'400 pounds of blackbird' installed at new natural playground in Stratford
Bursting of Atlantic bubble has delayed work on rest of Fullerton's Creek project
A giant red-winged blackbird marks the spot where Stratford's new natural playground will eventually take shape at Fullerton's Creek Conservation Park.
The $100,000 playground was supposed to open this fall, but is now on hold.
The company in charge of the project, Cobequid Consulting, is based in Nova Scotia, and its staff can no longer travel to P.E.I. without isolating now that the Atlantic bubble has temporarily closed.
Fortunately for the town, the artist commissioned to provide an interactive public art installation for the playground lives not far from the park, in Stratford.
"When I walked the site and got to the lookout at the end up by the marsh, the blackbirds were just so distinctive, flittering amongst the reeds in the bulrushes," said artist Gerald Beaulieu.
"I work from photographs, and I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted it to look."
Flora and fauna
Beaulieu said flora and fauna have been featured in many of his recent pieces, including the tuna at Queen and Richmond streets in Charlottetown, the sculpted leaves on Water Street, and crows made out of tires that were at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
He also created a cormorant public art piece for the town of Montague.
The Fullerton's marsh design brought in another factor.
"The other theme with this piece is balance, which also relates to land use — having a conservation area next to an urban site like this, and how we balance how we protect nature with our own footprints," Beaulieu said.
On a practical note, the balance theme comes into play in terms of "trying to get 400 pounds of blackbird suspended high up on a pole," Beaulieu said. "And in order to do that, you need to actually work with the laws of nature and not fight them, and just get that perfect balance point happening."
The whole sculpture, including the giant cattail where the bird perches, weighs about 800 pounds.
Beaulieu constructed the bird in his yard, completing it in mid-August and then waiting for the town to begin work on the playground site.
He said the sculpture was lying horizontally the entire time he was building it.
"It's good to see it the way it was originally intended. I've been used to just crawling around and underneath to get at it," Beaulieu said.
"It's nice to see it freestanding in its natural environment, the way it's supposed to."
Beaulieu said it's important to have communities like the town of Stratford investing in pieces of public art like this.
"It's a fantastic opportunity because these pieces live for a long time. Most of the work I exhibit, it's up for exhibit maybe one month, three months," he said.
"But these ones are on display the entire time and that's when art lives, when people can look at it, not when it's in my barn, in a crate."
Beaulieu said he also likes the location of the sculpture, in a natural playground, in a conservation park.
"People will come into nature and engage with that," Beaulieu said.
"The idea of a conservation area is not to keep the people out, but to have it so that people can appreciate nature."
The Town of Stratford paid $15,000 for the public art installation at Fullerton's Creek Conservation Park.
"I think it's wonderful," said Stratford Mayor Steve Ogden.
"We had a nationally recognized artist, Gerald Beaulieu, do it. He lives here in Stratford, he's done a wonderful job and I think people are going to be really inspired."
As for the rest of the natural playground, the mayor said the town is hoping work will resume whenever the Atlantic bubble is restored.
"We had planned to have it completed by now, but because of COVID, because of the busting of the Atlantic bubble, it's a Nova Scotia company that's doing it," Ogden said.
"It's really difficult for them to to work on it, so we're hoping to have it done by spring, summer of next year."
As for Beaulieu, he said his next project will be a large dinosaur, but that too will have to wait for spring.
Like the massive red-winged blackbird, it's going to be too big for his workshop.