Red Deer artists honour David Thompson through legacy sculpture in Alberta’s capital

Star Gazer, by Voyager Art and Tile, is a Canada-150 project

The top of the Voyager Art and Tile sculpture, Star Gazer. (Photo contributed).

Canoes, flying ravens and map-making explorer David Thompson: You can’t get much more Canadian than that.

Those quintessentially Canuck elements are captured in a new public artwork by Red Deer artists Dawn Detarando and Brian McArthur, which is being installed in time for Canada Day, just north of the legislative grounds in Edmonton.

Their Star Gazer metal sculpture consists of three aluminum canoes held vertically upright on a stand. A metal cutout of Thompson, looking through his sexton and sitting on top of a move-able weather vane, is at the lofty top.

A magpie, flying ravens, moose, “a big beaver,” and grazing bison have all been etched into the aluminum canoes — as is the image of an indigenous woman drying meat. “There are also some quotes from David Thompson’s journals… and some local flora and fauna,” said Detarando, who with husband McArthur, operates Voyager Art and Tile, south of Red Deer.

When darkness falls, passersby will also see twinkling stars in the sculpture. Lamps are mounted within the canoes so light can shine through cut-outs of Ursa Major and other constellations made in the metal.

Star Gazer is one of five new artworks that were commissioned in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday for Edmonton’s Capital Boulevard (108th Street), between 99th and 104th Avenues.

The $80,000 sculpture was made possible by a federal government grant, with matching investments from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and City of Edmonton, with support from the Edmonton Downtown Business Association and The Works Society.

Detarando and McArthur came up with the successful proposal featuring Thompson, who “gave shape to the land and the locations of many of our cities.” The artists feel their sculpture celebrates the spirit of his journeys, and will hopefully make viewers ponder the connection he had with nature, the stars and indigenous people as he mapped the countryside.

The artists learned more about the explorer by reading his journals. They were impressed by Thompson’s co-operative marriage to his aboriginal wife, Charlotte Small, who helped him with his work and travelled with him and their children.

“We thought he’s a great representative of Canada,” said Detarando.

She and McArthur have created many public artworks in Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Edmonton. Star Gazer is their most prominent project, so far.

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