A pair of local artists has completely covered the trunk and branches of a young pear tree on International Avenue in Calgary with a fine sheen of real gold, an art project they hope will be a gift to a community they love long after the gold wears away.
But it wasn't easy.
"There was a lot of experimentation leading up to the actual application," said Eric Moschopedis, who worked with Mia Rushton on the project.
"We had a branch that we'd put gold leaf on. We'd put it in the freezer, put it in the rain, put it in the freezer, put it in the shower. Put it in the oven. We put it in all these extreme conditions to see how it would hold up to Calgary's weather," he said.
"There were many days when we'd wake up and think to ourselves: 'How did this become our lives?'"
The project — one of five recently completed installations on 17th Avenue S.E. — is meant to be temporary.
That was the commission they took on from the City of Calgary. But Moschopedis, who grew up in the nearby neighbourhood of Temple and spent many hours bowling and hanging out in Forest Lawn, wanted to leave something permanent to benefit the people living nearby.
That's why the pear tree was chosen. It's a seven-year-old tree that's already producing small pears and is surrounded by edible berries, thyme and oregano. They hope the tree grows quickly to provide shade. There are large boulders set nearby at 17th Avenue and 34th Street to act as seats and help people pick the fruit.
"People are welcome to pick the pears as they like.… This particular pear is often times better after the first frost if you want to make jams with it. It just becomes sweeter," he said.
As for vandalism, the gold is too thin to be stolen, Moschopedis said. "Even if you were to remove branches from the tree, you can't extract the gold.
"The gold itself is gold leaf, which is so fine and so thin. When we did this work, we had to do it in a really controlled environment because the slightest breeze would blow the gold leave away. It's so temporary in nature, there's not that kind of value in it."
The five new works of art on International Avenue are part of a new City of Calgary approach to public art that includes smaller pieces, set in locations where they have the most impact and with commissions available to local artists.
Dance — a sculpture of stained glass and cast concrete — was the last to be installed, finished this month. Located on the grass in Unity Park, with a base just 10 centimetres tall, it's mean to be experienced up close and personal, touched or even danced around.
"One person when he came by said: 'Can I touch it?'" said lead artist Vahe Tokmajyan, when CBC Calgary found him putting the final touches on the piece recently.
"I said, 'Of course you can touch it. It's stained glass. It's really hard; just touch it.'"
Tokmajyan worked with five other artists, all of whom moved to Canada mid-career. They created dance as a nod to the people from many different cultures who own shops or patronize restaurants on the busy avenue. The sculpture shows a larger-than-life man and woman intertwined in dance, which is an important form of expression for many of those people groups.
"It doesn't show just one culture. It's not dark, it's not white," Tokmajyan said. "That was probably the hardest part. Each colour when you look at it is playing with different tones of the same colour, which creates a very interesting atmosphere and is very organic to this area."
The three other new public art installations include a rolled steel sculpture called Rise and Reflect by Cassie Suche, which sits on the north side of 17th Avenue at Barlow Trail.
Illustrator Mary Haasdyk created a series of drawing meant to be playful, personified portraits of the avenue. Those are located high on a building at 17th Avenue and 40th Street and called A Beautiful Day.
Finally, Kawa'pomahkaiks — Animals That Roam the Prairie, is an installation made of laser-cut steel. In his artist statement, Adrian Stimson said inspiration came from engagement sessions with local area children. They drew sketches of animals. Stimson create cut-out silhouettes of a pronghorn antelope, coyote, badger, ferret and other figures and placed them in a planter at 17th Avenue and 33rd Street.
The project budget was $25,000 for each of the three artists just starting to work in public art: Haasdyk, Suche and the Moschopedis/Rushton team. Tokmajyan's team and Stimson each had $45,500 to work with.