Village Ascent rises as a new public artwork on the Valley Trail 

Artist Oliver Harwood leads forum to explain his wood, metal and stone sculpture

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CATHRYN ATKINSON - Village Ascent Sculptor Oliver Harwood tells a public forum about his new Whistler artwork.
  • Photo BY Cathryn Atkinson
  • Village Ascent Sculptor Oliver Harwood tells a public forum about his new Whistler artwork.

A curvaceous stone, cedar and metal sculpture is now blooming along Whistler's main commuting trail.

Village Ascent, a three-metre (10-ft) high sculpture by Vancouver artist Oliver Harwood, is the 10th piece of public art to be installed along the Valley Trail. It was installed on Nov. 3.

"The idea behind it was inspired by the Whistler area and the trail system. I've come up here and used the Valley Trail myself and there is so much activity in Whistler on the trails, whether it is winter or summer," Harwood says.

A keen hiker in the region, he is especially taken by the mountain-bike trails.

"I keep coming across these trails where they've built these incredible ramps and stuff. So when I was thinking of creating something that might speak about the creation of the outdoor spirit here, these outdoor bike trails were a great place to start."

Using that reference, Harwood began to design the piece. He also incorporated Whistler's roofline.

"It's iconic with the hotels. I simplified that a bit and I wanted to have these roofs that represent the village, just growing out the middle of the sculpture. After working through a few designs I came up with the final version," he says.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler, along with the resort's public art committee, held a public art forum to introduce the work and the artist on Thursday, Nov 6.

Village Ascent features the mountain bike trail looping up above the village and into the sky.

"Whistler started out as a small community a while ago, but it was the trail builders that were the energy here, whether they were building trails for ski slopes or more recently the mountain bikers or hikers," Harwood says.

"This is a village that has been turned into and internationally known resort, but it came from this, came from love of the outdoors and the love of the trails, and in a way it's the builders of these pathways who are the ones who started this place and gave it the energy."

Village Ascent is located on the trail near Nancy Greene Drive near Highway 99 at White Gold, not far from Whistler Village.

The sculpture is also a bench of tight proportions, says Harwood, for "two people who know each other."

The $16,000 budget for the project came from the Resort Municipality Initiative funding.

An artist of large-scale projects for the last 20 years, Harwood provided a slideshow of his extensive catalogue of public and monumental art, mainly in stone, marble and wood.

Harwood grew up in Laos, Thailand, South Africa and Canada. He studied art and art history at the University of New Brunswick and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. He was accepted for his first solo exhibition by the end of his first year.

He also studied marble sculpture in Tuscany, working at Carrara, where Michelangelo selected the pure white marble the region was famed for.

He has previously had public art on display in Shediac, New Brunswick, Kelowna and North Vancouver.

Kevin McFarland, the RMOW project coordinator who is involved with public art projects, introduced Harwood to the dozen or so people who attended the forum.

McFarland said this was the first time the municipality had held such an event to seek public engagement in this way and the man behind the idea was Harwood.

A video of the presentation is available at

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says: "I understand that it hasn't been done in this format before and because Oliver Harwood is a fairly effective speaker, the idea of having him provide a talk as opposed to producing his art in front of people seemed to fit his ability better."

She believes this approach will be part of future presentations by artists.

"We're always trying to involve the public in the artworks that come here. Even thought it wasn't necessarily the best turnout, certainly we will be doing things like this in the future," she says.

Wilhelm-Morden says a key component of the public art program is the village's banners, with the next round of competition due to start early in the new year.

"We are also considering a sculpture competition for a location in the village as well in 2015, so we are continuing to be active with this program."

It was too soon to provide further information, she says.


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