The best kept secrets are right out in the open. My only regret is not discovering this fabulous exhibit sooner while George was still alive.
Today marks the beginning of a new photoblog series, “Two Toads in Wonderland” that finds us on an adventure together exploring the vast George Sawchuk Outdoor Art Exhibit, also known to locals as the “Wacky Woods”. Even though his incredible exhibit was just recently found by us, a search online has revealed a treasure-trove of information on this famous Canadian artist. Our post will include a large series of links at the bottom for those who may be interested in discovering more about George than we cover in our series.
On February 2nd, 2012, George passed away in his sleep and has left this remarkable and enchanted place behind for us all to enjoy. So, without further ado, let’s enjoy it together.
Mrs. Toad and I set out this day on a search. We only knew of the name of the place and the town it lived in. Armed with nothing further, we hopped into our beloved Corvette and set out for a day of adventure. We had no idea what we were about to find and how it would change our lives forever.
Fanny Bay is a small Vancouver Island town that sits in a pack of little towns that dot the coast. It’s one of those places with only a few houses and a corner store on the main street, and if you weren’t paying attention as you passed by the small sign you’d never really realize you had come into a small town. You could literally drive right through and not really notice. A quintessential island place, to say the very least.
I had hoped to find signs as we came into town that would lead us to the art exhibit. No such luck. But given George’s stature and fame in the community, it only took me stopping at the local gas station and inquiring to find the secret entrance to this wonderland. And yes, before you ask… I am a man, and I stopped to ask for directions. Good thing, too. There’s no way on this bright little green earth we would have found this without them.
We parked at a park entrance barricade that contained absolutely no signage regarding what was hidden deep in the woods. A good hike into the park and finally we encountered something strange, something a little out-of-place. A bench with a sign. This surely had to be it!
As we entered the exhibit, at first the sights were slightly quizzical, slightly unusual. The air was thick and still, very few sounds permeated the area. In the distance we could hear sea lions barking in the nearby bay, well out of sight. We could see artifacts on display between the brush, ferns and trees and knew we had encountered something so extraordinary and so unique, words would be difficult to find in trying to describe it.
Many of the pieces are political in nature, and no matter what your personal political beliefs may be, the pieces and messages contained on them resonate.
After George had a bad accident while logging, he set about to reinvent himself. He quickly became a student of art, with a voracious appetite to learn. In short order he was making his own pieces and they were recognized by a neighbor of his as having special merit. His neighbor, an artist himself, helped to catapult George to the level he eventually rose to, culminating in countless awards and art gallery exhibits. George became a famous Canadian artist. And well-deserved, too.
As one gets deeper and deeper into the exhibit, the pieces become markedly more intricate, each delivering a special message that George was trying to share. Mrs. Toad found this particular piece and beckoned me to shoot it. She said it reminded her of a vestibule in the entrance-way to a house. I totally agreed with her, particularly given that this was found early on in our trip near the entrance to the site.
As things began to unfold we realized we had encountered a huge display deep in the Canadian woods. Time both stood still and whizzed by at break-neck speed.
George was a lot of things. Subtle wasn’t one of them. This piece really felt to us like he was trying to show how the trappings of the modern world are capturing and imprisoning nature. Others may interpret this differently, but we have no doubt that everyone would call this profound. We love this piece.
What this piece speaks to is a mystery to me. According to the locals George and his wife Pat were well-known to welcome everyone in, and given his outwardly friendly nature hours could pass by in wonderful conversation. We have no doubt that we would have found them to be the most delightful folks ever, and would have reveled in spending time discussing nature, politics and the state of the modern world.
And what a state it’s in, too.
George was a kind and humble man, and this particular piece really speaks of his personal view on life and how we integrate with nature and the universe we find ourselves in. The entire facility is peppered with signs and message like this, and our future posts on this series will reveal more. And we’ll also reveal many more of his pieces… many are complex and fascinating in themselves.
The Wacky Woods is a place you can lose time in. Mrs. Toad and I were easily here for several hours and came away with a huge assortment of images that we’ll be sharing over the coming weeks. As we explored deeper and deeper into the exhibit and more of George and his works were revealed to us we quickly came to realize the enormity of what we had discovered. The enormity of what George was trying to say to the world as a whole.
The word profound doesn’t even begin to describe it.
So as we begin our latest photoblog journey together let’s pause for a moment to reflect on George and his works. We feel a deep sense of loss and sorrow in George’s passing, wishing beyond wishes that we could have had a chance to meet him in person. Given that this is now not possible we feel humbled and honored in sharing this series, and along with it George’s story, with you here.
Thanks so very much for taking the time to visit us today. It really means so much to us here. Please do feel free to leave any comments you may have as we love to hear from all our visitors.