Kwantlen artist Drew Atkins presided over the unveiling of four wooden masks he carved for North Otter Elementary School. (Kurt Langmann/Aldergrove Star)

Langley artists honoured to be selected to make Surrey public art

Husband and wife team from Kwantlen First Nation and an artist friend will construct an iconic work.

A Langley couple and their friend won the commission.

Now Drew and Phyllis Atkins along with Aaron Jordan must fashion aluminum and polycarbonate into four 16-foot paddles on a 12-foot medallion base for unveiling in the autumn of 2019.

The $180,000 project will live at the Surrey Museum, which is undergoing an extensive expansion and renovation in Cloverdale.

“It is very humbling, especially in an international competition of this scale. But we spent countless hours developing the project that was not about the artists, but about the diversity of Surrey and the historical presents of the Coast Salish communities of Katzie, Kwantlen, and Semiahmoo, the land based Nation that have shared these land for thousands of years,” said Drew Atkins. “It felt especially good to our team.”

While he has worked on other large-scale projects before, the River that Connects Us paddle sculpture for the museum will be a new experience for Phyllis, a painting and jeweler accustomed to working with various metals but not having done work of this scale.

“Just to let you know, this is my largest public art project to date, but not Drew’s. He has a couple more under his belt,” Phyllis said.

The Atkins own K’wy’i’y’e Spring Salmon Studio based at the Kwantlen First Nation in Fort Langley. Drew created the house boards; art pieces that are adjacent to the Fort Langley National Historic Site; masks in local schools, the Kwantlen Polytechnic University mace (a carved ceremonial staff); and a work in the courtyard of the Surrey Arts Centre.

“Aaron Jordan and I first meet working in the film industry. We were often required to work with a wide range of materials,” Drew explained.

Back in 2017, Surrey began consulting on the sculpture, with groups such as Kwantlen First Nation, the Katzie First Nation, the Public Art Advisory Committee and local business groups.

The designs on the paddles incorporate the seven traditional teachings of the Coast Salish peoples: health, happiness, generations, humility, forgiveness, understanding, and teaching.

The standing paddles symbolize a traditional, respectful and welcoming gesture, and honour the diversity and inclusiveness of newcomers to the City of Surrey and the traditional lands of the Coast Salish peoples.

The aluminum and polycarbonate paddles will have LED lighting and stand on the medallion base the design of which was inspired by Coast Salish spindle whorl. The public art project is part of the museum expansion project.


The Rivers that Connect Us, by K’wy’i’y’e Spring Salmon Studio, will stand 16 feet tall. (City of Surrey concept drawing)

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