Skip to main content

Artist Features

Tying Community and Culture to a Physical Space

August 1, 2021

Initial rendering of The Quarters Stop shelter canopy with the public art incorporated.

Edmonton’s growing collection of two hundred and sixty two permanent pieces of public art are scattered across Edmonton’s public facilities. Some pieces are subtle, blending into their surroundings while others stand out, making their presence clear. 

New to the City of Edmonton Public Art Collection, the Valley Line Southeast LRT project’s public art will include 14 projects including art glass at five of the eleven stops and at Davies Station, five stop canopy sculptures, one mosaic, one series of paintings and one inflatable sculpture. Additional opportunities for artists to get involved in Valley Line Public Art are yet to be announced. 

The Valley Line Southeast stops are spaced closer together and have been designed to blend into the communities connected by the new LRT. Building on the sense of connection, many of the selected artists worked with local communities to refine their concepts. For sculptor Paul Reimer, working with the community brought deeper meaning to his piece for the Quarters Stop. 

Let’s take a closer look at how Edmonton’s Chinese Community helped to shape Descendants of the Dragon, which will be installed at the Quarters Stop near 96 Street and 102 Avenue. 

Editor’s note: The Quarters extends from 97 Street to 92 Street, and from 103A Avenue to the top of the North Saskatchewan River Valley. For more information about the City’s vision for this area visit edmon​ton​.ca/​t​h​e​q​u​a​r​t​e​r​s​d​o​w​n​town/.

A sample of the forged metal sculpture.

Edmonton’s Chinatown community was established in Downtown Edmonton over 100 years ago, and it is still home to the Chinese Elders Mansion, Chinese Freemasons Society, the Chinese Benevolent Association of Edmonton and other long-standing institutions. These organizations preserve and share Chinese heritage with Edmontonians, like the Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year events hosted annually by the Chinese Benevolent Association. 

Representatives of these groups, along with other members of the community, helped refine the concept and the design of the iron sculpture with the artist, Paul Reimer. 

Paul has spent 30 years honing his blacksmithing skills. Originally from Alberta, he is the head blacksmith at Fort Steele Heritage Town near Cranbrook, BC. From the blacksmith shop within this heritage site, he and his team create large-scale public art, iron sculptures, and architectural iron elements.

The artwork was initially designed to explore movement through the development of an abstract ribbon-like sculpture. However, over the course of community engagement sessions, this concept shifted and the project developed deeper meaning for residents of the Chinatown Community. Community members felt that the original concept looked similar to a dragon, a cultural symbol representing prosperity and good luck. 

As this idea caught steam and the concept continued to grow, a local community member, Stephen Tsang, suggested using Chinese calligraphy as the basis of the design. He explained that using calligraphy would be a great way to generate conversation around the piece even among people who do not understand Chinese characters. Using calligraphy to combine the Chinese characters with the symbolism of the dragon pays homage to Chinese culture, and shows respect for the Chinatown Community.

Stephen volunteered his time and talent to create the calligraphy piece being used by Paul as the basis for the project. When asked, Stephen described the calligraphy as the running style”: a style of calligraphy created using simplified Chinese characters, drawn together. Considered to be the most difficult Chinese calligraphy style; the piece skillfully incorporates the symbolism of the dragon with Chinese characters that translate to Descendant of the Dragon” — a fitting name for the sculpture. 

Paul has begun crafting the full size piece. The finished project is expected to be about five metres long and will be installed along the roof of the stop canopy.

The connection between the community and the art is what drives Paul to create large-scale public art. He sees it as something that transforms a physical location into a connection between people.” For Paul, art is about forging connections between members of the community. This is why he was supportive of the community engagement initiative on the Valley Line Southeast and why he was keen to transform his initial design of an abstract ribbon into its new form.

Descendants of the Dragon will provide a visible, physical connection between the culture and the character of the Chinatown community.