Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver has certainly had a turnaround in the past decade. Formerly a hideout for tranisient on their way to or from Share House, with the advent and great success of the Vancouver Farmer’s Market, has morphed into a California Uber Alles paradise.

Surrounded now by cute condos and flyovers from Pearson Airport, the four-block square holds a set of wonderful old trees, flower gardens, and five vastly different pieces of public art.

Who was Esther Short? Her story makes this Pioneer Mother so much more meaningful.

The best first – Avard Fairbanks’ bronze of a pioneer mother with three children and a musket is first rate. Fairbanks has other pieces in Portland which appeared earlier in Portland Public Art, at Jefferson High School and on the Standard Insurance Building.

Fairbanks, best known for his commercial work you still see on the hood of every Dodge truck, loved the west & pioneer images. This is a powerful piece, a true image of the west. She’s calm – looking out into the distance. The children are aware something is out there, a wolf, a stranger, a ghost. They turn inward, gathered in by Mother’s nightdress. Father is gone – absent, or lost in the great journey. She is tired, beginning to be worn. Her gaze is steady, but at her hand is a sturdy musket ready for use.

At the south side of the park – at opposite corners – are two water features: faux trout stream designed, I think, by Robert Murase, and a out of proportion clock tower clearly designed by committee.

The Murase stream is a total success for the 2 to 10 set, crowded with children and their attendants every sunny day. Nothing could be more fun for the kiddos.

The Salmon Run Bell Tower is a weird amalgam of developer goofyiness and political correctness. Each day at noon a doorway about forty feet up the tower opens and strange puppets emerge to tell a story of the original people of the Columbia. The puppets are too high, and at noon 10 months out of the year watchers are blinded by the sun. Further the speakers playing the bland soundtrack for the puppets have blown out or are overmodulated to being incomprehensible. Even stalwart tourists wander off after a couple of moments.

Local artist Jim Demetro created the salmon playing at the foot of the tower.

Demetro also is responsible for the two truely creepy sculptures at Esther Short, a seated figure of businessman George Propsta being handed a flower by a tiny child, and a giant Captain George Vancouver.

Propstra, a local philanthropist and owner of Holland’s Restaurant, gave quite a bit of money away in Vancouver and lead a good civic example. The Propstar Aquatic Center is particularly fun. But small children give this accessable bronze sculpture a wide berth.

It’s a challenging design issue. Make it realistic, accessable, human and complete, while at the same time invunerable to vandals, thieves, sun and ice, and time. This one doesn’t work somehow.

In the Southwest corner of the park is another Jim Demetro, of George Vancouver, namesake of the city and Captain of the HMS Discovery. Its a godawful mess of wacked proportions and tacky features more often found in bank lobbys or high school art faires.
Attached to the bronze sculpture is a long list of Vancouverites who contributed to this disaster. Another dilemma of bad public art – burning prospective collectors! Damn.

But I seem to remember from a decade ago – or longer – another very simular sculpture set in a bank plaza about ten blocks north of the Demetro Vancouver which was also of a ship’s captain, also with a globe, also with a parchment? Can anyone tell me where this other Vancouver bank captain has gone to?

Check our Vancouver’s official public art page. It would be nice to acknowledge the artist by including their names here.

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