This 25-ft dragon made with sticks and leaves is one of the eco-art installations you'll see at Deer Lake for Burnaby Blooms. Nickie Lewis / Submitted

Dragons, wizards, and other mythical creatures take over Deer Lake Park for Burnaby Blooms

For a short while, Deer Lake Park will be home to creatures straight out of a mythical fantasy world for Burnaby Blooms.

By Srushti Gangdev | May 6, 2022 |11:29 am

For a short while, Deer Lake Park will be home to creatures straight out of a mythical fantasy world.

Visitors to the park over the weekend for the Burnaby Blooms festival encountered several gigantic eco-art installations created by local artist Nickie Lewis, and made out of materials like sticks, leaves, and green waste. The materials may be earthly, but the magic is otherworldly.

Lewis, whose work first came into prominence last year for similar eco-sculptures she quietly installed in Robert Burnaby Park, was  billed as one of the highlights of the festival put on by the City of Burnaby.

“I’ve decided to go fantasy, because that’s what I do. I built a 25 ft dragon, and butterfly wings that are five feet tall, and some giant sunflowers and wizards, a pegasus,” Lewis told the Beacon.

“And they’re kind of scattered throughout one portion of the park. So people can come and find them and count how many they can find.”

Lewis said she’s drawn to fantasy not only because she’s a self-declared nerd for speculative fiction, but because she wants to help adults who see her work find childlike joy in art again—something that becomes more difficult when you get older. She finds happiness in things that make her feel small (“in a good way”).

“I love that unabashed joy that you felt when you were two, or three, or four, or five, that somehow we lose over time,” she said.

“For me, that’s fantasy—that’s dragons, and wizards, and mermaids, and fairies, and all these things that we used to believe in and then we got old and we got boring—and so it’s kind of a throwback to that.”

Before she began using green waste, Lewis’s art centred around big, interactive “toys for grown-ups.” She created a huge, rocking pirate ship, for example, and a giant, light-up game of Tetris.

And when she realized that she could combine her love of fun and whimsical art with sustainable, natural materials, they became her medium of choice.

She gathers her materials from friends and contacts all over the Lower Mainland, who allow them to come and pick up their green waste. For the Burnaby Blooms project, the city allowed her access to its green waste pile for the past six weeks—so the sculptures you’ll see in Deer Lake Park are made out of sticks, clippings, and gardening waste from all over Burnaby.

“I don’t pick up materials from areas that are ecologically sensitive. I used to pick up sticks from the park, and I’ve since learned that there are very good reasons to have sticks in the park,” Lewis said.

“Biomass, which is all of the things that are on the ground that we think are kind of garbage, like leaves, actually help the ecosystem. And so my taking the sticks is actually not as ecologically friendly as I thought it was. So yes, I’ve changed my practice—I only take things people don’t want.”

Lewis reflects on the path she’s been on since that first, guerrilla installation at Robert Burnaby Park early last year (she didn’t technically have permission to set up her projects there), and realizes that while it was first born out of boredom, it’s something that helped her cope with the pandemic.

She later realized it helped others in the area cope as well.

“The amount of messages I received from people who were really impacted by my art is amazing to me, and I can’t believe that my art made of sticks would be so important to people. … That’s the motivation. It brings joy; that’s the whole purpose. And I learned a lot with Robert Burnaby,” she said.

“As I said, I learned a lot about ecology and the way that nature works. And I learned a lot about people in general and just managing relationships and feelings. And so it was actually really good at the end of the day. I’m glad that I had that experience. And that I got to have that little bit of magic in there for the eight months that they were there.”

Lewis’ latest creature creations debuted on May 7 at Deer Lake Park between 10am and 4pm, for the opening event of the Burnaby Blooms festival. Along with the art installation, Lewis conducted a workshop where you can learn how to make wings yourself using willow clippings and sticks.

The festival also featured also be other family-friendly activities, like pottery workshops and canoeing classes, and roving performers to keep everyone entertained.

But if you missed out on the event, worry not—the city says Lewis’ sculptures will remain on display in Deer Lake Park for the remainder of May.

Over the rest of the month, the city will also hold ‘mini’ Burnaby Blooms events on Saturdays at several other parks—Confederation Park, Central Park, and Burnaby Mountain Park. You can find the event schedule here.

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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