How many times had I passed by the columns without seeing them?

Joyce Majiski swears she put the columns up two years ago, and yet, as if I’ve just been given x-ray glasses, this is the first time I’ve noticed them.

Five columns of various earth-tone colours, with metal rings girding their middles and metal caps, all standing on a brick path that leads toward the river — there they are.

Where did they come from all of a sudden?

She’s good-humouredly upset with me. “Open your eyes,” she says, using my name as a swear word under her breath, and laughing. “I bet you didn’t even notice the mosaics on your way here.”

Mosaic circles made of stones matching the five columns are embedded in the path leading to the columns. “I noticed those!” I say, but only because I was coming to interview her about art.

When your mind thinks about art, you notice art.

But the job of an artist who is building an installation piece — a piece of public art — is to make the person stop and notice it.

“I think if the work makes people stop, I have done my job. Even if all they do is ask ‘What is this about?” that is a start. When people engage with a piece of artwork, it means they are looking up, looking down, stopping, listening, looking around and paying attention.”

These words are not lost on me. Where has my head been on all those Canada Days? Or during Rendezvous?

It’s not just me though. Majiski has had others remark from those who don’t know what columns she’s talking about.

Others have begun to use her art as a place to hang posters — which actually damage the surface of the sheet metal.

All of this makes Majiski a bit frustrated. She’s parked a truck out here with a picnic table in the bed, which she climbs on and rivets the metal salmon to the top of the fish column. This has been two years of hard work for her. She’s scuffed the laser-cut sheet metal that was cut down south to take a bit of the brilliance off.

“When I saw the first truck come out here to dig the holes, I knew I was in for a steep learning curve,” she says. “Concrete, stucco, stainless steel and all of the engineering aspects that were involved with each of those elements. I hired many people to help me through each step. I couldn’t have done it without them. I realized doing larger scale public installations often involves teams of people.”

She talks about the City of Whitehorse, and its one per cent for the Arts program — how it’s enriching the whole city. She talks about Ketza Construction digging the holes for her, the people who put the brickwork in — so many people involved.

She’s slapping a large tire on top of another picnic bench and then standing on that side, still talking to me. She’s hoping that the wings she’s putting on top of the bird column are set right for the wind.

“Weather — you have to account for weather — and coordinating the timing of things. These were big challenges at times, as well as juggling how to use the information people gave me. I learned a lot while making this work. I learned you can never have enough rivets.”

They stand about 10 feet high, and now with the final touches of metal shapes — birds, fish, a canoe, willow — she is topping off her creation. How could anyone miss these? They are beautiful.

It took her awhile to find the right earth-tone paints — she wanted colours that would blend in. A-ha! I think. That’s why I can’t see them — they’re camouflaged in earth colours! But the shiny metal girdles, the metal caps — they brilliantly reflect the sun. Ravens from 20 kilometres away could see these.

She stops and smiles at her work — you can tell this is a labour of joy.

Majiski was one of several artists who put in proposals for art at Shipyards Park. Some pieces are inside the building. But she wanted to create something that celebrated the river.

“This used to be the source of all the main transportation in this area. Everything moves by the river. I wanted people to look at the river within the context of this place.”

She chose five “elemental” ways to look at the river — as a place for plants, animals, birds, fish and people. The stucco on the side of the columns show the tracks of the different elements through the river — as if they are mud bearing witness to the traffic of life.

Now these columns lead a viewer toward the river, telling the story of everything that uses that water corridor — including people who look at art. It’s funny how art can both make you think of art and make you re-think your environment — re-see it for the first time.

So, stop and look at the story of the river in metal, stucco and concrete — up and down, all the way round, even touch the prints of animals and leaves and salmon, and think about how the river contains these five elements.

Majiski also highlights how the river now can also be a corridor for art, thought, belief, collaboration and joy.