The District of Sechelt purchased Gordon Halloran’s art piece Regeneration after noticing people “responded very, very quickly and deeply” to it while it was on display at the Sechelt Arts Festival last October, according to Sechelt Mayor Bruce Milne.
“I had quite a number of people speak to me in October and November about it, which is one reason it went on to the agenda,” Milne said.
The art piece, made up of two tall burned tree stumps charred by the Old Sechelt Mine Fire, was created in honour of all those who battled the blaze, including local faller John Phare who died fighting the fire, although the district didn’t purchase the artwork as a memorial piece.
“There’s no question that the artist had John Phare and that tragedy in mind and the entire response to the fire and our post-response to the fire when he was doing it,” Milne said.
“We immediately asked for our own public processes and guidelines, asked what conversations had taken place with the family [of John Phare] and in fact found that those conversations were both indirect and less substantive than we would have wanted for our purposes of making it a public [memorial].”
He said the district decided it was more appropriate to have a broad and more general reference to the firefighting efforts linked to the art piece.
“That took two to three months of metamorphosis,” Milne said.
“And so the references [to Phare], there’s no question they were made in the original exhibition at the festival time, they were discussed, but they weren’t ever formulated in a way that would have made that appropriate.”
The name Regeneration comes from the fact Halloran planted a live cedar sapling in each tree stump that will be left to grow for one year and then replanted in the forest, at which time new saplings will be planted in the art piece.
“The charcoal remains of a tree become host to an ecosystem of new life, as destruction is transformed into regeneration,” Halloran said.
The impact of Halloran’s piece during the arts festival made it a perfect fit for Sechelt’s art acquisition fund, Milne said, and council directed staff to talk with Halloran and work out a purchase price.
When the purchase details came back to council last November, only one tree stump was being offered by the artist.
“When the committee considered that, they thought the aesthetic and the cultural message was quite different. It was simply a different piece,” Milne said, noting council directed staff to “go back to the artist.”
“They came back with the project that conformed to what you’re seeing now and to what people had expected when they first were so moved and enthralled by the work.”
Council decided to purchase the piece for a total of $13,692 in February; $8,750 went to the artist and the rest was used to install the work in Spirit Square.
The money for the art came from the district’s art acquisition fund ($16,000 was available in the fund for 2016) as well as two donations totalling $1,500 from “a local company” and the Sunshine Coast Credit Union, according to a staff report.
Milne said council directed staff to seek donations after Sechelt’s then-CAO Bill Beamish said public art in other places he had worked had gained financial support from the community.
“We didn’t advertise for donors,” Milne noted.
Once the artwork was purchased and installed at Spirit Square beside Sechelt’s visitor information centre, one of the stumps fell during a windstorm on March 9 and part of the top of the stump was broken off.
A staff report noted the lack of a steel anchor plate on the one tree stump was what allowed it to fall.
Now the damaged tree stump is in storage, where it will remain until council can decide where the art piece should ultimately be situated, complete with a second steel anchor plate to ensure its safety.
Some on council feel the artwork should be moved out of Spirit Square, while others like it in its current location.
Council was set to deal with the issue of placement at the April 6 council meeting, past Coast Reporter’s press deadline.