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Tofino’s sculpture park exudes air of West Coast

“I wanted the sculpture to be of the place, about the place and for the place.”
George Patterson reveals a work of pure art on display at the Tofino Botanical Gardens. The piece he’s admiring is called Everything Comes Apart and was created by Daniel Laskarin. (Nora O’Malley / Westerly News)

Those seeking a tranquil spot to rest and reflect after a long, beach day will find sanctuary amid the sculptures at the Tofino Botanical Gardens.

The public collection includes a unique slate of twenty or so pieces by Canadian artists with international repute.

Happy dancing red figures draw visitors in.

A sculpture by Mowry Baden has kinaesthetic appeal where one is encouraged to interact with the piece, rather than merely observe.

Greg Snider’s piece entitled ‘The Skidder’ is a nod to historical log skidders and sends a conservational message with the ‘last barrel of oil on the planet’ strung in the centre.

Michael Dennis, who made the bronzed piece called ‘Nike’ that lives in front of Wolf in the Fog, has several wooden creations on loan to the Gardens. Much of his Dennis’ creations originate from salvaged old growth cedar, including ‘The Couple’ propped outside the café and ‘The New Couple’ that stand by the waterfront.

But, Dennis told the Westerly News he doesn’t like to restrict himself.

“I work with a piece of wood that interests me,” he said from his studio on Denman Island.

“I’ve tried a variety of media. I’ve worked with iron and I’ve worked with stone, but the most enjoyable to work with is wood because it has character of its own…I don’t start with a square block of wood, I start with part of a tree. It definitely influences in the way that stone and metal do not. It influences what comes out of me.”

Garden master George Patterson said Dennis’ work goes back to Plato’s cave myth.

“He thinks of his art as the shadows that would be reflected on caves from a fire,” said Patterson. “They are not jarring. They feel like they are coming out of the forest.”

Patterson started the sculpture collection in 1999 when the Gardens first opened to the public.

“The line of thinking I had about sculpture park was: I wanted it to be about this place. That is, I didn’t want plop art. I wanted the sculpture to be of the place, about the place and for the place,” he said. “And, I think that the pieces that we have here now; there is something very West Coast about them.”

Dennis agrees.

“Many of the people that come to Tofino, this is an unfamiliar environment to them and my work is just another way of sharing that environment,” said Dennis.

Patterson has plans to expand the public sculpture park he calls one of Canada’s best.

“I want to develop the collection, keeping in mind that we don’t have any pieces by women or younger people or First Nations,” said Patterson, adding that the reason there are no First Nations pieces is that he didn’t want to get involved in cultural appropriation issues.