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Saturday, 4 October 2014


Peter von Tiesenhausen. Passages (detail). Wood and dirt. 2010
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If you were a kid in (English) Canada in the late 1960s and 1970s, you likely saw the National Film Board production, Paddle to the Sea. You were likely shown it in school. It told the story (written by Holling C. Holling) of a small toy canoe with a paddler in it, carved from a piece of cedar by a boy in the north. The boy set the canoe on a snowy hillside by his home. In the spring, it slid into a nearby stream, and, over the course of a couple of years, slowly found its way to the Atlantic.

I don’t know if artist Peter von Tiesenhausen ever saw this film, though he is of the right demographic.

Its themes are some of his own.

For his 2010 work, Passages, von Tiesenhausen carved 100 small wooden boats with passengers in them. He filled the spaces around the passengers with dirt from locations in the Bow River watershed, upstream from Calgary. Then he released the boats from a bridge over a small tributary of the Bow, in Calgary’s Douglasbank Park. Each one had been branded with the name of his website, in hopes that those who would find the boats would connect with him and tell their stories. And they did.

I wonder if any of those boats ever made it to the sea?

The original Paddle to the Sea boat used for the film. 1966

Watch the film in its entirety here.

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