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Eco-Sculptures: Animals Created From Metal and Living Plants

Crane eco-sculptures in Burnaby Mountain Park
Crane eco-sculptures in Burnaby Mountain Park | Source

What is an Eco-Sculpture?

One of the summer traditions in the city of Burnaby is the appearance of the eco-sculptures. The sculptures depict wildlife found in the province of British Columbia as well as animals from other parts of the world. They are made from metal and covered by living plants that represent fur, feathers or scales. The animals are placed in public areas such as parks, where they are admired by both the community and by visitors. I always feel a little sad when they are removed in September or October.

Although in Burnaby the term "eco-sculpture" has a specific meaning, elsewhere there seems to be no set definition for the term. Eco-sculptures or eco-friendly sculptures have some connection to protecting the environment. They are often made from natural, recycled or found materials. The Burnaby sculptures may not be completely "eco" in their composition. They probably stimulate at least some people to think about the animals that share the world with us, however.

The theme of the 2016 display of eco-sculptures is "Be a Bee-liever". It's designed to promote the importance of bees and other pollinators in our environment. An eco-sculpture display showing bears, bees, flowers and honey was created on a trailer so that it could be taken to different events. The photos of the trailer as well as all of the other photos in this article were taken by me.

The Be a Bee-liever Display

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A bear and a bee at a community fair in JulyThe Be a Bee-liever display parked at Burnaby Village Museum in AugustA close-up view of a bee in August
A bear and a bee at a community fair in July
A bear and a bee at a community fair in July
The Be a Bee-liever display parked at Burnaby Village Museum in August
The Be a Bee-liever display parked at Burnaby Village Museum in August
A close-up view of a bee in August
A close-up view of a bee in August

Composition of the Sculptures

The first eco-sculptures in Burnaby appeared in 2005. Their population is growing in both number and popularity. The basic building blocks of a sculpture are a mesh-like metal frame that holds compacted soil, landscape fabric on top of the frame and living plants pushed through the fabric into the soil. Continuous metal is used for parts such as bird beaks and animal feet. The components of a sculpture are shown in the video below.

Eco-Sculptures in Burnaby

Creating the Sculptures

The first step in the creation of an eco-sculpture is a drawing by the sculptor. The next stage is the creation of a small model of the sculpture, or a maquette. More than one maquette may be needed. The sculptor needs to plan not only the appearance of the animal but also its strength, stability and durability. The final construction needs to handle the often wet and heavy soil inside it.

Once the full-size animal is created, it's covered with a landscape fabric. Soil is then packed into the sculpture. The positions for the plants are marked on the fabric after the animal is stuffed with soil. The final step is to make holes in the fabric with a dibble and a mallet and to place plant plugs in the holes. The plants are given time to grow before the sculpture goes on display.

The time taken to create an Eco-sculpture depends on the sculpture’s size and design. In general, two weeks are needed to stuff a sculpture with soil and one week to plant the design.

— City of Burnaby

The Role of the Horticulturist

A horticulturist is involved in the last stages of making a sculpture. The final appearance of an animal depends on a number of factors, including plant type, health and vigour, the distance between the plants and their arrangement on the animal's surface. The plants that are used are generally annuals. A variety of Alternanthera is a popular choice.

The public plays a role in the final stage of making some of the eco-sculptures. Inserting the numerous plant plugs into the soil is time consuming, especially for the larger animals. Every year, the public is invited to help. There always seems to be a good response to the invitation.

A Sculptor Discusses His Steel and Plant Animals

Plant Care

Since the surface of an eco-sculpture is living, it needs to be inspected and maintained, like a garden. The crane sculptures at Burnaby Mountain Park (a highly photographed area), the horses on the Deer Lake complex and the owls near City Hall are very visible to the public and are well maintained. When I took their photos in the second half of August, their plant coats were luxuriant. The landscaping fabric could only be seen at the seams or in places where it was deliberately exposed as part of the design. Some of the other sculptures weren't doing as well, however. Some had visible holes in the fabric where plants were dying or had died.

In the section below I discuss eco-sculptures in two places in North Burnaby - Burnaby Mountain and Deer Lake Park - and in the area around and between them. I also briefly describe the location of the sculptured animals.

Burnaby Mountain to Deer Lake Park

show route and directions
A markerBurnaby Mountain Park -
Burnaby Mountain Park, 800 Burnaby Mountain Pkwy, Burnaby, BC V5A 1G9, Canada
get directions

B markerDeer Lake, Burnaby -
Deer Lake, Burnaby, BC, Canada
get directions

If you visit Burnaby to look at the eco-sculptures, they may not look exactly as they do in my photos. The plants used to create the surface vary in identity or arrangement from year to year. Another point to consider is that the Parks Department sometimes replaces one sculpture with another one.

