the subject of the expected life of a carving, Dave Broostad of, who have commissioned new trees, had his opinion printed in the paper.

Shining Brightly 
Rising Up On Eagle Wings
Convergence @ 23 Peter St.
Woodfield 1840-2007  (already removed)               
Come Together and Grow
Squirreltopia @ 799 Waterloo St.

There are no plans to re-install these carvings, in contradiction to the LFP article linked above.
I will be updating my Tree Trunk Tour Map, and the Overview Page shortly to reflect this unfortunate loss to the city's landscape.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Oh Metal Tree, Is that Art I see?

When a piece of sculpture, or painting, or brickwork, or even some kind of multimedia presentation is put in place by an artist, one of the first questions that comes to my mind is: Is it recognisable?

Recognisable, in this context, refers to two things. The first on is whether or not I can identify it as being out of the ordinary enough to be a piece of art. Sometimes things blend in to the architecture or landscape too well to be picked out by the unobservant. For example-
Do you see the art in this picture? Maybe thought it was something to do with the sign out front? No, no, the gold tubes hanging from the ceiling are sculpture called Wins/Losses/Ties. Here's a site with some other angles.

The second way in which I would want to evaluate recognition, is by asking if what is depicted is familiar enough, and presented clearly enough to merit more attention from the viewer. The Flatiron building mural in Toronto, Ontario is an example that springs to mind immediately.
It's an attention grabber, and it begs you to investigate further. The mural is a very skillful tromp l'oeil, and mixes real and painted elements seamlessly. Another reward for the careful viewer is that the mural depicts a reflection of the building across the street!
In a private collection, the space for abstract art, and more controversial pieces can certainly be quite large. Raising the bar too high on the intellectual or conceptual scale for publicly funded projects is a dangerous practise for politicians and public servants. Well received community arts projects are, by definition, for most of the people, most of the time.

Let us turn our attention to the sidewalks in downtown London, Ontario, and see how things measure up.

Can you spot the artwork in the picture? Stands out pretty well to me. This is a Sassafras tree at the side of the John Labatt Centre.

Here's another one, along the back of the courthouse.

Sure is red, isn't it? The trees are all painted one solid colour. The same six colours, three primary and three secondary, are used consistently throughout the installation. Teh clour is key to what makes these sculptures what they are.

There is a Facebook group dedicated to asking these trees to be taken down and replaced with real trees. I would point out that we have a fair amount of the real thing, like, on the right hand side of this photo, and what stands out most is the metal one in the middle.
Also kind of important is the lack of light and soil available where the metal trees are installed. But let's get back to the other criteria. Does the art invite the viewer to find out more?

That, in my mind, is a much tougher call to make with this installation. Each work is signed, and identified by the species of tree at the bottom by a wleded bead of metal. Other people with the Internet have complained about the colours of the trees being too garish, or not 'realistic'. To those people, I would ask a simple question: What would you notice about this installation if the trees were brown and green? Other than the colour, what gets attention directed towards one of these sculptures anyway?
Seeing one tree might not make you curious, but I would argue that after walking two or three blocks, you would certainly start to ask "How many of these trees are there, and why are they here?" Which is a good thing. I think its certainly a question you would want to come up if you were responsible for the installation.
The unfortunate part, is that there is no more information readily available in that regard.

This post is only about one thing, however, recognition of the art, and of how it presents itself. Hard to argue that the Metal Trees of the Carolinian Forest haven't succeeded. Whether or not they are admired isn't the point, its whether or not they are noticed. There's no Facebook group for any aspect of the Tree Trunk Tour, so you could argure the  recognition level is higher for this project.

Soon, I'll give my take on the next element of publicly funded art- Accessibility.

This site is all about public art, but more important than reading about it, is finding it and seeing it. Which is why I have begun to compile a gallery of all of these trees in London, and put these metal trees on a map as I go. I've also got a map for the Tree Trunk Tour and pages for the artists involved in all of these projects.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Metal Trees, Painted Brightly

In my first post, I talked about two types of art project I was going to look at in London, Ontario. The first was the carved wooden trunks in theTree Trunk tour. That first project, and its 18 trees, took over two months to complete and led to a little adventure and a new opportunity for my writing and photos over at, and their blog about the growth of the tour.

