Dorsey James, Sculptor





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Person, Art and Place

By Dorsey James
24 November 2003

Art is a selfish pursuit.  It’s all about the perceptions, interests and sensitivities of the artist.  Aspects of the artists past, present or perhaps his future self emerges in the subject matter, in the use and degree of abstraction and realism.  It shows in how the artist uses and manipulates volume, form, space, projection, recession, line and shadow.  As well, it shows in the tools that the artist selects to achieve those various effects.  Last but by no means least, the artist’s expression of self is revealed in the material selected.  There exists between the material and the artist a very intimate even spiritual relationship.  The selected material ultimately manifests itself as one of the important visual words, statements or concepts that the artist seeks to communicate to the viewer via the finished work.

Home Place is comprised of used and discarded hydro poles.  I have carved into these poles images of characters and symbols from world mythology and legend. These were, then, installed along the waterfront trail in Pickering, Ontario Canada.

There was an incredible amount of good will exhibited towards the project. Ontario Power Generation, Hydro, offered the land on which to install the project.  The land, now a park, is a reclaimed waste disposal site.  This was quite appropriate as Home Place is constructed almost entirely of recycled materials.  Varidian Power Connections, provided the used hydro poles and a five-man crew with powerful machinery necessary for the transportation, and installation of the pieces once the carvings were complete. The Dremel, Makita and Giles tool companies donated tools and repair services.  PC Wood Products provided epoxy and wood petrifier.  Students and staff at Dunbarton high school of Pickering, helped in the de-nailing and carving of the sculptures.

The hydro poles, thirty-four in all, were delivered to the school site.  Their condition ranged between very good to poor.

  The ends (six foot butts) of the poles, which are treated with creosote, were removed prior to delivery. This was done for the safety of the students as well as for the protection of the environment.  This is the area of the pole that is inserted into the ground.  The rest of the pole is untreated.

Upon delivery, all the nails, staples, screws and maintenance signs had to be removed.  Then, roughly three quarters of an inch of wood diameter, all the way around, had to be planed off with chainsaws.  Revealing the wood beneath the tortured, checked and perforated surface was nothing short of resurrecting the dead.  The aroma was incredible and the wood seemed to rejoice in its newfound freedom.

The images were, initially, cut out using the Makita, in line, electrical chainsaw.  Being electrical, there were no concerns about running out of gasoline, its stench or its spillage.  These saws run quieter and cooler than the gas powered ones yet they are quite powerful.  Also, because of the “in line’s” relatively smooth operation and superior balance, carving with it is a lot easier on the lower back and on the joints which enabled me to work for long periods of time without a break

Detail was achieved initially via the use of a dime-bar on one of the in-line chainsaws.  This accessory is very effective at focusing the power of the machine on one small point.  Rotary grinders with ¼ inch drive and cutters that are used next.


The variety of one-quarter inch drive rotary cutters enable me to imply that there is something beneath the surface that I am carving such as the flesh, muscle and bone structure in the human face.

 These grinders provide a quick means of creating subtle, perhaps rhythmical projection and recession or undulation of the surface.  The 1/8inch drive Dremel grinder, on the other hand, with its multitude of special purpose cutting bits accomplishes the lion’s share of fine detail. 

Often, pieces of public art are just plunked down into a community with no input from or knowledge of that community.  There is a reward of pop and hotdogs promised for attending the unveiling. Speeches are made and there is much polite clapping.  Then everyone goes home and the artwork is never noticed again.  The vision that I had for Home place was very different.  I wanted it to have presence and not to disappear after the speeches.  I wanted it to have a function and to be regularly used.  I wanted it to have intellectual, spiritual even magical significance to all who experience the space.


Home Place is a coalescence of universal symbols from a variety of times, cultures and beliefs. These symbols are alive but will vary in importance at different times in each of our lives. The icons that adorn Home Place, even its over-all design has meaning. This project, in its entirety, is called Home Place because what we now know to be Pickering, Ontario was at one time known as "The Home District". 

 Home Place is divided into three distinct areas.  These include The Portal structure, the Area of Enchantment and the Kijimba Kind.  The most obvious area is The Portal structure atop the hill.

The actual portal at the centre of this structure is designed along the lines of the post and beam style of building used by the early settlers of Pickering, Ontario. The remainder of the structure is comprised of twenty hydro poles, in acknowledgement of the 2000, millennium year in which Home Place project was commissioned.   The pole arrangement is based on two intersecting circles.  Each circle is thirty feet in diameter.  The circle symbolizes completeness.  It is an entity in its entirety.  The coming together of more than one circle entity for a common purpose is community.  This is mirrored be the coming together of many poles, twenty, to create the form. This arrangement of the poles is, also, reminiscent of the yin and yang, a symbol of the duality and of balance.

