London

Why is public art lying in a city yard?

A number of London's metal trees that sparked a firestorm of controversy when they were first commissioned were spotted lying in a pile in a city yard. A city official says trees were removed for construction and will be refurbished before they are reinstalled.

Four of London's coloured metal trees have been spotted in a storage yard

Four of the original 45 brightly coloured trees that were part of a public art installation that once dotted downtown London lay in a storage yard not far from Cavendish Park. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Some people love them, while others loathe them. London's brightly coloured metal trees have become a staple along city streets, but concerns were raised after some were spotted in a City of London storage yard.

Many of the trees that lined Dundas Street were removed for construction. And while 12 are now standing in a parkette at Wellington and York streets, another four were spotted in a yard off Cavendish Park in the city's Kensington Village neighbourhood. 

Jen Artan noticed the trees lying among weeds and other debris on Monday and tweeted a photo.

Andrea Surich is the wife of the late Bill Hodgson, the London artist who created The Trees of the Carolinian Forest, a public art installation that featured metal sculptures of native trees.

It was commissioned by the Downtown London Business Association and installed in the summer of 2007 at a cost of about $6,000 a tree, which was paid for by private businesses and met by a firestorm of controversy from the public.

Bill Hodgson working on a sheep sculpture in 2016. Hodgson passed away the following year. (Andrea Surich)

Forty-five trees were created and installed on London streets.

Trees in limbo

While four of the trees lie in a storage yard, the city has confirmed the trees will be reinstalled in the future.

"Some of the trees on Dundas were removed in preparation for construction and some were removed because they needed refurbishing," said Patti McKague, director of strategic communications and community engagement at the city in a statement.

"The goal is to identify a new use for them and refurbish them as needed when that is clear, in cooperation with the Downtown London BIA. The remainder of the trees, however, are in their original locations throughout the city.

At least a dozen of Bill Hodgson's metal trees have been painted blue and installed in this parkette located at the corner of York and Wellington Streets. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

When asked what her husband would say had he lived to see his most controversial work dismantled and reinstalled, Surich said he would probably be okay with it.

"He would probably say 'I don't own them. They can do whatever they want with them.'"

Surich said what's sad is that very few people seemed to have noticed.

"I'm sad because it was my husband's work. I think it's a loss for the city," she said. "It became sort of an icon of the city. It's sad that there's no recognition of that history."

Remembering the controversy

Bill Hodgson drew a strong reaction with his metal trees installation in downtown London. (Submitted by Andrea Surich)

"Those trees caused such a furor when they went up years ago, I don't think the city ever really liked them," said Surich.

Surich recalls she and her family felt as if they were under siege as the entire city seemed consumed with the sculptures and their value to the city when they were installed.

"It was weeks of strong feelings in the newspaper, on the radio," Surich said. "There were phone-in shows about the colours, which colour did you hate and which colour didn't you like."

Surich said she often got an earful while at her job at the Grand Theatre and even her teenage daughters, Paterson and Julia, heard about it from their peers at school.

"It was hard, it was hard on them," she said. "It was pretty crazy. It was actually ridiculous." 

The only person in the family who seemed unphased by the fuss, according to Surich, was her husband Bill. 

"Bill was easy going," she said. "He would say 'people could think what they want to think.'"

Hodgson isn't just known as the creator of London's metal trees, he's also the artist behind many of the Christmas sculptures thousands of Londoners enjoy in Victoria Park each winter.

He also created the stationary train that stands beside the small locomotive at Storybook Gardens, among many other privately commissioned works.

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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