A midden is essentially an ancient depot for domestic waste. In coastal middens, clam and oyster shells remain fairly intact for over hundreds of years due to the high calcium carbonate content in the shells, which lowers the acidity in the soil. Through the examination of these middens we are offered valuable clues as to the cultures of past coastal communities.
This wealth of information can be studied and applied to how we have arrived at the present. The unintentional legacy left behind by this coastal community is a snap shot into the lives of those who came before us. Telus, through its Garden Art Program, will shape its own legacy through the arts and culture it supports within the community. The Shell Midden sculpture is a metaphor for culture, community, and the transference of knowledge.
I felt the materials of meaning should speak to a larger more inclusive group – the whole societies that contributed and provided us with this body of knowledge. With that in mind, I have carefully employed thoughtfully harvested wood in the installation. The shells are carved from the outer layers of the maple trees, saved while milling maple for dining tables. They are finished with environmentally responsible hardwax oil, and the individual panels are coloured with low VOC paint.
The wooden shells are mounted on panels of mahogany veneer. Each veneer was carefully selected to show movement in the grain, which alludes to tidal patterns at the shoreline. My daughter, Georgia Comber, painted each of the panels using several different colours, capturing the essence of ever-shifting sea life.