The poles grow in height towards the centre acknowledging our individual growth as well as the growth, evolution and prosperity of our community.  There are seven faces carved into the structure.  They represent the male and female, the young and old and the different races of man on this. The numeral seven represents good fortune and the coming together of the forces of heaven (the trinity-3) and of the earth (fire, earth, wind and water as well as North, East, West and South-4).  On the Eastern side of the portal is an ear of Corn, a native symbol of nurturing and welcoming.  Close inspection will reveal that each kernel is a human face.  The face of the young female on the Western side is a European symbol of home and welcoming.  It is the face of Vesta, the Greek goddess of the hearth and home.  It is in honour of Vesta that we call the entrance room to our homes the Vestibule


The Portal is seen by different cultures as different things.  The most common is that it is a transition point between two spaces.  Like the whole of Home Place, the portal is meant to carry meaning beyond the superficial and to be used by the community residents on a regular basis.  Although the Home Place Portal may be used as a place to just be, it may also be used to achieve much deeper objectives.  We all have situations in our lives, which we would prefer to change, or to have totally eliminated from our lives.   Many of these unwanted items have as much to do with changing ourselves as it does with changing the situation. The Home Place Portal is a place of change.  It is a device for transiting from one space to another.  This space can be physical, psychological or spiritual.  As such, people may sit on one of the on site benches and contemplate all those things they’d like to alter or eliminate from their lives.  Walking through the Portal, then, would become a symbolic reference to those changes that they have decided to effect within themselves.

Some may think it important to associate this quiet ceremony, which focuses on their hopes, aspirations and commitments to change, with the rising and setting of the sun.  The portal faces due East and West for this reason.  The user, then, may sit and meditate on the eastern side before walking through the portal while the sun is going down.  The idea here is that with the setting of the sun, all their concerns and woes will be taken with it.  While sitting on the western side as the sun rises, thought would be given to all those desired items that they’d like to see enter their lives.   The rising sun would then usher these desired items into their world.

The Area of Enchantment is a place of magic.  It’s a place that caters to the child in each of us.  This mystical trail meanders through a dense stand of trees along the Duffin’s Creek.  Carvings of mythological creatures and characters adorn the trunks of dead trees as well as the damaged areas on living trees.

The entrance to this site is marked by a life like image of Merlin the magician carved into the trunk of a dead tree.

Carved on the far side of the same tree is Morgana, his apprentice.  Images of wood sprites, fairies, and shamen in the wood abound in the trees as you meander along the path. 

The carvings are treated with an environmentally friendly substance (Weather-bos) that replaces the natural tannins in the wood and promotes healing. This treatment reduces the tendency towards the infection or infestation that would otherwise occur.  

The carved poles are called Kijimba Kind and are designed to represent the peoples from a diversity of cultures that have come from near and far to call this country “home”. Though these images are inclusive of ancestry and tribal legend, they are not totem poles.  These carved images are Kijimba Kind.  I have fashioned this terminology from words and meanings found in three different languages and cultures.  The word "kijimba" is from black Africa (Bambara tribe).  It means spirit.  As it applies to these carvings, it takes into account three spirits:  the spirit of the character carved, the spirit of the material and the spirit of the carver.  The word kind is from white Germany.  It is taken from the word kinder, which means children i.e. kindergarten.  In the English language, kind refers to a type, like mankind.  It is, also, a word that refers to the warmer or gentler side of a person’s nature i.e. a kind person.  I have taken words from these cultural and racial extremes in an effort to reflect all races as black and white incorporates all colours and values.

Kijimba Kind are, then, spirit children of all types and colours.  They symbolize our history as well as the diversity of religions, our myth and our legend. They are, too, reminiscent of a variety of directions, choices, options or challenges that we might encounter in our lives i.e. to be strong and determined (Aquila the eagle), vigilant (the crane) or knowledgeable (the owl). 

Some of the images I selected to carve as Kijimba Kind were quite specific such as Thor, the Norse God of thunder, a warrior, Tji-Wara, an African Moses, a builder of bridges, a parson, a man of god and peace, the Moirae, a reference to one’s past, present and future, a human embryo, The Eden Seed, born in a stalk of wheat, referencing our dependency on our earth and Spring, which brings new hope. All represent some aspect of human experience, hope and aspiration.

I feel truly blessed to have been given the opportunity to serve my community in this way.  The project has drawn visitors from beyond the community both near and far.  This out door space, which had largely been neglected over the years, is now thriving.

Though measures have been taken to protect the pieces for harm, there has been no vandalism.  The work has been on display now for over three years.  I think this is, in part, due to the fact that most people love a good story and the art works at Home Place are based on mythology and legend.  As well the myth and legends selected reflect the multi-cultural diversity of the residents.  Another important consideration here is that local high school students were invited to work on the sculptures.

It has been my hope that this piece of public art would create a sense of place and belonging encouraging repeated use of this space by residents of the community to, perhaps, photograph, to read a book, to draw a picture, to paint a landscape, to marry, to teach, to learn, to play, to pray, to change the world, to change themselves or maybe just to sit and be.  Home Place has done just that…

  All text and images on this site are © 2007, Dorsey James
Site design and maintenance: Hatch Media
January 29, 2007