The assignment from B.C. Children’s Hospital was to create a sculpture that would be healing for children.
“I wanted to make something that would express a sense of comfort and would be inviting,” says Nelson sculptor John McKinnon.
“But at the same time, it was my intention to make a piece that would have the attributes of a sculpture in a classical sense.”
McKinnon was one of 60 artists from across the country selected to create artwork for the new Teck Acute Care Centre at the Vancouver hospital. The artists were chosen by a panel of children, parents, doctors, and nurses.
“The committee wanted me to create an interactive piece, so I am expecting that it will be climbed on by many children for a long time.”
McKinnon’s Bear Suite #1 is placed on a balcony outside the chemotherapy ward. He said the mother bear and her cub are anthropomorphic.
“They are doing things bears would not normally do. It’s more like how you would play with a kid, so it gives it a sense of beyond animals playing. It gives a sense of nurturing. I tried to create something playful and happy.”
The bears are made of forged bronze. Cast bronze would have been too expensive, McKinnon says, so he tried a technique new to him.
The piece is constructed of sheets of bronze that are forged, shaped, and welded together over a skeleton made of bronze rods. The outside surface is made of 3/32”-thick bronze sheets.
“There are probably about 2,000 pieces in there, and it got a little complicated with the compound curves, so it took a while. It was a great learning experience for me because it is a whole new medium.”
The well-known veteran artist says he’s been a sculptor “since I was born. I was always making stuff.”
He was a student at the original Kootenay School of the Arts in 1970.
“It cost $130 per year and all the materials were paid for. It was an amazing three years of my life and I’ve been trying to make my living at it since then.”