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Kinetic Tree plants roots in downtown Lacombe

 Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe

The Kinetic Tree sits at the end of 49 St. along 50 Ave. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

The Kinetic Tree sits at the end of 49 St. along 50 Ave. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

A whole new kind of tree took up root in Lacombe’s downtown core last Wednesday.


The Kinetic Tree, a steel artwork piece created by artist William Johnson of Ravensfire Sculpture Studio in Edmonton, was planted at the end of 49 St. and along 50 Ave. and became the newest addition to the city’s public art collection.

The trunk is adorned with figures reaching towards a canopy of negative-space maple leaves, where birds hover between the branches.

Johnson, who was on hand for the installation, said he focused a lot on the movement and energy of the piece.

“There’s moments where you have to stand back and say is there enough energy? Is there enough movement?” he said. “I wanted the viewer, the public, to take a look at it and say ‘wow, it looks like it’s blowing in the wind.’”

He created movement in a number of different ways, starting with the birds attached to stainless steel hardened springs. Each has a slightly different pose, taken from Johnson’s own mental files from studying various birds throughout his life.

Physically, the birds are the only moving part of the sculpture, but maple leaf cut-outs in the canopy will lend it to the movement of time, not only thoughout the day, but the changing of seasons.

“What will happen over time is as the sun shifts, depending on the month, the time of year, the time of day, the shadows in the branches and canopy will be constantly changing,” he said. “In the evening, you’re going to have light coming down through the negative leaf cutouts, scattering leaves on ground.”

The energy and forward movement of the community itself, meanwhile, is shown through the figures on the trunk.

“The figures are all basically reaching up, climbing upwards around the tree and to me, that’s symbolic of what a community strives for which is growth and reaching for the best.”

There is one kind of movement, however, the tree is not expected to have and that’s being uprooted by harsh Central Albertan winds.

Johnson assured his piece was built to withstand much of what Mother Nature may throw at it, and said he even gave it a shake test himself to test for weak points.

“It’s been engineered to withstand it,” he said. “If there was more canopy I’d be concerned, but you’ve got enough air space that the wind should just go right through. There’s lots of connecting points and it’s all certified welding.”

The trunk is insulated as well with an inner sleeve inside. Placed in concrete, it very well could be the last tree that is ever uprooted in the city.

“Especially in our harsh environment, we’ve got these massive changes in temperatures, so when you incorporate movement into a piece outside, you’re immediately looking at stress points, fatigue…It’s your legacy. You don’t want it on the ground.”

The project cost was about $20,000 which was funded through the city’s one per cent for art policy which helps build the civic public art collection, and enhance the attractiveness of Lacombe and awareness for the arts.

Community Services Executive Assistant Maureen MacKenzie, who made several trips to see Johnson and the piece as it progressed, said it was special to finally see it come “home.”

A tree, she said, was something the public art committee agreed made sense for the project. They took it a step further by looking for one that had moving parts, and Johnson’s proposal fit what they were looking for.

“We knew trees are so important in Lacombe,” she said. “It’s a very different kind of art but that’s what we were hoping for is to not continually do the same-old. We wanted something that’ll stop people and get them thinking and talking.

“When people think and talk about art, it’s a good thing.” 

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