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A garden of earthly delights in Tofino

“The garden brings out qualities that aren’t seen in indoor art.”
Mowry Baden’s two-element sculptures shine within a sculpture park on display at the Tofino Botanical gardens. (Photo - Mowdry Baden)


Special to the Westerly

Every paradise deserves a garden “just to set the heart free (sol per sfogare il Core)” a motto informing George Patterson’s creation of an almost mythical landscape populated by touchable sculptures amidst voluptuous flora and rainforest.

Patterson explains he adopted this guiding principal from Monster’s Grove in Bomarzo, Italy to develop his 20-year masterwork in a “synergistic and symbiotic” way.

“Art interrupts our expectations—great music is that way,” says Patterson.

“The garden brings out qualities that aren’t seen in indoor art, and the art makes points about the garden. When it works best everything around it is improved.”

That joyous abandon is embodied by Michael Dennis’s ‘Sashaying Woman’ and by his red-painted couple inviting brides and grooms to join in their ‘Wild Dance.’

“I like having my work in this botanical garden setting because people who have no preconceptions about art will encounter it and react spontaneously,” says Dennis, who enjoys the honest reactions of children who might also be inspired to make art.

Here where shorebirds’ cries co-mingle with crowing roosters, the elements work their magic—sprouting a shock of sapling-hair and a moss soul patch on the first Dennis figure to start this collection of works on-loan by prominent BC and local sculptors.

That organic element is even part of the grand design from the visitor’s kinaesthetic experience of Mowry Baden’s rainwater-filled bowl to the tree that supports, and will someday encompass, the shocking bullet-riddled candy-apple red metal interpreting ‘a cultural or industrial log’ in Daniel Lascarin’s ‘Things Fall Apart’.

“This will take years, of course,” says Lascarin, “and that’s also fine — things can move slowly.”

“George clearly likes the element of surprise and so do I,” says Baden. “People wander around the garden choosing this path or that, hopefully visiting them all, unconvinced that all the surprises have been exhausted.”

Like the charred hands, shooting up through daisies created by local sculptor Dan Law to express, “hope and despair, beauty and brokenness,” relics of a documentary addressing Celtic spirituality and impending environmental crisis.

“For me, The Gardens hold a special place within the Tofino Arts sphere,” says Law. “Through a lot of hard work, determination, and remarkable patience, George has created a delightful and unique ‘garden gallery’ of west coast art and culture.”

Juxtaposed between barn and frog pond, Greg Snider’s ‘Skidder’ symbolizes the last barrel of oil and is one of the gardens most asked about pieces.

“Now is the right time for critical sculpture,” stresses Snider. “When the digital and the virtual and other forms of (mis)representation command most of the public’s attention, the idea of the object, with its ability to present tractable meanings through actual things, seems more urgent than ever.”

Whether art-making gives experience to “those questions we haven’t yet figured out how to ask,” as Lascarin suggests, or as Dennis believes connects with a primal place in our nervous system tracing back to our ancestors, this garden oasis invites catharsis.

“Consciously or unconsciously, art helps us to figure things out,” agrees Patterson, citing its seven functions as outlined in Art as Therapy (de Botton, A., Armstrong, J.): remembering, hope, sorrow, rebalancing, self-understanding, growth and appreciation.

Art’s questioning process, muses Lascarin, is a platform for dreams.