John Mckinnon has spent the last four decades filling his remote Blewett property with idiosyncratic sculptures of all shapes and sizes — some carved out of stone, others welded out of bronze or steel, and many pieced together with odds and ends.
Visitors trekking down the forest trail behind his home can expect to see giant metal bugs, leering stone faces and a menacing creature composed of scrap metal and animal bones. A small pond features a wooden pelican along the shore, the surrounding meadows are populated with stone figures arranged in circles reminiscent of Stonehenge, and a toppled wheelbarrow spilling stones seems to defy gravity, frozen in place.
And those are just the pieces he’s keeping to himself.
These days Mckinnon has several pieces on permanent display in Nelson — “The Monument” outside the Hume Hotel, “The Contemporary Family” in Gyro Park, “The Blind Giant” and “The Secret Marble” at Lakeside, “The Gathering” at the Nelson and District Community Complex and “Dorkmyer,” the human-sized grotesque perched on his friend Mike Hames’ Front Street home.
His most recent addition, “Wind Suite #1”, is currently on Baker Street as part of Sculpturewalk.
For him, it’s about having fun. Having taught at David Thompson University in the 1980s, he’s explored pretty much every medium you could name, including everything from clay, glass and concrete to more ephemeral mediums like ice, snow and sand.
“When I was a kid I spent a lot of time making what I thought were robots out of wood, and looking back now I realize they were sculptures. I was always making shit as a kid, or wrecking stuff, depending on how you look at it,” Mckinnon told the Star, during his 68th birthday celebrations last weekend.
The sculptor had just returned from a gig in Peterborough, Ont., where he’d helped organize and then participated in a four-person sculpture symposium at the Haliburton campus of Sir Sanford Fleming College. His piece was a spiralling wind dervish, inspired by the project’s theme: The Canadian Shield.
“With the Canadian Shield, I realized, the wind comes and scrapes across the shield for centuries and over a long period of time it lifts a couple of inches of stone off the shield and takes it away. I compressed all that time into a second, and created something like a tornado out of stone, spiralling up and out.”
McKinnon worked alongside three other carvers, and they each completed a limestone piece in three weeks. The sculptures were then installed in Haliburton’s sculpture forest.
Now he wants to recreate the event in Nelson.
“Four carvers turned out to be an ideal number to work with. We ended up with somebody from Europe, somebody from the States, one person from Ontario and me. Two women, two guys,” he said.
“After working on this one, I have a bit more perspective because I’ve been involved as a carver before but never organized. Now I’m ready to do it all again here.”
But he said it will take a lot of work to make that happen, as well as money, and he doesn’t take any of these opportunities for granted.
“All you can do is put the idea out there, and if you’re lucky you’ll get the job.”
In the meantime, his sculpture forest continues to grow.