by Maria Saracino
When I stepped into the role as President of the National Capital Network of Sculptors, one of the goals was to have a bigger presence at the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. The Network has been a proud supporter of this organization for years. As artists, our group understands the importance of art in our community and in the development of young minds. When I first approached Paul Beauchamp, the McArthur Avenue Clubhouse Manager, the idea was to not only offer more visiting artist workshops, but to also make a recommendation that the National Capital Network of Sculptors work as a group in a collaborative project with the kids at the centre. My medium is polymer clay and my experience working with local school boards on other kid-friendly collaborative projects made this a good fit.
Things moved very quickly from that initial meeting. We were able to secure half of our supplies for the project, compliments of the manufacturer of polymer clay, the Polyform Company, and our group donated the rest.
The theme had to be something that had an educational value but which also represented the spirit and goals of the Boys and Girls Club. That’s what made the Turtle perfect for this project.
The turtle is one of the oldest living animals in the world. There is so much wisdom that you can gain from turtle symbolism. Chinese philosophers and mystics consider turtles among the four main spirit animals and it is recognized around the world, in almost every country, as a symbol of wisdom, patience, community, family, persistence, endurance and strength; everything the Boys and Girls Club stands for.
The turtle is also an important symbol for Canada’s Indigenous people. Used as guide to the seasons and the calendar, the turtle has 13 large sections or “skutes” on its back that represent the 13 full moons of the year. You may have heard certain lunar periods referred to as “Strawberry moon”, “Harvest moon”, “Grandfather moon”, etc. With each new moon comes a new passage through time and the seasons. There are also 28 smaller sections or “skutes” around the 13 large sections. These represent the 28 days between each full moon. This is how the days were counted off between each full moon and the next season.
The Turtle also provides an environmental lesson. It is interesting to note that there are 300 species of Turtles in the world, half of which are endangered. Eight species of Turtles are native to Canada, but an incredible seven of those are endangered. All of these facts were imparted to the children during the development of the mural and, at its unveiling, the children were all able to recite back what they had learned as a result of working on the project.
Once the theme was determined, plans were quickly put into motion. A number of artists from the Network volunteered to take on specific tasks and to work with some of the children at the Club to create a 6’ x 12’ mural which would portray adult turtles and their newly hatched offspring making their way from land to the ocean. When you visit the Club on McArthur Avenue, take your time looking at and exploring the mural. Check and count-off the 13 skutes on the smaller turtles. The children made sure there were the correct number on each one. There are many little surprises and details that were added by both the children and the artists who participated and some unique designs like the lone ninja turtle – see if you can find him on the mural. The mural is not just beautiful during the day – at night the “glow in the dark” details make it come to life even when the centre is quiet.
From an enthusiastic embrace of this idea when I first proposed it, to a trial run workshop with the artists to create the maquette, to the final installation at the centre, so many artists from The National Capital Network of Sculptors stepped up to work on this project. Acclaimed artist, Rosemary Breault Landry painted the two 3′ x 6′ wood panels with a beach scene, highlighting the ocean with a beautiful water-like resin finish. Glass artists Miriam Silburt and France Grice created glass beads, millefoglie and fused glass patterns for some of the larger Turtles. Multi Media Artist Sheree Bradford Lea and Ceramic Artists Sandra Marshall, Ljiljana Stojanovic and Hengameh Kamal-Rad assisted with the childrens’ workshops as well as creating magnificent large turtles for the mural. Stone artists Danny Barber, Uwe Fuoehring and Theo Burtick did the heavy work of installing the mural on the block wall at the Club. Edna Lemyre, Colette Beardall, Patrick Imai, Mary Lou Devine and James Cook took part where needed. And then there’s me. I had the biggest pleasure, watching us come together to create a legacy . . . working as a team . . . leaving our mark on a new generation.
Oh, there’s one last thing . . . that smaller maquette of the mural I mentioned earlier will be auctioned at our big event, SCULPTURE EXPO, coming up October 25-27, at Lansdowne Park . . . and of course, all proceeds from the auction will be donated to the Boys and Girls Club.