Cranes and Playground of the Gods

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A crane family The babyPlayground of the Gods is a sculpture that is made of a natural material and is by one definition an eco-sculpture.
A crane family
A crane family
The baby
The baby
Playground of the Gods is a sculpture that is made of a natural material and is by one definition an eco-sculpture.
Playground of the Gods is a sculpture that is made of a natural material and is by one definition an eco-sculpture.

Cranes and Kamui Mintara in Burnaby Mountain Park

Burnaby Mountain Park is an attractive area which offers a beautiful view of Burrard Inlet. My favourite eco-sculptures out of all the ones that I've seen so far have been the cranes in the park. For many years, two tall tancho cranes held the place of honour on the mountain. They were created to celebrate Japan's efforts to save the bird from extinction. (The tancho crane sculpture is shown in each of the videos above.) This year, however, a different pair of cranes occupies Burnaby Mountain. These birds represent the sandhill cranes that can be seen in British Columbia.

The park contains a second sculpture. This could also be classified as an eco-sculpture according to one definition of the term because it's made of a natural material. The sculpture is known as Playground of the Gods, or Kamui Mintara. It consists of a series of wooden totem poles that tell the story of how the gods descended to Earth to create the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan. The bear, the owl and the orca are involved in the story and are shown in the sculpture. The poles were carved by sculptors from Kushiro, Burnaby's sister city.

Bears at Burnaby Mountain Golf Course

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A bear and a fishA close-up view of a bearA young bear and a bench for visitors
A bear and a fish
A bear and a fish
A close-up view of a bear
A close-up view of a bear
A young bear and a bench for visitors
A young bear and a bench for visitors

Bears and Salmon

The three bear sculptures are located in the golf course near the base of Burnaby Mountain. The sculptures are appropriate because black bears have been seen on Burnaby Mountain. The public has access to the golf course, although people are only allowed on the grass if they are playing golf. The grounds have some lovely floral displays as well as a small lake that birds visit. The lake is known as Squint Lake. In the early 1900s before the golf course existed, the local residents joked that the lake was so small that people had to squint to see it. This gave the lake its name.

The salmon sculpture is located at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex. This area is a collection of facilities aimed at amateur sports groups and the general public. The sports complex is located next to Burnaby Lake Regional Park, a wonderful place for nature lovers.

A Salmon at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex

The salmon at the sports complex doesn't have a great covering of plants, but it's still interesting to see. In real life, the salmon is an important fish in British Columbia.
The salmon at the sports complex doesn't have a great covering of plants, but it's still interesting to see. In real life, the salmon is an important fish in British Columbia.

Owls Near City Hall

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I love the head tilt of this owl.A view of both owlsThe back of an owlA close-up view of the back of an owl that shows the frame
I love the head tilt of this owl.
I love the head tilt of this owl.
A view of both owls
A view of both owls
The back of an owl
The back of an owl
A close-up view of the back of an owl that shows the frame
A close-up view of the back of an owl that shows the frame

Horse Sculptures and a Carousel

Sage and Parsley are sculptures that mimic horses on the carousel at the Burnaby Village Museum. The horses are located in Deer Lake Park by the highway. The park contains nature trails and quiet, uninhabited areas. In one section there are buildings, however. These buildings include heritage homes, some of which are used for different purposes than their original one, as well as the museum. Burnaby City Hall is located next to this section of the park.

The carousel was built in 1912 by the C.W. Parker company. By 1989, it had travelled from place to place in North America and had become dilapidated. The PNE (Pacific National Exhibition), a Vancouver organization, announced that they were going to auction off the horses one by one. This was very upsetting for some carousel fans. A group of people banded together to raise money for the purchase of the carousel. The Burnaby Village Museum agreed to build a building to protect it. After many hours of painstaking restoration done by some very dedicated volunteers, the carousel was ready to use.

Sage and Parsley

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Sage is one of Burnaby's signature eco-sculptures.A close-up view of Sage's headA beautiful maneAn interesting tailParsley, the other horse A different view of ParsleyThe sculptures of Sage and Parsley are based on  carousel horses at the Burnaby Village Museum.
Sage is one of Burnaby's signature eco-sculptures.
Sage is one of Burnaby's signature eco-sculptures.
A close-up view of Sage's head
A close-up view of Sage's head
A beautiful mane
A beautiful mane
An interesting tail
An interesting tail
Parsley, the other horse
Parsley, the other horse
A different view of Parsley
A different view of Parsley
The sculptures of Sage and Parsley are based on  carousel horses at the Burnaby Village Museum.
The sculptures of Sage and Parsley are based on carousel horses at the Burnaby Village Museum.

