Our Common Woods
As of June 2017, extraordinary public art installations are available to be experienced on the Halifax Common, arising from a partnership between Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), the Deanery Project and five Nova Scotia artists.
The artworks, created by Alan Syliboy, Erin Philp, Theo Heffler, Gary Staple, and Steve Sekerak function as park-scape furniture, and iconic sculptural pieces at their respective locations. The installations conceptually and visually align with each other. Together they bring fresh elements to spark joy, thought and community among us all.
The idea for the project was conceived in 2014 when redevelopment began on lands bordering the Halifax Common. At the time, over a dozen maple and elm trees ranging in age from 40 to 120 years old were cut to allow for travel lane adjustments on North Park and Cunard. When trees are cut from our urban forests they are typically chipped-up and sent to the landfill, or bucked-up for firewood. On occasion these trees may find their way to a crafts-person to be turned into value-added wood products like tables, benches, or buildings.
In an effort to operate under principles of sustainability and to support art-inspired public “place-making” initiatives, the Halifax Regional Municipality engaged The Deanery Project to facilitate and curate Our Common Woods: a program whereby trees felled during the roundabout expansion were used to create art projects. These were then returned to the Common, and installed there in June of 2017.
As keystone elements in our ecosystems, trees find their greatest value in providing oxygen, shade, and a habitat for other life. Once felled, trees continue to give in a myriad of ways; a primary intention of Our Common Woods is to connect people with opportunities to better appreciate trees, and the integral role they play in our communities.
A curatorial approach was taken to select artists who have strong connections to forests, the arts, and a high level of skill in woodcraft. The curatorial team included Kim Thompson and Stuart Reddish of The Deanery Project, with support from Jamie MacLellan, of the Halifax Regional Municipality Public Arts team.
The Artists and Their Installations
Artist: Alan Syliboy
Title: Mi’kmaw Sign Post
Alan Syliboy is an internationally renowned Mi’kmaw artist, filmmaker, musician and social justice advocate whose works have inspired renewed community pride in Mi’kmaw culture and heritage. He lives on the Millbrook First Nation reserve in Truro.
The Mi’kmaw Sign Posts Wigwam has been constructed using eight poles representing the eight districts of Mi’kma’ki as imprinted on canoe paddles at the top of this structure. Paddles were very important tools for the Mi’kmaq people helping them to operate canoes which were a major source of transportation allowing First Nations people to inhabit all of Mi’kma’ki. I find inspiration in the indigenous Mi’kmaq petroglyph tradition. My own artistic vocabulary has evolved from these forms, instilling great community pride in my Mi’kmaq heritage.
A replica of the petroglyph – “Mi’kmaq Eight Point Star” lies on the floor in the centre of the Wigwam. This petroglyph was discovered a few kilometers from the Halifax Common, in Bedford Nova Scotia. It was cut using stone tools, pre-contact, and is approaching 1000 years old!
Every part of a tree has a designated use in Mi’kmaq culture – transportation, weapons, tools, clothing, art, but most importantly shelter. The wigwam joins the ideas of dwelling, the forest, and strong Mi’kmaq connection to the woods.
To learn more about Alan and his work, visit his website www.alansyliboy.ca
Artist: Erin Philp
Erin Philp has worked across Canada building and restoring furniture, and wooden boats. She currently practices her craft in Lunenburg where she continues to expand her interests in fine wood-working, education and history.
Spontaneity and imagination are at the heart of this project. My goal was to take the organic forms of the felled trees and alter them in unexpected and playful ways which resulted in a variety of shapes and textures. I produced additional dynamic visual contrast by burning individual logs, which adds to the fun and spirited nature of the bench.
Flight is a functional piece of art whose purpose is to inspire play, provoke conversation or just give rise to a moment’s pause in this hectic world. Allowing my imagination to take flight is at the core of my creative process and my hope is that this piece will lift hearts and engage passersby with its childlike exuberance.
To learn more about Erin and her work, visit her website
Artist: Theo Heffler
Title: elm elm maple elm
Based in Nova Scotia, Theodore Heffler is a sculptor and installation artist working predominantly with natural materials. His interest in the social context of these materials informs a bridging of sculpture and craft, the formal and the everyday, and contemplates our relationship to nature in the information age. Through process, participation, and locality, Heffler’s practice shapes new ways of experiencing our changing landscapes.
elm elm maple elm is largely inspired by the location and materials provided. While the configuration of this sculpture plays with themes of union and resistance, its form and quality are both a product of environment and time. Conceptually, this sculpture stands as a counter-monument to the trees lost on the Halifax Common and to the people fighting to strengthen our common spaces in the face of urban development.
To learn more about Theo and his work, he can be contacted by email
Artist: Gary Staple
Title: Tree Ghost
Gary Staple designs and builds fine furniture, as well as custom commissions, out of his busy new shop in Seaforth. Gary learned carpentry the old-fashioned way, working under well-seasoned carpenters on the Eastern Shore, and eventually starting his own contracting company with a friend. Left wanting more, he sold everything he owned in 2013 and journeyed to the best furniture making school he could find, the Thomas Chippendale International School of furniture in Scotland.
The inspiration for my piece was to return a bit of something lost to the Common. For years, a tree stood here that provided beauty, shelter, habitat and much more. It is meant to be a symbol of not only trees lost from our urban forest, but also the damage being done to our global forests and environment. Tree Ghost is a representation of the the spirit of tree, the spirit of mother nature, and a reminder of the appreciation and respect that we should hold for it.
To learn more about Gary and his work, visit his website
NOTE: Tree Ghost will be installed around June 23, 2017
Artist: Steve Sekerak
Steve Sekerak is a master craftsman/fine woodworker living in a gorgeous old church he and his wife re-purposed as their home, overlooking Jeddore Harbour on the Eastern Shore. He retired in 2007 after 23 years as artist in residence at the Dalhousie School of Architecture.
It’s always sad to see trees come down, but the feeling is softened by finding a use for the logs and timber. Using maple, which I originally thought was red elm, I designed a seat inspired by a knock-apart bench which I first designed back in 1982. The bench is in keeping with its rustic origins allowing for only two elements, leg and seat. This bench continues the life of the tree, staying close to the ground in which it grew from.