The ties that bind

New public art installation in Trinity Hills showcases commitment to historical diversity

British art critic Jonathan Jones once said that art is a language and public art is public speech. In the case of the new Trinity Hills urban development along Calgary’s westside, the public message is loud and clear: historical diversity is meant to be celebrated.

Emerging on the banks of Paskapoo Slopes in the shadows of Canada Olympic Park, the northwest community has recently become home to a new public art installation created out of a partnership between Heavy Industries, Trinity Development Group, Urban Systems and celebrated Blackfoot artist Adrian Stimson.

Named Iini Bison Heart, the 14-feet-tall bronze sculpture pays homage to the surrounding land and the Blackfoot’s deep historical connection with the bison – a key message in much of Stimson’s work.

“Being Blackfoot and being raised in and around First Nations all of my life, it’s very much a part of who I am,” says Stimson, a University of the Arts and University of Saskatchewan grad who operates out of a studio on the Siksika Nation south of Calgary.

“By extension, the bison is a great icon for the Blackfoot people. Our whole livelihood, our whole history and spiritual being is all related to the bison. They really are an extension of our family and an extension of who we are as a people. So for me, creating that iconic representation of our culture was important.”

The collaboration between Heavy Industries and Stimson started from a 2-D sketch that was later developed into a small maquette, then 3-D scanned and enlarged by Heavy to a 1:1 scale out of foam and wire. Delivered to Stimson’s studio on the Siksika Nation, he, along with three assistants, then spent the next several weeks painstakingly detailing the frame with clay plasticine.

“For us at Heavy, it was really important to take that story and bring it to life,” says Kyle Bell-Cook, Business Development with Heavy Industries. “So we spent quite a bit of time engaging with Adrian to get a clear sense of how he envisioned this project coming together, as well as tweaking things along the way to make sure it met everyone’s expectations.”

Once the 3-D scan was applied with clay, the bison was shipped back to Heavy where it was then cast in bronze and then installed at its new home in Trinity Hills earlier this summer.

“In the end, we decided bronze was the best choice because it evoked this historical feel,” says Stimson. “Over time, the bronze will create this patina effect (create a green or brown film on the surface from oxidation) that will make feel even more relevant to the bison.”

One of the more unique features is on the plinth that Iini Bison Heart stands on. While originally calling for sandstone, Heavy was instead able to recreate a near identical but much more cost-effective alternative by casting panels out of glass fibre reinforced concrete (GFRC) and then applying stain and texture.

On the plinth, Heavy was able to use a silicone stamp to apply petroglyphs that are a mix of historical and contemporary Blackfoot petroglyphs  – each one telling a different story of past, present and future.

“Calgary lies in Blackfoot confederacy territory and, as such, there should be a reflection of the Blackfoot in the culture of the city. As they say, we’re all Treaty people,” says Stimson.

“For me, it’s really important to see the Blackfoot people represented in the cityscape. And it’s encouraging to see developers efforts being made to understand these sites, connect with Indigenous people and reflect the history of this land.”

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