A donation from Greater Victoria sculptor Armando Barbon has added a permanent member to the gallery of sculptures along Sidney’s waterfront walkway.
While the piece has been a part of Sidney’s Seaside Sculpture Walk since its opening in 2012, it, like many current pieces, was only in the community on loan.
“It was my property for the show,” Barbon said, after an unveiling ceremony Tuesday afternoon in Sidney’s Beacon Park. “Now, that they gave me a nice place, I decided to donate it to the [Town of Sidney] and it’s going to be here for a long time.”
The bronze sculpture titled Pure Energy shows a female gymnast, who fully extends her upper body and arms while angling her feet, a coiled up pose that gives her the appearance of the jack-knife. The piece aims to show the human body in motion, it is also a testament to perseverance after charting a new, entirely different course in life.
Barbon, born in Italy in 1937, took up sculpting 22 years ago. “I went to Italy several times to learn sculpting there and then I opened my studio here in Victoria,” he said. In fact, Barbon created the sculpture about nine years ago as one of his first pieces after opening his studio in Victoria.
Barbon, who owned North Douglas Distributors for 28 years, had some help along the way. “I let my son run the business,” he said. “That was 1998-99 and I went to Italy to do some sculpting there.” Sysco Foods then purchased the company, which allowed Barbon to retire two years later and dedicate more time to sculpting.
When asked about finding this passion in the later stages of his life, Barbon said he always wanted to do sculpting. “But I never had the time,” he said. “I had to look after the business and before I had to work. So there were not weeks and months to give to sculpting.”
But Barbon also promised himself that he would eventually do it. His dedication has paid off, having created a dozen pieces across Vancouver Island, as well as other parts of Canada.
Barbon’s work has also found an international audience.
Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith thanked Barbon for his “kind and generous donation” before the unveiling. “When you see the sculpture, if you haven’t seen it previously, it does represent pure energy.” As such, it will be a great addition to the park, he said.
Wayne McNiven, chair of the Sculpture Walk Committee for ArtSea Community Arts Council, which has been administering the walk since 2019, said Barbon’s donation is an “amazing gesture, one that is timeless” in thanking the artist for the wonderful addition to the permanent collection of Sidney’s sculpture walk.
“Armando’s Pure Energy is now located in a beautiful and prominent location, a location that will ensure residents and visitors will enjoy this spectacular piece for generations to come,” said McNiven.
Earlier this year, Sidney purchased The Keeper by Vancouver-based artist Ronald T. Crawford, a five-ton sandstone block standing near the Sidney-to-Anacortes ferry terminal. “And we are still hoping to purchase more over the next year or so,” he said.
McNeil-Smith said the history of the sculpture walk dates back to the first term of former mayor Larry Cross, who had initially championed the idea of a sculpture walk on Sidney’s waterfront promenade.
“And it was in 2012 during Larry Cross’ second term of mayor that the sculpture walk came to be with several installations along the waterfront and it has been a great success for some 10 years ago.”
ArtSea Community Arts Council agreed to manage the sculpture walk program in 2019.
For Barbon, Tuesday’s unveiling was also another part of his pay-off for switching careers.
“Dropping the food business, I was never married to it, but it was making my living, and then at one point, I didn’t have to do it anymore, so I got out.”
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