The Tale of TransitStory

the skinny by heavy industries

Heavy Industries has installed sculpture all over North America and as far away as Japan, Singapore, London, and Munich. Now, we’ve had the pleasure of installing a true public artwork for our home city, Calgary. TransitStory is a unique, permanent artwork by Jill Anholt for Calgary’s 7th Avenue and Centre Street light rail transit platform downtown.


The artwork, made possible through the City of Calgary Public Art Policy and the Transportation department, will enhance the experience of Calgarians as they move throughout the downtown core and provide an improved sense of safety on the platform. TransitStory is integrated with the metal air grates along the platform and includes 30 unique and colourful figures. As described by the artist:

“TransitStory will evoke the ephemeral presence and memory of past travellers. Like objects experienced fleetingly, or seen obliquely out of the corner of one’s eye, TransitStory will change from every angle and every perspective – at once present and absent.”

The artwork consists of 30 unique figures in the style of the air grates that they are affixed to, yet each at a unique angle and all along a curved radius.

The artwork was conceptualized and designed by Jill Anholt at her Vancouver studio, where detailed drawings for the project were developed, including specific layouts for the 30 unique figures, and full colour renderings to ensure the design was accurately communicated to Heavy for fabrication.

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Renderings, Jill Anholt Studio


Jill also provided Heavy with the carefully selected pantones she wanted the figures and grates to be painted with. The artwork is painted to appear as blue and teal tones when viewed from one angle and orange and yellow tones from the other. In this way, the artwork has a colour-shifting effect when viewed from a passing train.

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Pantone Selections, Jill Anholt Studio


Due to the curvature and unique angle of each figure, the fabrication of this project was not a simple matter of cutting down existing grates to size. On the contrary, each figure was custom fabricated; even the eight base grates on which the figures are attached were replaced with custom-built air grates for the purpose of the artwork. Some figures even had to be welded in place at angles to compensate for the sloping grade of the platform.

These drawings that Jill provided us portray the detail that was needed to document the complex nature and curvature of the 30 distinctive figures.

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Elevations Sample (4/30), Jill Anholt Studio / Plan View Sample (1/8), Jill Anholt Studio


In order to achieve the perfect curvature and angle of each figure in an efficient and timely manner, Heavy’s Technical Director designed a jig to template each figure for welding. We designed the jig using our SolidWorks 3D modelling capabilities. From this 3D model, we were able to CNC cut the wooden jig for this project.

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Jig Front View, Heavy Industries


Each figure could be laid out in the same jig along the consistent 4’ radius, but the unique angle of the slats could be adjusted based on where in the jig the metal strips were laid out. For example, figures with a straight-on appearance were laid out in the centre, while figures appearing to be at a sharper angle were laid out towards the sides of the jig.

Full scale paper templates were used to cut the steel and lay out the design for each figure before they went into the jig to be welded.

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Figure laid out in jig / Tack welding


The complexity of this project is apparent in quantites. Our fabrication team utilized 2,500 linear feet of mild steel and completed approximately 15,000 welds to meet structural standards. To create the intersecting appearance, over 3,500 notches were cut at intersecting junctions.

When the Heavy name is attached to fabricating anything for the public realm, we need to ensure it’s built to meet our Client’s expectations and our own quality standards. We fabricated, galvanized, and painted a complete test sample prior to full scale production to use as a quality control piece that could be approved by Jill Anholt. Additionally, milestone approvals were used throughout the build process to ensure the artwork met expectations at every step along the way.

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Heavy’s Technical & Artistic Director visually inspecting welded figures / Paint test sample


Jill designed the artwork to be lit from underneath and selected some bright LED lights for the project. Using a single grate as a mock-up, Jill worked with us in our shop to fine-tune her lighting design.

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Once fabricated, the figures and grates were all hot dip galvanized to prevent rusting.

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Hot dip galvanizing of figures (5/30)


After galvanizing, each figure was painted in multiple colours from a set of 6 unique pantones that Jill selected.

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Illustration of Jill’s desired colour aesthetic for the figures, Jill Anholt Studio


The painting process necessitated over 29,000 feet of masking tape combined with hours of meticulous taping and 104 litres of paint to create the planned aesthetic. The figures needed to be painted in a multi-stage process that included priming, extensive masking before each colour, spraying the multiple colours of paint, and then repeating this process for the lower 1/3 of each figure and shadow lines after the figures had been welded to the grates.

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The figures and shadow lines on the grates were meticulously masked before they were painted in a multi-step process


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Fully masked section, prior to the next stage of paint / Painted grate before masking removal


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Parts during the painting process


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Our coatings and paint team preparing to spray / Final in-house painting


Once the shop work was complete, the eight grates with attached figures, weighing in at over 8,500 pounds, were transported to site. A custom-built roller was used to move them from the unloading zone, through the maze of columns and obstacles downtown, and into place along the platform. Once in place, the LED lighting was installed below grade and the artwork was welded in place with one section mechanically fastened to allow future access.

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Parts arriving on site / parts being moved into place with custom-built roller


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Placing parts / grinding to ensure proper fit


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On-site welding to secure artwork in place / Jill Anholt inspecting the artwork mid-installation


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Lighting installation


Once the figures were secured in place, we performed some spot cold galvanizing and minor touch-up painting to ensure it was completed to the appropriate standard.


This is a time lapse video of Heavy’s installation team working on site:

Here are a few shots of the complete, installed artwork:





Jill Anholt is a visual artist and designer who has been creating site specific public art installations for 15 years. Her work investigates qualities of time, movement, light and materiality, often contrasting permanent with transitory elements. Jill’s public art installations strive to be interactive and accessible such that they engage people directly with the art and with a particular place. Originally from the Calgary area, Jill Anholt’s studio is now based in Vancouver.

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