There’s a bit of this and a bit of that.
There’s a pair of 1930s-era RCMP spurs, passed down through two generations of a Mountie family. There are wheels, axe-heads, a tackle box, a muffin tin, and a cast iron stove lid from the airport in Snag that survived the coldest day on record.
There’s even a pair of scissors Whitehorse mayor Bev Buckway once wielded in her previous occupation as a barber.
These and about 200 other donated metal artifacts are now part of an imposing piece of public art that graces the landscape in front of the Public Safety Building at the top of Two Mile Hill.
The two-ton sculpture of a rearing horse, which was erected over the Discovery Day weekend, is the work of artist Daphne Mennell and her Carcross Road neighbour, journeyman welder Roger Poole.
Mennell received the $23,000 commission from the City of Whitehorse two years ago, about the same time she won the competition to create a new caribou-themed sign for the village of Carcross.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be great to do a rearing horse in Whitehorse, because of the fact that they don’t have a rearing horse anywhere,” Mennell recalls.
“At that time they didn’t have even the sign from the Whitehorse Inn anymore. Now it’s gone up at the MacBride Museum.”
The work represents a bit of a departure for Mennell, who is known more for her paintings, pottery, papier-maché, soapstone carving and other smaller-scale artistic endeavours.
“I actually started off more in glass. Starting very young I wanted to paint, and I moved into glass and then moved from glass back into painting,” she explains.
Her only previous experience of working in metal was with a triptych at Yukon College that Mennell describes as being “just banged and riveted” rather than welded.
“It’s something that I always wanted to do. Around 10 years ago, I asked Roger if he
would teach me to weld, because I really wanted to try metal sculpture. So it was in my bucket list, you know?”
Mennell admits that the city commission was her biggest challenge by far, but also a lot of fun.
“In my mind, it took on its own life at a certain point of time, and you wonder who’s the instrument,” she says with a chuckle.
Part of the challenge was how to come up with the materials to create a major piece of public art.
“To give it a little bit more of a twist, I thought it would be really nice if somehow I could get public involvement in their art, so that they sort of take ownership of the piece as well.”
Then Mennell had a brainwave: why not ask Yukoners to donate metal objects that could become part of her art work?
“Everybody usually has a piece of metal in their backyard, or a drawer or something, and if they would donate it, then I could make the sculpture out of all donated pieces of metal.”
She pitched the idea to What’s Up Yukon publisher Tammy Beese and former editor, Darrell Hookey, who both bit readily.
The result was a series of ads inviting people to donate ferrous metal objects, with an accompanying series of stories describing the background of some of the submitted items.
After a slow start, the idea took off, and Mennell eventually had people in every Yukon community accepting donations on her behalf.
Although she stopped soliciting donations over a year ago, one piece actually arrived just two weeks before the sculpture was completed. In all, over 200 pieces came in, some representing significant events or people in the donors’ lives.
“There were a lot of memorable pieces. What I’m very grateful for is that with some people, they really thought of something that was memorable to them, or their family,” Mennell says.
“Some were anonymous, so I never found out who gave them.”
One of the sculpture’s major components, a cluster of stainless-steel cables that forms the horse’s tail, resulted from a chance encounter at a barbecue the artist held for her neighbours.
Mennell knew that’s what she wanted to use, but the cost of steel cable was prohibitive. Then one of her guests told her about a nearby cache of discarded cable left over from a Yukon Electric project.
Mennell phoned to ask if the utility would be willing to make a donation to her project.
“They were surprised to hear that they had left anything in the bush,” she says. “But they said, ‘Sure, we’ll donate that, and when you’re finished, just let us know and we’ll go and clean up the rest.'”
The result is exactly what the artist had envisioned for that key piece of her sculpture’s anatomy – and symbolizes the community involvement in her project.
“There’s a lot of divine little gifts that came along the way.”