I did still want to get to the second thing that was on my original list of 'art in London', and it is, in fact, another tree related installation. Its proper name is 'Metal Trees of the Carolinian Forest'. If you've been to downtown London, I probably don't have to say anything else to have you picture one or more of these trees in your head. If you haven't had the opportunity to see one, they look like this:
I've taken the other colour out of the image for emphasis, so there it is. There are a large number of these trees within a few blocks of each other in the downtown core. I could write a very long post and try to fit them all in, but I'm sure that wouldn't keep my interest very long, let alone anyone else's. I have had a lot of opportunities to see, read about, and think about public art in the last couple of months, and I'm going to break the columns up into catergories. Public art, especially made with public funds, is open to criticism from every taxpayer. I'm going to take a look at what might make a project more or less acceptable to the general public, and to the institution commissioning the art, and compare it to what has happened with the metal tree installation you see above. There's been no shortage of media coverage since these trees started popping up in the downtown core, believe me.

Check back in the next few days, and I'll start by looking at the first factor in an art installation, recognizability.

Where is this tree? That's the corner of Dundas and Ridout. You can find it, and every other tree in the installation on my Carolinian Trees Map. I've also started building a gallery of tree images that you can click on over to.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Eldon House

There are currently 16 trees on the London Tree Trunk Tour, but now only 15 stops. If you are visiting London from outside of the city, there is a good chance that one of your first stops after leaving Highway 401 will be the London Tourism Visitors Centre.

'Eldon House', a carving representing one of London's other tourist attractions, is located beside the visitor's centre, at 696 Wellington Road South. This carving has recently been joined by Mother Nature, most likely due to issues with that trunk's structural stability in its old Queens Av. location. The Visitor's Centre is about a ten minute drive from downtown, so its not a walking tour, by any means. Having more that one sculpture in the same place does give people more of an opportunity to stop and take a look at what they are all about.

'Eldon House' is somewhat similar to 'Charles S. Hyman' in its construction. There are a few elements which were carved into the trunk itself, and many other parts of the design are plaques made in a workshop and attached to the tree once it was finished in this location.

There is, unlike any of the other stops on the tour, a commemorative plaque in front of the trunk, which gives a little bit of info about the carving, and also promotes Eldon House itself.

The trunk has large, rough, rounded flowers at the top, which look like daisies, or perhaps peonies, London's official flower. They face both the front and back of the piece.

The elements that relate to Eldon house itself are divided into 8 separate areas on the trunk. Two designs are placed every 90 degree turn around the tree, giving the carving 4 different 'faces' to look at.

The front face has an owl's face recessed into the top and carved in relief. It was carved from the solid piece of trunk. The bottom is a front view of Eldon house with its wide veranda. 

Travelling around the trunk counter-clockwise, the next face is two portraits, Amelia Ryerse Harris above, and John Harris below. These images appear to have been created from scans of official portraits inside the house.

The rear face of the carving has a compass on the top. John Harris was a surveyor in the British Navy, and one of the initial surveyors when Upper Canada was being mapped. This is likely what the compass represents. Below, there is a view of one of the ladies of Eldon House in the dining room.  The house was well known at the time for its hospitality. That reputation was not harmed by the fact that the Harris family had seven daughters to court.

The fourth face's plaques picture an elephant's foot umbrella stand, and a military soldier in a doorway. The umbrella stand is a well known trophy, collected by John's grandson George Henry Ronalds Harris during his time in Africa. The soldier is, if you look closely, somewhat transparent, which makes me think he represents the ghost of Eldon House. This story seems to have a higher level of interest than when I visited Eldon House on school field trips as a child.

 I would like to make a couple of notes about how the caving was made. The main body of the tree is a chainsaw carved trunk, with trees and leaves. Almost all of the detail work is slabs of wood carved with a computer aided design technique, and then attached after the trunk was placed in its location. For the chainsaw carving purist, this might not be what was expected in a sculpture. I'm also not sure how well the pieces will age and colour relative to the different wood on the trunk itself.

The signature is a subtle one again. The initials of Neil Cox, and Mary-Ann Jack-Bleach, the collaborating artists, are carved into
the trunk, above a date of 2010.

Although this is not a movie, I do have bonus footage! Check out the arrival and completion of this tree carving, courtesy of Tourism London.

Return to the Tree Trunk Tour Overview Page
Check out all the entries using the London Art Map  
Curious about this artist? Try Neil Cox's Links

Monday, 28 November 2011

Pearson Panther

The Pearson Panther is located in the front yard of Lester B. Pearson School for the Arts. This carving is a stop on the original leg of Tourism London's Tree Trunk Tour. It is similar to The Learning Tree, and the CCH Crusader, as they are all located on school properties. While the other two carvings are at a secondary school, Pearson is an elementary school.

The class of 2008 at Pearson has dedicated this carving from themselves to the school. It has a large panther carved out of the back of the trunk, and it is leaning with its paws above a series of crests.

There are eight crests in total. Four of them symbolise the curriculum at Lester Pearson. It is a dedicated arts school, so there are four core artistic components. A palette and brush represent visual arts. A treble clef and note are for music. Theatre masks for theatrical performance, and ballet slippers for dance.