Cows at Burnaby Village Museum

Burnaby Village Museum is a re-creation of a typical small town or village that existed in the area in the 1920s. The buildings are open to the public and are interesting to explore. Some equipment in the buildings is in working order. The printing press functions and is run by volunteers, for example. The same is true for the blacksmith's equipment.

A cultivated meadow is located next to the carousel building. It's a nice place for children to run. It's also the current home of the cow and calf eco-sculptures. The cow is ready for milking and the calf is lying on the grass near her. Both have seen better days with respect to their plant covering, but they are still attractive. I lIke their yellow and green coloration and the spots on the calf.

A Cow and Calf

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The cow in the meadowThe calf with the carousel building and the Be a Bee-liever display in the backgroundThe cow and her calf together
The cow in the meadow
The cow in the meadow
The calf with the carousel building and the Be a Bee-liever display in the background
The calf with the carousel building and the Be a Bee-liever display in the background
The cow and her calf together
The cow and her calf together

A Growing and Changing Collection

Although I've heard of eco-sculptures located in other places in British Columbia, by far the greatest concentration is in Burnaby. The city seems to have been the pioneer for eco-sculptures (according to its definition of the term), at least in this part of the world. There are many other animals in Burnaby's collection in addition to the ones that I've described. New animals sometimes appear, such as the owls in 2016.

It will be interesting to see what sculptures are on display next year. It will also be interesting to discover how the appearances of the present animals change. The different colours and types of plants that the horticulturists use and the different designs that they create with the plants remind me of an artist at work. A sculpture from this year will have the same shape next year, but it won't look the same if its plant covering has changed. Eco-sculpture in Burnaby is an interesting combination of art forms.

© 2016 Linda Crampton

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Comments 40 comments

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 3 months ago from Home Sweet Home

oh those are so beautiful tree scupltures!

Too bad I don't find these creation in our country, thanks for the beautiful pictures

Share your hub at my Facebook, I am sure my friends would love them


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, peachpurple. Thank you very much for the comment. I appreciate the share, too! Perhaps the idea of creating eco-sculptures will spread to your country one day.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 months ago from The Beautiful South

These are so beautiful, what a talent. I am starting to see these locally now and then so I think their popularity is growing.

Shared.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I think they're beautiful too, Jackie. Your comment about seeing the sculptures where you live is interesting. Thanks for the share!


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 months ago from USA

Absolutely stunning! I love these ecosculptures and sure wish they weren't so rare. I'm not sure which is my favorite. I live near some nice Botanical Gardens that would surely be complemented with this type of artwork. I've seen just about everything else there but not this.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 months ago from Queensland Australia

The eco-sculptures are amazing. Thank you for sharing the information and photos.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

I love public artwork like this. I wish more cities would spend funds for such beauty. I would gladly have my taxes increased for such a movement.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 months ago from Queensland Australia

These are amazing eco-sculptures. Great hub, Linda.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Flourish. I live near some great botanical gardens, too. I see topiary there, but I've never seen eco-sculpture. Thanks for the visit.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Jodah. Thank you very much for the comments. I always enjoy seeing the eco-sculptures, especially the ones that are covered by lots of plants.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I wish the idea of creating the sculptures would spread, too, Bill. It would be interesting to see what artists in different places produce.


Blond Logic profile image

Blond Logic 3 months ago from Brazil

These are beautiful. I love the fact that art is outside where everyone can enjoy it and not only stuck in a museum.

These remind me of the floats in parades, although these last much longer. What a joy it must be to know your city is providing these fabulous creations.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Blond Logic. I agree - it is wonderful that the city places the art outside where everyone can see it for free. I'm glad that I have access to it.


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 3 months ago from Peru, South America

Believe it or not, I've seen a lot of ecosculptures in Peru. I'd always wondered how they were made so I appreciate your explanation. You have some beautiful photos of ecosculptures and I thought the story about the carousel was interesting. Thank you for sharing.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the informative comment, vespawoolf. It's very interesting to hear that the sculptures are popular in Peru!


