Work of Art: In Search of Gold Mountain by Chu Honsun

This five-tier stone sculpture chronicles the history of Chinese people in Canada and offers a serene focal point within Sien Lok Park beside the Bow River.

Photograph by Jared Sych.

Title: In Search of Gold Mountain (2000)
Artist: Chu Honsun
Medium: Yellow granite.
Size: 12 feet high by eight feet in diameter.
Location: Sien Lok Park, Riverfront Avenue and 1 Street S.W.
Notes: The work was commissioned through a competition by the Sien Lok Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Canadian Chinese Culture and History in Calgary. Chu was also commissioned to create the Airdrie Centennial Sculpture.

 

This five-tier stone sculpture chronicles the history of Chinese people in Canada and offers a serene focal point within Sien Lok Park beside the Bow River. The name, In Search of Gold Mountain, evokes the dreams of prospectors who arrived by boat in 1858, lured by the promise of gold in the Fraser River Valley. But the phrase can also be read more broadly as the quest for a better life.

The story is told in stylized images carved into the surface of three of the bands. The figures appear as polished shapes set in relief against a shallow background of pitted texture. In the lowest ring, the ship lands and the first generation sets to work logging, mining and building the railway. Their hard labour lays a foundation for successive generations. More educated and established, the figures in the next ring endure the restrictions of Canadian immigration legislation, the only laws in our history to limit immigration based on race and country of origin. The head tax and Exclusion Act are indicated simply with dates and names.

In the upper level, images of tai chi, dragon dancing and acupuncture represent a time when cultural expression is allowed. The tip of the cone is embellished with rows of small, raised knobs, akin to those on early Chinese bronze bells. The reference is a reminder of ancient Chinese culture and places the Canadian experience in perspective within an extensive timeframe.

Artist Chu Honsun (the artist’s name follows the Chinese custom of family name before given name) has a home studio out near Cochrane, where his sculptures are displayed in a field set against the backdrop of the foothills. Walking among them, he explained his admiration for the sculptors Henry Moore and Constantin Brancusi. “I like sculpture that is powerful, simple, strong and bold, without anything unnecessary,” Chu said. The same could be said of his work.

At the core of Chu’s art is an examination of the relationship between yin and yang. It is quite astonishing that an artist could use an uncompromising medium with such precision to convey a spirit of balance, but Chu certainly understands stone. After graduating from the University of Hong Kong in 1975, the Italian government offered him a scholarship to study art in Florence and Carrara where he learned from the master marble carvers. Well-respected in Hong Kong, where he has major works in public outdoor spaces and at the opera house, Chu came to live in Calgary in 1991 and moved to Cochrane in 2005.

In Search of Gold Mountain has been in its current spot since 2000. Many factors contribute to its enduring success: thoughtful design, pure geometric form and harmonious proportions, enduring and beautiful material (15 tonnes of distinctive yellow granite brought in from China) and content that continues to be relevant to Calgarians.

This article appears in the October 2019 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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