Pat Christie’s SPACE

Growing up in the supportive community of Wildwood, Calgary, Pat often reflects on his childhood, and thinks about how lucky he was to have had spaces to play, to create, and to gather. Now, living in Vancouver, he has created a remarkably inclusive space for people to come together, be inspired, and bring ideas from their imagination to life. He calls it SPACE.


A variety of creatives who have been hosted at SPACE, also have their work displayed in TELUS Garden. Founder, Pat Christie has donated work to be permanently on display at Vancouver’s Science World and TELUS World of Science.

Lesley-Anne Scorgie
Rose by rose

In 2012, Canadian artist Janice Wright Cheney created two life-sized grizzly bears covered in red roses that have been exhibited across North America and have now found permanent homes in Canadian collections. 

“The bears are very personal and were inspired by a dead bear I saw on the side of the road,” says Janice Wright Cheney. She was overcome with sadness for the bear and related it to her own personal experience with grief.

“It was curled up and appeared to be sleeping.  I started wondering how the other animals would feel about the loss of that bear. Who would miss the bear? What animal depended on that bear or related to it?”

Almost immediately the idea came to Wright Cheney. She needed to step into the skin of the mate who had loved that dead bear: the widow.

Widow by Janice Wright Cheney
Photo by Jeff Crawford

Using the staggeringly large life-sized taxidermy forms of two grizzly bears, Wright Cheney and a team of colleagues covered the bears with a “skin” made of claret coloured velvet.  Hundreds of individually hand-dyed and hand-felted roses were then constructed and pinned to become the “fur coat” of the bears.

The roses are luscious deep scarlets, from marsala to geranium to garnet, with the variations and subtlety you would expect from lovingly handmade fibre and form.  The physical qualities of the roses, each one unique and made by hand from raw material, visually represent the depth and breadth of our capacity for love, for grief, and ultimately for healing.

Flowers are used in many cultures to symbolize love for an important person who has passed and to comfort their surviving loved ones.  Red roses in particular are symbolically associated with the timelessness of love, with sacrifice, and with rebirth and renewal.  For Wright Cheney,  “It made complete sense to me that the widow of the bear should be covered with red roses.”

Janice Wright Cheney, with the support of her community, built two of Canada’s most talked-about contemporary sculptures, Widow (standing over nine feet high) and Widow, Walking (on four legs). The artist chose to create two grizzlies rather than one because she wanted to depict the two most prominent ways in which the Canadian grizzly bear moves. Today, Widow, Walking is permanently located at TELUS Garden in Vancouver while Widow has been acquired by Calgary’s Glenbow Museum.

Photo of Janice Wright Cheney courtesy of artsnb

As most things in life come full circle, Wright Cheney has spent even more time since creating this work in support of her arts community at home. She mentors her students from the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design and is an active member of Connexion Artist-run Centre – a special space run by artists to help support new artists.

“Spaces like the college and Connexion ARC are important to help launch and nurture artistic inspiration. But creating art is far more than just finding a physical space. Space for art is found in your commitment and practice to your craft,” says Wright Cheney.

Sometimes the resulting work is recognized as a testament to the transformative power of art. Widow and Widow, Walking are such pieces.


Article featured image: Widow, Walking by Janice Wright Cheney, Photo by Jeff Crawford

True North Gallery features more than 100 visual art pieces created by musical artists, proving that their artistry is not limited one medium.
6 things you may not know about the arts in Canada
  1. 900,000 Canadians volunteer in arts and culture organizations.
  2. Canada has 12.7 million volunteers, 7% of those choose to volunteer in arts and culture.
  3. Arts and culture volunteers contribute more hours (120 hours annually) than volunteers in any other type of organization.
  1. In the past decade, arts and culture volunteers have increased by 23% and arts and culture donors by 34%.
  2. Every year, arts and culture volunteers contribute an of equivalent of 56,000 full-time jobs.
  3. One in every 129 Canadian workers is an artist.

Sources: Imagine CanadaHill Strategies- a statistical profile of artists and cultural workers in Canada , Hill Strategies – volunteers and donors in arts and culture in Canada 2013


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