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.
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
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
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…