The skeleton hangs in the lofty room, as if suspended in water. Hand-dyed silk waves undulate above, wafting in the currents of air. It looks prehistoric, a predator’s skull and teeth, but the story of this work of art is all too modern. Ken Hall, a wildlife artist who lives in the Hills of Headwaters, carved the skeleton out of recycled cedar from local barns and decks. His neighbour, textile artist Pat Burns-Wendland created the waves.
The sculpture is life sized, anatomically correct, and was inspired by a killer whale whose carcass washed ashore on a beach in Washington State in 2002. That orca had more PCBs and DDT than any other of its species ever tested. Washington school children named the whale “Hope”. This work is called “Legacy”.
“Legacy” went on public display at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives in the summer of 2013; in 2014 it was hung in THEMUSEUM in Kitchener and the Grey Roots Museum & Archives in Owen Sound, and is now hanging in the Alder Street Arena until March 2015.
Ken Hall brings different disciplines to his work as a sculptor. He has a degree in mechanical engineering and another in fine arts from the University of Waterloo. On a trip to England he secured a job in the computer games industry and worked for most of 15 years as an art director. He was very successful, winning several awards and publishing groundbreaking titles. “I didn’t want to continue making games where people run around shooting things digitally,” he said. “I wanted to get back to meaningful, hands-on art work.”
“We moved back to Georgetown,” he said, “but we wanted country property and more space.” They found what they were looking for in the Pine River Valley, west of Terra Nova, between Shelburne and Mansfield. It’s a house with a separate workshop, well back from the road, next to the hardwood forest that climbs the hill to the north… a perfect spot for a wildlife artist, with plenty of countryside, not wilderness exactly, but not entirely tamed, either.
Along with other woodland denizens, a family of deer visits the property regularly, stopping in front of the picture windows at the bird feeders on the way to the salt block. “We’ve gotten to know who’s who in the herd; some have scars, others have lost antlers in fights” said Ken, “and there are new ones all the time.”
At first, Ken continued the concrete casting sculpting that he had begun in the UK but soon moved on to stone carving. He started carving limestone in three dimensions and in bas-relief – occasionally mixing other media, such as watercolour washes and even steel. “I wanted to do large scale public artwork,” he said, “but my humpback whale carving was only three feet long, yet it weighed so much I’d need heavy equipment to move it.”
Ken began to focus more on steel – layers of steel sheets, for instance that evoke the feathers of the crow – or hollow pieces, like the large steel tomato, pepper and other vegetables for the lobby of Summer Fresh Salads in Woodbridge. “Nearly all of my work is by commission,” he said, “which means I don’t have much on-hand to display and I work in a wide range of media.”
He has worked in granite, stainless steel, and aluminum, as well as different woods, sometimes building functional pieces, including custom furniture for a restaurant in Alliston and for a company lobby north of Shelburne. Perhaps calling on his engineering side more than his artistic, Ken built custom exercise equipment called Gladiator for off-ice hockey training camps. “I like doing the architectural and industrial work because there’s a technical aspect of the process,” he said. “To have a viable art business, I have to be as flexible as possible.”
Still, Ken is able to work on art for its own sake – like the “Legacy Project”. His next endeavor is working ½ inch steel bar into life size deer and horses.
At the 2014 Orangeville Arts and Culture Awards, Ken was named ‘Artist of the Year’and won ‘Artisan of the Year’ in the 2014 Headwaters Taste of Tourism Awards.