Friday, October 29, 2010


... from Vancouver

Vancouver nurses - and gargoyles

If you looked at the Ital Decor slideshow noted (and hyperlinked) in my previous post, you will have noticed that the Ital Decor team also installed gargoyles on Cathedral Place, which I failed to mention. I shot them, but they're quite high up and far back, so this is the best I could do:

I had better luck with these guys from the older Hotel Vancouver:

And see that blue sky? There was no blue sky in Vancouver last week. Truth is, I actually took these pix when I was there in June (for another conference).

Stay tuned for more from Vancouver... although not more nurses. The Cathedral Place "Rhea sisters" were the only ones I got to shoot on my last trip (i.e., the one in June) to Vancouver. But check out the B.C. Nursing History document hyperlinked in my previous post, and you'll see just how many nursing memorials that city has.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The nurses of Vancouver

I was just in Vancouver at a conference attended by nearly 5,000 infectious disease clinicians (for the Day Job, of course), but do you know what I saw the most? Nurses. Architectural nurses.

Vancouver must hold the world's record as the city with the most monuments to nurses. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

The one I saw the most, on my trips between my hotel and the convention centre, was this one, at the corner of Georgia and Howe. (Never mind that the street sign says Burrard.)

There are actually three of her on this building, and the trio are known as the Rhea sisters. (About which, more later.)

This isn't the original building and these aren't the original nurses.

What was first on this spot (in 1929) was the Vancouver Medical-Dental Building. At about the 10th storey level, in each of the three corners of the building that were visible, stood 11-foot tall terra cotta statues of a nursing sister from the First World War.

According to a report (the link is a PDF file) by Nina Rumen and Glennis Zilm of the B.C. History of Nursing Group, architects John Young McCarter and George Colvil Nairne had both served overseas in the First World War. McCarter had been seriously wounded and credited the nursing sisters with saving his life - so when he and Nairne started their firm and got the medical-dental building commission, they saw it as an excellent opportunity to pay tribute to the nurses.

Sculptor and architect Joseph Francis Watson (who worked with the McCarter Nairne firm) designed the nursing sister statues.

The Medical Dental Building was demolished in 1989, and replaced by Cathedral Place, a 23-storey office tower. At the time, there was an effort to save the original statues for the new building, but they were too heavy and difficult to remove. So replicas were made of fiberglass and mounted at about the 3rd-storey level.

The Burnaby firm Ital Décor made the castings from which the new figures were made, and took the least damaged original, patched it and keeps it in the company’s showroom. (You can see a slide show of the project here.)

According to the Rumen-Zilm report, in 1992, the Vancouver museum took a head from one of the broken statues, patched and repaired it and holds it for display. A fiberglass replica is also on display in the Cathedral Place lobby.

That ain’t all. Replicas of the same statues were installed on the University of British Columbia’s Technology Enterprises Facility III, which houses some offices of the UBC School of Nursing.

Almost forgot: the Rhea Sisters? Gono, Dia and Pyo. (medical joke)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Let's put on a show!

My friends Michal and Yaniv at the Yonge/Eglinton Aroma Espresso Bar have booked me for a three-week photo exhibition. The pictures, which I hung on Saturday night, are virtually all from Faces on Places, my book on Toronto's gargoyles and other architectural sculpture.

It seemed like a good theme for the period leading up to and including Halloween. Stop by if you get a chance, between now and the 6th of November.

Monday, October 11, 2010

City of angels

Who'da thunk Boston would be a city of angels?

So it seemed to me when I was there about a month ago, in the limited sightseeing I did. (I was there for the Day Job, which involved covering a major infectious disease conference - and being felled by a respiratory infection.)

These cherubs were under the window of my room in the Omni Porter House Hotel:

and these were around the corner on the Tremont Temple Baptist Church:

I know, I know - they're actually called putti (and I've photographed and remarked on other Boston putti in the past), but it wouldn't have sounded as mellifluous to call this post "City of putti," would it?

Sunday, October 10, 2010


You all know the photo - "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper," the one by Charles Ebbets of 11 construction workers sitting on a girder, high above Manhattan, having lunch.

Well, New York sculptor Sergio Furnari has rendered them in 3D, and they caught the eye of Les Abro, president and CEO of billboard company Abcon Media. And now a version on Furnari's sculpture is in my neighbourhood.

At first, I thought this was sort of cool. But as I thought and read about the installation, I realized it wasn't done so much in the name of art as for advertising.

As you can see, the lunching construction workers are no longer seated, but standing - standing so they'll be visible behind billboards.

There is some advertising that functions as art, but not in this case. It turns out that Les Abro has been trying to get these sculptures on top of an uptown Toronto building since 2007. His initial target was Yonge and Eglinton, where they would have supported three billboards:

The Yonge and Eglinton area has plenty of tall buildings so this would have fit in - or at least, fit in better than it does in the Yonge and Lawrence area where it is now. But the city councillor for Yonge/Eg nixed the plan.

Abro managed to get a variance in the zoning bylaw from our councillor, and in June, the sculptures went up in the relatively low-rise neighbourhood, at the corner of Yonge and Deloraine:

In fact, Spacing Toronto published an interesting article detailing the whole story.

I want to like these sculptures. I really do.

But they really don't fit in the Yonge/Lawrence neighbourhood, and the 17 figures are mostly hidden by the billboards. I disagree with Edward Brown, writing on the Torontoist website, that the Furnari sculptures represent "art tinged by artful marketing."

It's art obscured by advertising - and advertising that debases public spaces.