The other four crests represent plays that the graduating class performed in each during their time at the school.

They include Crown and Dagger, Shakespeare's 'The Tempest', and White Rabbit. Pictured are the shipwreck in 'The Tempest', and presumably the title character in 'White Rabbit'.

The panther itself is fully detailed throughout, including a coat of gloss black paint, and each individual white tooth shaped in his mouth. He could probably use a little tooth brushing, however.

I haven't made note of it in every instance, but not every trunk carved on the tour is the result of a conveniently placed dying or dead tree. The CCH Crusader is the example that comes to mind. When the tree isn't in the right place, there still might be a spot for the tree. A poured concrete pad for stability, and a metal post slid up into the core of the trunk, and you too, can have a permanent carving where there was no tree.

I do usually note any the signature and any damage to the tree at this point. The signature is low on the back of the trunk, and is the all capital RAW ART from Robbin Wenzoski. The date is 2008. In the nearly 4 years since completion, the surface details have had a lot of damage done to them, there are light and dark discolourations, and the stain has faded in many places. Happily, due to it being on a concrete pad, the main body of the tree should be free of rot. Its another example of a sculpture in need of a little TLC.

Overall, an interesting concept. I have found out, through my enquiries, that the design was a collaboration between the graduating and the artists, and as many ideas from the children were incorporated as was possible. Hundreds of people walk by this sculpture every day of the school year. They are the actual people that this carving represents, and I would hope that they would find the time and energy to return it to its original condition. The Panther is still an impressive sight.

Looking for more art like this? Well try these links -

Return to the Tree Trunk Tour Overview Page
Check out all the entries using the London Art Map  
Curious about this artist? Try Robbin's Links Page

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Full Circle Group Benefits "Moosehead"

The Full Circle Group Benefits' sponsored carving 'Moosehead' is located at 834 Van St. just a half a block east of Rectory in London. The carving is a little different than most of the others on London's Tree Trunk Tour. It isn't on a main street, or associated with a large institution. It was completed as a part of the partnership that created the other fifteen works on the tour.

It is a sculpture which is very straightforward in its execution, a lifelike, life sized carving of a moose's head, perched on the cleanly shaped and stained tree trunk bottom.

I was able to get in touch with the owner, Dave Broostad, and learned a lot about the carving. He is the owner of the property, and had a maple tree that he was going to have to cut down. In the fall of 2010, he researched the other trunks in London, and eventually was led to Robbin Wenzoski, who would end of carving this piece.

The Moose was chosen, according to Mr. Broostad, because he had just returned from a hunting trip, and it sprang to mind when Robbin asked him what he wanted on the tree. Due to the width of the antlers, it was necessary to carve the head out of a separate piece of wood, in this case, Black Walnut.

The trunk cuts quite and imposing profile on the street. And the blending is very smooth between the existing trunk and the add-on head. Being able to work on the head in the comfort of his workshop allows for much more precision in the final product.

Mr. Broostad also tells me that it has become a local landmark, neighbours referring to how many houses they are from 'the Moose' when giving directions.

The Moose is simple, but certainly stoic in his expression, and beautifully executed. The sculpture is in perfect condition, but it lacks Mr. Wenzoski's familiar signature.

This moose was also responsible for planting the seed of an idea. The idea of art being used to promote and identify a community has grown into what will become the Hamilton Road Tree Trunk tour. I will have more info on the growth of that project on this website in the near future.

Pride in a community can come from many different areas, good schools, well maintained streets and parks, and viable businesses among them. I would argue that having something unique and beautiful, available to everyone, is on that list too. Part of what I'm trying to do with this project is make sure that the attention stays with positive ideas like that, and these pieces in the community are not lost or forgotten.

Return to the Tree Trunk Tour Overview Page
Check out all the entries using the London Art Map  
Curious about this artist? Try Robbin's Links Page

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Learning Tree

On the north side of the Catholic Central S.S. property is 'The Learning Tree'. This carving is one stop on the London Tourism sponsored Tree Trunk Tour. It is a visually dense creation, converting an old tree trunk into a nostalgic trip back to all of the most familiar elements of primary and secondary school.

The sculpture is a very short walk from three other Tree Trunk Tour stops. One block to the south an you can see 'CCH Crusader' and 'Shining Brightly'. One block east is 'Rising Up On Eagle's Wing's'. If you want one stop to see what kinds of things the tour has to offer, I would recommend this as a place to start.

Clicking on any of the pictures will display the full sized version.

Shall we begin our look at the interesting elements on this trunk? Remember, this is all done with power carving tools, mostly chainsaws. From the bottom, we have the alphabet and some crayons. There is a lot of painted on "spot colour", as with the crayons, and it does set the piece apart from some other carvings on the tour.