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 3 months ago from Victoria, Australia

Interest in eco-sculptures seems to growing around the world and they certainly add to our enjoyment of the outdoors and the world around us. I really enjoyed this article and the images, too. I first saw them in Taiwan some years ago. In warm countries they can be exhibited year-round, but I'm wondering what happens to them in the cold Canadian winters.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 3 months ago from California

These are wonderful! What fun this must be to cultivate these creatures!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Blossom. On the southwest coast of British Columbia we don't get a very cold winter, though the rest of the country does. I know that the eco-sculptures are put into storage over the winter, but I don't know if all of them have their covering completely removed. Thank for commenting. It's interesting to hear about the sculptures in other parts of the world.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Audrey! Yes, it must be fun to create the creatures, though I think it must be a lot of work, too.


teaches12345 3 months ago

What a charming article! I love art, especially when used to beautify a city. I recognize the sandhill cranes as true art form -- we have a few in our neighborhood.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, Dianna. I appreciate your comment and the information about your neighbourhood. I think that art can add both beauty and interest to an area. It's a great asset.


Faith Reaper 3 months ago

Oh, I love these beautiful eco-sculptures because they remind me of topiaries, which I have always loved. I think it is important that they invite the public to help out too.

I think these art forms are especially perfect to add interest outdoors in cities. The sky's the limit it seems when creating these lovely sculptures.

Thank you for sharing of these lovely art forms.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Faith. I think it's great that the public helps to create the sculptures, too. The art can be a lovely addition to a city environment. Thanks for the visit.


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 3 months ago from Massachusetts

Hi Linda. What a beautiful addition to an already scenic area. I absolutely love the eco-sculptures. Wish we had something similar here. Great job, have a wonderful weekend.


Peggy Woods 3 months ago

Thanks for showing us these beautiful eco-sculptures in your area. They do remind me of the many topiaries I have seen in places. Since they are planted with annuals those eco-sculptures would not be as long lasting as some of the topiaries that are planted with perennial vines and such. All need tending however to keep in good shape. I am happy to hear that the people got to keep their carousel. Those old ones are true works of art! I really enjoyed this! Sharing!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Bill. Yes, the scenery where the sculptures are placed is often lovely, but it looks even nicer with the added art. I hope you have a great weekend, too.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Peggy. I agree - the old carousels are often lovely works of art! Thank you for the comment. I appreciate the share, too.


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California

I would love to see these stunning sculptures. I am going to have to investigate to see if this trend is catching on here in San Diego. Great hub!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit and the comment, Mel. It's been interesting to see where the sculptures exist by reading the comments on this article. I hope the idea for creating the art spreads. The more artists that are involved, the higher the potential for great designs!


Deb Hirt 3 months ago

These eco-sculptures are a fabulous idea and it it nice to see the Sandhill Crane.

Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta is the breeding ground for the endangered Whooping Crane, who now has a population of over 60. That beautiful, tall bird came back from the brink of extinction, but took almost 100 years to be where it is today. If it was not for Canada's boreal forest, we would not have been so lucky.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Deb. Thanks for the comment and for sharing the information. It's good that the whooping crane situation has improved, although it's still worrying. I hope the population continues to increase.


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 3 months ago from Victoria, Australia

Oh, that's interesting. It must make so much more work to do it in cooler climates. Thank you for replying and telling me about it.


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 2 months ago from New Delhi, India

These Eco sculptures look so beautiful and so creative!

Lot of hard work must have gone in creating them. I remember seeing similar structures in botanical gardens in some Indian states.

Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures and details!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment, ChitrangadaSharan. The sculptures are time consuming to create, but like you, I think the results are lovely! I hope the sculptures stay around until well into the fall.


Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 2 months ago from Oklahoma

Such an interesting art movement. You always find the most interesting things to write about.

Sorry for long time no see. Been doing the professor thing. Between you and me, I far prefer reading your articles to comp students, lol.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the kind comment, Larry. Good luck with the professor thing! I hope you enjoy it, despite the marking involved.


DDE 2 months ago

A fascinating topic and you have thoroughly researched with patience.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the visit and comment, Devika.


Rolly A Chabot profile image

Rolly A Chabot 2 weeks ago from Alberta Canada

Hi AliciaC... it has always been a favourite place to stop during the summer months to marvel at what Burnaby has created. By far the leaders in Canada at this form of living art. We have very few in Alberta, one I have found is rather interesting is at the entrance to Bowden Prison on the main highway between Calgary and Edmonton, just south of Red Deer. It is off the beaten path but well worth the stop. The creation is built by prisoners and it is impressive,a 12 foot Peacock in all its finery... very well written hub my friend...

Hugs from Alberta


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and for sharing the information, Rolly. I'll look for the peacock next time I'm in Alberta. I would definitely like to look at a 12 foot eco-sculpture!

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