It was three years later, but Grace Nickel could still tell that something terrible had happened in Point Pleasant Park.
“When I first walked in there, it looked unnatural,” said the artist, who was struck by the condition of the post-Hurricane Juan trees. “It was pretty apparent a huge event had occurred.”
It was 2006, three years after the devastating event that felled more than half of the park’s trees, but Nickel could still see where many trees had their tops sheared off, and others littered the floor of the forest.
“I found it a profound experience,” said the former Winnipeg resident, who has memorialized the devastation in a series of ceramic trees on display at a Mary E. Black Gallery.
The exhibit, called Devastatus Rememorari, features eight ceramic trees of different heights emerging from rock salt which has been spread out in a teardrop pattern on the floor.
The appearance is both haunting — like the ashen remnants of a forest fire — and hopeful.
It was during her first trip to the damaged park that Nickel started working on the project, photographing images of the damaged trees which still littered the now-sparse seaside park.
“Everyone would say ‘You couldn’t see the water before’ and now it is completely visible,” said Wright, who has used the image of trees in other works.
Each of the works was made using segments cast from a mould of an actually piece of a tree destroyed in the 2003 Hurricane. She then transferred the text from newspaper articles about the destruction to the park to the surface of the porcelain — the result looks like bark.
“I didn’t want this to be all bleak. There is the devastations but there is also the remembering and the paying,” Nickel said.
“One bonus of this project, which I had not anticipated, is that anybody from here who lived through the hurricane wants to tell me their stories — which have been quite interesting and really quite dramatic.”