Another side of the trunk, reminding us of the values taught early in the school system. Love is also represented by the painted heart. Robbin Wenzoski created this work, and on his original website (which now has some technical issues with the pictures), he talked about deciding what elements of learning to include. He didn't leave out much.

The picture on the left shows the south side. I find it interesting that the natural burl in the tree has been left intact. This is also the spot for the official Tree Trunk Tour plug, with the sponsorship logo. The pic on the right shows the north side, where the title is displayed in the same font as the other lettering on the carving. Lots of school related bits are carved in around the two larger elements.

Moving up near the top of the tree trunk, we get a few add-on pieces. I think these really add to the dimension of the sculpture here, though I would suppose a purist may not appreciate wood not from the original tree. I am a practical person. This violin looks great.

And this microscope is my favorite bit. Imagine, going out to the workshop, firing up your machinery and sculpting out a microscope. Just thinking of that on a to do list makes me smile. 'Carve microscope out of wood block.'

The topmost add-on is a mortar board, and a diploma. Some really delicate looking work here to get the curl of the paper diploma.

The other message, delivered in the form of a rebus, is the artist asking the viewer to "Listen to your heart." Not a lesson on any school curriculum, but something that we might want to learn as early as possible in life.

The artist's signature is the block letter RAW ART logo, from Robbin Wenzoski, and the date (not pictured) is 2007. The overall condition of the carving is quite good, without any excessive cracking. The original stain has peeled off in a lot of places, and it may need maintenance in the near future.

There is a wise old owl atop 'The Learning Tree'. I didn't foresee how much looming he would be doing in this shot, but I present it as it was taken.

Looking for more art like this? Well try these links -

Return to the Tree Trunk Tour Overview Page
Check out all the entries using the London Art Map  
Curious about this artist? Try Robbin's Links Page

Friday, 11 November 2011

Mother Nature

Located at 326 Queens Av., west of Waterloo St. is the tree trunk carving 'Mother Nature'. Edit: It has come to my attention that this carving has been re-located to the London Tourism grounds on Wellington Road South. I suspect this was due to safety concerns about the integrity of the base. The London Tourism website tells us that the carving was done by Neil Cox. There are no indications of a specific sponsorship for this sculpture, though it does sit on property in front of Dr. Reavell dentistry and Willow Medi-Spa. It was carved from a trunk that had 2 large main branches, and we can start looking at it from the bottom up.

There are ears of corn and what looks like a squash or pumpkin tucked in behind them on the lower side. These are symbols of harvest time and nature's bounty. Through contact with the artist, I have found out that these plants were chosen because they were grown by native peoples.

On the rear of the trunk, there are large flowers carved in relief, including a bold and deeply petaled rose. I would interpret these as symbols of nature's beauty.

On the east side, there are maple leaves, perhaps to acknowledge the tree before it became a carving. These are done in low relief, and in more of a stylized way than other parts of this sculpture.

The top of the tree follows the natural split in the trunk, on the left, a path winds up to a Victorian style house. Take a look directly behind the carving if you are on Queens Av, and you will see the carved house matches its features exactly with the real house behind. There may not be a cat in the gable window of the real house, though.

 Curving up the left side are skyscrapers, as we symbolically progress from a natural,wild time, to the modern age in our city.

From behind, one skyscraper arcs wildly over to one side, but the attention to detail is wonderful, with windows and supports cut in all around the structure. 

On the right side of the split trunk, is Mother Nature herself. The peaceful expression on the face is wonderful. There is a natural look to her face, her flowing hair and her expression. There is a child seemingly rising out of the top of her head, arms raised to the sky.

Consider again, the delicate work accomplished without the shelter of a workshop, and the results become that much more impressive.


There is, in fact, a signature on the carving, which was small enough, and subtle enough that I missed it the first time I photographed this tree trunk. With apologies to Mr. Cox, here it is.

The result of combining the natural and the man-made might seem to set the carving up for a conflict between its elements, but in looking at the finished result, I think the message seems to be more about balance.

Now, as to the condition of the piece, it is certainly suffering from splitting and cracking at the upper portion. Aesthetically, some of the drama has faded from the sculpture, quite literally. The pictures taken shortly after completion on Tourism London's map show rich colour variations made by the artist scorching the surface of the wood with a propane torch. There is more depth and contrast created between elements when done right. By now the weather has washed away that dimension of the piece. Time will tell if any restoration occurs on this stop of the Tree Trunk Tour.

Looking for more art like this? Well try these links -

Neil Cox is also listed as the artist for 'Charles Smith Hyman' on this project.

Return to the Tree Trunk Tour Overview Page
Check out all the entries using the London Art Map