Quote: Originally Posted by peapod
Blah! nothing is common in BC...this is lotusland...
So it would seem ...
Visions of Columbia
by Jim Christy
"People who live in British Columbia are different from anybody else. The province is its own distinct universe cut off from the rest of Canada by the towering Rockies, bordered on the other side by the Pacific facing Asia and proud not to be American. It's a mountainous realm so vast that entire cities could be hidden in innumerable valleys without anyone being the wiser. Since the first Spanish and English seamen deserted their ships to live with the Indians, British Columbia has provided a refuge. Blacks came here to get away from American slavery, Dukhobors from religious persecution in Russia, Eastern Europeans from wars and concentration camps, English remittance men from their families.
The notion that every British Columbian carries around in his or her head, whether acted upon or not, is that this is the best of all possible places to do whatever the hell you want to do.
And it seems as if an inordinate number of people have wanted to create strange homes and gardens. I have looked for such creations--bizarre but artistically or architecturally interesting--in several countries but surely there are as many here as in any other region of the world. In fact only California may have as many but their impact is not as great because one expects to fine that kind of thing down there.
My own interest in this kind of thing dates back several years to a vision in the side view mirror as I sped past Vaseux Lake in the interior of the province. I glimpsed desert hills, a drive-way surface with bottle bottoms, and an old man in braces pushing a wheelbarrow full of hubcaps and bottles toward a six-meter high monument consisting of Doric columns, Christmas-tree lights and a gnome holding John F. Kennedy in his arms. A kooky old desert rat I told myself -- can't stop now, have to make Vancouver by night; I'll come back first chance...
When I did manage to return, the old man, named Gottfried Gabriel, had passed away, and his compound, a six hectare extravaganza called Bottlerama, had been bulldozed into memory.
I talked to Gabriel's neighbours, to local old timers and searched out snapshots of his place, and eventually realized that this man had been responsible for a great work of crazy art. It wasn't until I learned of Howard Finster's Garden of Paradise, that I knew something to compare it to. But Gabriel's Bottlerama was on a far greater scale.
Feeling a sense of loss, I began to wonder if there might be other such places in British Columbia. I know of the Watts Towers, the Palais Ideal and Clarence Schmidt's building in Woodstock but the art and architecture types of whom I made initial inquiries assured me I'd find nothing similar and that it wouldn't matter if I did.
So I ignored them and headed for the back roads. I called at coffee shops and small town historical societies, asking people 'Any weird homes or yards around here?'
Because this is British Columbia no one was taken aback, they'd rub their chins while giving the question serious thought. 'Well let's see now....'
George Plumb was a carpenter living near the town of Duncan when, back in 1962, he decided to build a castle and a replica of the Taj Mahal out of bottles. A donation of three thousand bottles from a local dairy got him started. Plumb added soft-drink bottles, whiskey and wine bottles, antique bottles and even a few television sets to the outsides of his buildings. By the time he was finished, he was famous, entertaining visitors from around the world and making appearances on television shows including The Tonight Show where, twenty years before Howard Finster, George Plumb played harmonica for Johnny Carson.
But the greatest bottle building of all is on the shores of a lake near a little mountain hamlet called Boswell. David brown was an undertaker living in Red Deer, Alberta who contracted sleeping sickness because of the stress of his business. When his doctor advised him to quit brown loaded his trailer and headed west until he reached Kootenay Lake. Soon bored with retirement, Brown got a job selling embalming fluid and kept the empty bottles. He built his extraordinary house using 600,000 of them. Before he was half-finished, he was deluged with visitors.
The two-storey house is 14 and a half metres long, and seven metres wide, and laid out in a cloverleaf patter with circular rooms. Insulation provided by the air trapped inside the bottles is equal to that of a metre of glass-fibre matting. The house reflects the sun and the waters of the lake.
Brown died in 1970 but his son Eldon and his wife Diane Johnson have kept the place open to visitors. From May to October, the deluge continues. They are frequently asked: "Doesn't it feel strange living in a place made of embalming fluid bottles?'
Eldon will, in turn, ask the visitors what their houses are made of. 'If they say 'wood,' I'll remind them that caskets are made of wood. If they answer 'cement' I'll tell them that's what vaults are made of.'
George Sawchuk is a rugged, ex-logger, ex-fisherman and ex-construction worker, and looks about the last thing you'd expect an artist to look like. He has probably never even thought about being an artist but he's in the Royal Academy in spite of himself. It seems that while recovering from having a leg amputated, Sawchuk began making things from wood. Not knowing where to put them, he started setting his carvings on stumps in his yard. The next thing he knew, artistic acclaim was knocking on his door. When he didn't answer, it crawled in through the window. Sawchuk meanwhile, retired to his garden, at Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island's east coast, and turned this one and a half hectare space into a wooded wonderland: half sculpture garden and half eerie, lost cathedral.
Sawchuk is a gregarious man, as eager to pour you a drink and spin a yarn, as to give a tour of his garden. A couple of years ago, Ray Tew began to decorate the yard of his home in Mission on a ship theme. The former tug boat captain had recently retired and had time on his hands. he cut ship models out of plywood and mounted them on his outside walls along with anchors and skull-and-crossbones. He painted the place yellow, white and black, and on a sunny day you might have the illusion you're seeing an old pirate's digs in the Bahamas. Tew got carried away and added spinning cartwheels of light bulbs and installed waterwheels and mounted a Cadillac Seville in the middle of the yard. Unfortunately, in early 1994 Ray was high on a ladder in his yard and fell off, breaking his neck. The last time I saw him he was just getting back at it, thinking up new projects.
Ubiquitous to North American gardens are plaster gnomes, characters from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, plastic flamingos and any kind of duck. People set a couple of these things outside to satisfy their urge to decorate, or personalize their surroundings. usually that's all it takes but, actually every strange site, in B.C. or elsewhere, is really an extension of those gnomes and flamingoes. Bert Stewart's yard in Salmon Arm, B.C. is an hilarious but loving send-up of this urge to decorate. he has set thousands of the things out there. his yard could be a retirement community for old gnomes, a wetlands preserve for flamingos and ugly ducklings.
There are many more unusual homes and gardens done by independent characters out on the B.C. frontier. I know of a bottle garden, a whirligig forest and two houses, seventeen hundred kilometres apart that are shaped like cowboy boots.
I also know that not one of the builders I have met is under the age of sixty-five. The Arts community of Canada, unlike that in other countries, takes no notice of the environments of non-traditional artists. As a result no effort is expended in preserving the Sites when their creators pass on. there is a sad irony in this because while the sites are disappearing in British Columbia, as well as the rest of Canada, they are being discovered, respected and applauded in other countries. Alas, most of this work -- these wacky and unselfconscious testaments to creativity and the free spirit--will soon be gone forever. And in British Columbia there are more of them to be lost."