Art project involves entire community

A Richmond mural pays tribute to the ecosphere

by Bruce Mason staff writer

A young mother in a sari stops abruptly and changes directions. With two children in tow she joins a curious elderly couple leaning on walkers in front of a large and shiny new ceramic mural in the Richmond South Arm Community Centre. Others are attracted by the rich colours and captivated by the tiny details.

"Huckleberry bush," one voice reads aloud. "Sockeye salmon," says another.

Titled Tribute to the Ecosphere, the 12-square-metre mural is composed of 580 hand-painted six-inch tiles. It's the brainchild of UBC Fine Arts Assoc. Prof. Barbara Zeigler, who donated her time and expertise over several years.

"I envisioned a community collaboration focusing on Richmond's biodiversity and emphasizing the importance of people of all cultural backgrounds working together," she says.

Environmental issues have been a subject of Zeigler's art for 30 years. For the mural, she began with the centerpiece of 280 tiles, working with Peter Guzzo, a James Whiteside Elementary School teacher.

A full-size drawing came to life when Guzzo's Grade 4 students applied paint and their imaginations to the planet, its people and various creatures who call Richmond home, including a seal, swan, bald eagle and wooly-bear bug.

More collaborators were found in Mr. Ardanaz's Grade 6 and Mr. Klein's Grade 7 class at Whiteside, along with Ms. Giesbrecht's Grade 7 students at Choice School.

For the border motif, Zeigler enlisted everyone from toddlers to 80-year-olds who traced their hands on tiles and painted them red, black, yellow and white, the First Nations' designation of the Earth's four peoples.

Zeigler painstakingly built up the uniformity of colour and incorporated elements for balance. She couldn't refuse a 12-year-old who lost a pet. That's why a gerbil is included.

In all, 225 people had a hand in the mural. Richmond's Public Art Program provided a grant. Crankpots Ceramic Studios, Home Hardware and Opus Framing and Art Supplies were sponsors. Brian Holling of Capilano College supervised the installation. Pacific Spirit Productions is documenting the collaboration on video.

"I hope to see some of the children in my Fine Arts class some day, or on their way to a UBC biology or zoology lecture," says Zeigler.