Karen Joan Watson: “Crown of Thorns” – Eco-art installation – in K.A.A.I.’s 10-year ecoart project –The Millennium Project: Year 2.

Here is my love story for a red maple, as described for the online EcoArt Project: “Chosen as one of the artists for the environmental art project The Millennium Project, in 1992, I wandered the Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area of Kingston, looking for a site where I could create an installation from the local materials. A majestic red maple appeared in a clearing on my walk in a shaft of sunlight, like a regal creature standing proud. I asked Jeff our artist coordinator whether the site was available. I couldn’t believe I would have the honour to work with this tree with such presence. Over the next two months, I sat under the maple with our baby daughter, communing and loving the space. Wavy branches had fallen to the ground with the wind and with age. Because I loved their shapes, I collected and placed them around the base of the maple. I wove the branches into a circle and held the joints in place with natural sisal. As I worked, I saw a crown of thorns. I resisted the religious metaphor, but the crown insisted. As a resonance, I asked my artist husband to hold the pieces of glass I had collected the year before in Ireland, and formed them into a glittering crown of thorns that we hoisted up onto a strong branch. Over time, the crown of thorns around the base went back into the ground, reclaimed by the forest and the grasses. I work with nature, and after my work highlights an area, the pieces return to their place in the natural order.”

NEW: 01/2022, I joined the artists/musicians of the January 2022 festival Tree Songs 3 to talk about my ECO-ART in this “Crown of Thorns” video interview (10 mins) – about growing up in the Gatineau Hills with a tendency to make cairns and little fires and circles of stones in the woods and in the lake. I then spoke about my love for a majestic maple tree and the woven-wood art installation I did around the tree as an homage, a “Crown of Thorns,” at the Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area in Kingston, Ontario, as part of an art residency for The Millennium Project.

At Tree Songs 3, it was great to listen to and be part of the tree-loving music and poetry and scholarly stories, all about trees and the need to protect them – led by Chris White and Christophe Elie. I read my favourite poem, by the late David Wagoner, called “Lost.” I spoke about The Millennium Project, led by K.A.A.I., an artist-run-centre in Kingston, Ontario, Canada (now known as Modern Fuel Gallery) from 1992-2000.

2021, I was interviewed by an international arts vlogger. She produced this thoughtful Eco-art and heart story video: “Karen Joan Watson, Eco-Artist and Author, Ottawa, Canada” by artsvlogger-Multiple Arts (45 mins)

Since 2018, my eco-art has been featured on the online EcoArt Project. Since the early 2000s I continue creating small water circles and wood/stone triangles in the Gatineau Hills.

2003, ECO-ART (ecoart) book: my eco-art installation, “Crown of Thorns,” was featured in the 2003 K.A.A.I. exhibition book, called Art for Earth’s Sake: The Millennium Project, with this excerpt by Bill Roff: “In 1991 the Kingston Artists’ Association launched a ten-year project....Each year until 2000 C.E. a small group of new works, unrestricted as to discipline, was presented in a landscape setting outside the confines of a gallery. Artists were invited to submit proposals relating to the theme of the project: ‘reintegration with nature’….[T]hose involved with the genesis of the project regarded the whole Canadian landscape with its immense patterns and rhythms as a peculiarly appropriate setting for the concept of a millennium project in which works of art could be widely scattered within the landscape and discovered almost by accident.”

2000 and 1992, ECO-ART installation and ART RESIDENCY, The Millennium Project: I was chosen as an artist for Year 2 of the decade-long project. In the spring of 1992 I created the installation, “Crown of Thorns,” with the assistance of my husband at-the-time, the talented artist Pira Pirani, and with the presence and inspiration of our new baby, Katy. My work was celebrated in the final year of 2000, along with the visual artists, musicians and performers chosen each year from 1991 to 2000. The book that explained the philosophy of the project, Art for Earth’s Sake: The Millennium Project was published in 2003 by K.A.A.I. Gallery in Kingston, Ontario. (see above)

Playing with my angel under a majestic maple as I created “Crown of Thorns” for The Millennium Project, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

08 and 09/1991, ART RESIDENCY in IRELAND, Sculpting in the DeciesECO-ART installations, “River Stone Works, Ireland” and town square group sculpture. In 1991, the Sculptors Society of Ireland chose me in an international competition as one of six artists for a one-month art residency in Tallow, County Waterford, Ireland. Each of us was chosen for our proposal of an individual art installation or sculpture. I completed four installations as I had proposed, using local materials to build the site-specific artwork in the shallow river bed. As well our group created a large town square group sculpture.

In preparation, I arrived in early August 1991 to wander around the town, the cloistered convent, and along the rivers. I was recruited for the church choir, and enticed to recite poems at the cèilidh social events held at the pub. I found materials just like in the Gatineau Hills of Quebec, Canada, where I had grown up in the summers since I was a baby. These local materials were stone, wood and river water (like in the Canadian Shield). After 40 Irish children from the village followed me around for a week, I included them in my work, showing them how to build stone cairns beside and in the water. (I figured they must be God’s humorous gift of “local materials.”) The children helped me clean up the river bed as we worked, shouting at would-be litterers on the bridge above to keep their junk to themselves.

We artists shared a newly-renovated house provided by the town. Every day the cow lady, across the stream from us, would sound bells as she moved her herd along the traditional route through town. One day, among the many magical experiences, five of us artists piled into a car to visit the famous Waterford Crystal Factory. There, a crystal craftsman gave me brilliant hunks of cast-off crystal to use in my projects – after I expressed admiration for the way the light passed through.

Since Tallow is a town famous for its annual horse fair, the Tallow Chamber of Commerce directed our group of artists to work together on a horse sculpture for the main square. The Japanese artist and I developed a kinship over our personal projects, and the other artists shared their love of horses with us. Together we visited a nearby horse farm to get inspired.

To start my panel of the horse sculpture, I found an odd piece of wood in the shape of a horse head. In executing the large piece, we mixed wet concrete for each panel. I pushed my horse head into the top of my panel. The horse shape became more abstract as we poured more concrete to embed it, sigh.

Now I will add: I was five months pregnant while carefully moving stones in water, climbing horse fences, and mixing concrete…

I added small pieces of crystal as I inscribed into the wet concrete an old Irish proverb that the villagers taught me, a variation on this Gaelic seanfhocal: “Is minic a rinne bromach gioblach capall cumasach.” ― A ragged colt often makes a fine horse. This hopeful expression encouraged me because, after a month in Ireland, the village wise woman kept asking after “the twins.” I needed some ancient Celtic wisdom to make sure my child(ren) would turn out right! I am lucky, they did. And though the girls were born five years apart, they are often mistaken for twins.

We were running late in completing the horse sculpture in the town square. So the artist-engineer leading the project came up with a brilliant flourish – of course, “Let’s make it into a fountain!” I started laughing at this new twist, then decided it was an act of God and threw myself into the mad wonder of it all. All the while, the Irish were so kind to this blossoming artist from Canada.

At the end of the project on September 17, 1992, the esteemed President of Ireland, Mary Robertson, opened our sculpture project in Tallow, and her picture was in the newspapers about this successful conclusion to the 1991 Sculpting in the Decies. It made it quite special for us.

The fountain part worked for a week 🙂 The next spring, my river stone works flowed along with the swollen river – ephemeral gifts to nature they were always meant to be.

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