By Angela Long
Published Aug. 23 2016
The trees of the Haliburton Sculpture Forest shake in the wind and the rain turns pathways into rivulets. But in a small clearing two children ride atop a grey granite bear braving the summer storm.
“Together we explore the wild…” reads the brochure. And together in the Haliburton School of Art and Design’s Great Hall on Tuesday Aug. 16 more than 100 people gather to celebrate the life of Shawn Hagerman a man who inspired a sculpture that will stand on the shores of Head Lake embracing the wilds of an eternity.
His family who commissioned the sculpture by renowned artist George Pratt sits in the wings of the hall. They’ve been waiting a long time for this evening’s unveiling ceremony. After receiving more than 50 applications from sculptors wishing to create their tribute to Shawn the Hagermans chose Pratt a B.C. artist originally from Minden who has created works for the likes of Jane Goodall Hillary Clinton Prince Philip Boris Yeltsin. The 3000 pound sculpture has travelled more than 4000 kilometres to join a collection of more than 30 Canadian and international artists’ works in the gallery in the woods.
And now it’s time to celebrate a man called a “family man outdoorsman canoeist camper fisherman hunter photographer meditator poet and health and fitness enthusiast” in the invitation to the event.
Shawn’s widow Dianne takes the stage. She recites You Reading This: Stop from William Stafford’s collection Even in Quiet Places: “let your whole self drift like a breath and learn its way down through the trees” she reads. Then she begins to sing the words of the poem flowing through the hall. “Now you can go on” she sings the last line.
Sculpture Forest curator and master of ceremonies Jim Blake surveys the audience.
“We should have put a box of Kleenex on every table” he says.
But the Hagerman family – son Adam and daughters Katharine and Abby – remain composed.
Abby takes the stage. She reads an essay she wrote when she was 10 called Gone Fishing with Dad. It’s an essay about the joy the peacefulness the stillness found in nature something she learned that day fishing and something she still embraces in her life.
When Katharine takes the mic she recounts a story of canoeing on Wildcat Lake and getting caught in a thunderstorm. Her father flipped over the canoe and the family huddled beneath. “Breathe in the beauty of the storm he told us.”
And they did she says. And they still do.
Pratt’s work a bear and two children sculpted from what he calls “salt and pepper” granite illuminates the room. Due to today’s storm the unveiling was recorded earlier and now appears on the big screen. Its light casts across the faces of the guests.
The faces of the two children on the bear remain featureless.
“It’s better for you to imagine who they are than for me to spell it out” says Pratt. “Everything that’s there was done for a purpose.”
And tonight everything is done for a purpose – the poem the song the essay the stories the words of the deputy reeve and other prominent members of Haliburton County.
“This was a happy occasion” Abby says after the ceremony. “There were so many people at Dad’s funeral and this gave us a chance to do something more personal.”
The family chose a sculpture to celebrate Shawn rather than a bench or other type of memorial because a piece of art is “more representative of a feeling” says Dianne.
“The village of Haliburton is not the wilderness” says Abby. “But to visit the sculpture you have to take a hike in the woods. Dad would have liked that.”
The volunteers stack chairs move tables. The red doors of the college open and close letting in gusts of wind and rain. Now you can go on Stafford’s words seem to echo. The guests walk out into the wilds.