A drab, grey retaining wall in an industrial part of town has become the canvas for one of Chilliwack’s newest completed pieces of public art.
The 345-foot long concrete lock block wall outside LSC Pre-Cast Systems Ltd. – at the corner of Lickman and Chilliwack Mountain roads – has been beautified with a bright green mural featuring fernlike swirls and three-dimensional circular shapes.
You can almost see the curled up fronds come to life and unfurl before your eyes as the 3D “spores” float across the wall.
“We left it totally open to murals or three-dimensional things, and when this proposal came, it was so excellent because it covers everything,” Sylvie Roussel-Janssens, president of LSC said.
She and her company put the call out for artists in May 2019, offering $5,000 to the chosen artist.
Tracie Stewart of Abbotsford was picked. She work on the mural, on and off, for about five months. The piece was finished in December and is a combination of painting and cast concrete elements.
“It’s like spores, or bursts of atoms, or music notes,” Stewart said of the concrete half-spheres sprinkled throughout her piece.
Stewart’s work at LSC was kind of like an artist-in-residence project as she chatted with employees about how it would be constructed and how they could lend a hand.
Glen Lapierre, senior concrete technician, helped her with some of the casting. There are one or two metal bolts attached to each of the hundreds of 3D concrete half-spheres. Holes were drilled into the lock blocks and then the bolts were epoxied into the wall.
The mural is located at the trailhead of a not-so-well-known walkway called Lickman Ponds Trail, close to lots of greenery, animals and insects. When Stewart was painting, small salamanders would scurry out from the gaps between the lock blocks and bask in the sun near her.
“It was really neat. I’d be painting this curl and a salamander would come out and do a curl right below it,” she said.
Stewart describes the mural as “a celebration of life” and “the resilience of nature bursting out of the seams.”
The green energy radiating from the mural is like “heart energy shining through,” the artist said. She wants people to feel that energy when they walk past her work.
While Stewart was working on it, people walking along the trail expressed how happy they were with the mural and how pleased they were that a local business was doing something nice for the community.
“The whole point of this is to give an example of how relatively easy and inexpensive it can be for public art,” Roussel-Janssens said.
Because of the low height of the wall and since scaffolding was not needed to construct the mural, there were no safety issues. That also kept costs down because LSC didn’t have to rent equipment.
Stewart is also a registered horticulturalist. She designed and planted new landscaping in the corner of the property that borders the wall. The chosen plants and design mirror some of the mural elements with colour and shape.
“You keep seeing this really negative dialogue [about the cost of public art]… but there are many ways to do small projects either with private businesses doing it on their own, or a collaboration with the city,” Roussel-Janssens said.
The mural at LSC was done by the company itself – it was not funded by the city.
Roussel-Janssens hopes the business community takes note of this attempt to link community space and private space in a visual way.
“Public art does not have to be complicated and expensive,” Roussel-Janssens said, adding the more public art a city has, the better.
“I say sprinkle that stuff everywhere. [Start] small and watch it grow, just like these spores.”