Where some see a weed, teacher sees a wish

·2 min read

When Collingwood teacher Deb Shackell was in hospital in 2018 with non hodgkin’s lymphoma, she saw inspiration in a dandelion sculpture outside.

The sculpture at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie gave Shackell hope. She described dandelions as a symbol that have been meaningful to her for a long time.

“I very much believe from difficult things, beautiful things come. It’s about a perspective on life,” she said. “When I see something, I try to see the good in it. When I meet people, I see the best in them. The idea of some see a weed, I see a wish.”

Those words are emblazoned on the metallic leaves of the Haliburton Sculpture Forest’s new dandelion sculpture, installed Nov. 13. Shackell worked with the forest and the high school behind the original sculpture – Innisdale Secondary School in Barrie – to create a new one over the past two years. She said she wanted to bring a sculpture to the forest because of how she connected with it before her diagnosis.

“Just before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a tour,” she said. “I just really connected, found it a really special place.”

Shackell was cancer-free after a year of treatment. She met with forest curator Jim Blake and program co-ordinators at the high school to get the project rolling. She mounted a fundraising campaign for it on GoFundMe, also producing art cards with inspirational photography.

Visual arts teacher, Jennica Hwang, said the project had some challenges, with personal matters, labour disputes and the pandemic delaying it. The students involved, including the art class that designed it and the metalworks class that manufactured it, could not attend due to COVID restrictions, but teachers took video to bring back with them.

“We’re all excited it’s finally happening,” Hwang said. “It’s kind of overwhelming to think after all that period of time, it’s actually finally going to be planted. And such a happy story.”

“One of the most special parts would be the involvement of the students,” Shackell said. “I’m an educator, so I really love the connection to learning.”

It was a big week for the forest, with two other new sculptures from Zimbabwean artists also installed Nov. 12, donations by former art gallery curators. Blake said it was exciting to engage with students and help create a dandelion sculpture with such an inspirational statement.

“There’s all this layered meaning to it,” he said. “I like it when there’s a lot of story attached to a sculpture.”

Shackell said the installation was a full-circle moment for her and a reminder of how far she has come.

“I hope (the sculpture) brings them hope and joy,” she said. “And that together, we can do beautiful things.”

Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander