Every once in a while you meet someone who wants to do something extraordinary. Not for themselves but for others. The desire to do an amazing thing for other people is rare and it’s a real gift when you meet someone who has this kind of vision.
In 2007 a friend who worked at a local real estate office approached me. This real estate office had been located on the same downtown street for 100 years and the owner, Sharron Billy, wanted to commemorate their 100th anniversary by giving back to the community that had supported them for all those years. My friend asked if I could create a sculpture that would honor community spirit. The thought of making art that created and built community was a concept that I was immediately excited to get involved in.
I came across a drawing that my friend and at that time employee, Michael Hepher had done. It was a concept drawing of a centerpiece for a ski resort sales office. But it was a project that had never come to be. I was inspired by some of the shapes in the drawing. I went to Mike with my new vision for a Sculpture that I would call The Spirit Tree and together we worked out a new drawing that represented community spirit. The tree was made of 32 individual metal “roots” coming out of the ground. These roots represent the past – our forefathers and the local First Nations who had built our community. The roots then come together to form the trunk – this is our community growing strong through the efforts of the people who live here – living in unity and working together to build a prosperous future. At the top of the tree the roots branch out and become their own individuals. This represents the people of our community living their lives, being who they are within the community and making their individual contributions. At the end of some of these branches are reflective, stainless steel globes encircled by the ends of the branches – the fruit of living in a vibrant community. People can see themselves in the sculpture and know that they are indeed a part of the community.
When the idea was presented to Sharron, the City of Cranbrook and a local funding agency, the Columbia Basin Trust, everyone was immediately on board. The next question was, “Where should the sculpture go?” My first thought was the city’s downtown square, which had, in recent years, fallen into disrepair. The area had been “taken over” by some pretty nefarious characters and many local people didn’t feel safe going there. By putting the artwork here, I hoped to revitalize the area and inspire people to see its potential as a source of community pride.
So the project went ahead and has become a success for our city on several different levels. It developed and built a community identity in an area of the city that was previously tarnished. It also returned an area that was unsafe and undesirable to a family-friendly place that could be enjoyed by everyone. Most importantly it gracefully accomplishes its primary goal of honouring the community that supported that local realty office for 100 years. Special thanks to Michael Hepher the City of Cranbrook the Columbia Basin Trust and most importantly, Sharron Billy and Jon McWhirter for the role they played in making this project a reality.