A view of the Jan Johnson sculpture exhibit Tales of Woe and Whimsy at the Sooke Region Museum. The exhibit runs until March 31.

CURATOR’S CORNER: Sculpture Exhibit

Sooke Region Museum unveils new exhibit: Tales of Woe and Whimsy, featuring the art of Jan Johnson

By Brianna Shambrook

The Sooke Region Museum is pleased to announce a new exhibit titled Tales of Woe and Whimsy. This exhibit will show the works of local sculpture artist Jan Johnson (1943-2011).

Jan’s sculptures are composed of various junkyard detritus and welded together to form moving scenes that portray various themes such as militarism and subjugation. In this exhibit, the chosen sculptures focus on themes of woe and whimsy.

After a harrowing tour of duty during the Indo-China war, Jan came to Canada and settled first in Ontario and then in Sooke in 1976. As a logistics and transportation platoon leader in Vietnam, Jan witnessed the senselessness of war. He translated his complex thoughts about what he witnessed into metal sculptures. This exhibit has 34 sculptures, but Jan created more than 400 works in his lifetime.

The aesthetic goal was to have the exhibit space reflect Jan’s workshop and leave a very rustic impression.  In the exhibit you will find a table that Jan welded on, his welding apron and masks, and a selection of his tools. The walls in Jan’s workshop are covered in posters that inspired him; we took some of these posters and put them in the exhibit.

Visitors will notice that we made a lot of our own displays using wood. We obtained all our wood materials from the Sooke lumber yard on Idlemore Road (Xemex Industries Ltd.). Our exhibit tech built shelves as long as 10 feet to accommodate the sculptures. Also, instead of using typical plinths for this exhibit, we thought outside the box. We had stumps cut from logs at the lumber yard and have used those to support some sculptures.

In the exhibit are many sculptures that portray topics of mythology, religion and fairy tales. For example, sculptures depicting Little Red Riding Hood, Buddha, Moby Dick and the Greek Minotaur are on display. Also in the exhibit are some details on Jan’s funky house that he shared with his wife Mary-Alice. Their house has been featured on HGTV’s program Weird Homes due to its unique architectural features. For instance, there is a giant ear in the kitchen and a giant nose in the bedroom. Their land, which backs onto DeMamiel Creek, is also memorable as it is filled with various metal scraps and props and, of course, many of Jan’s sculptures.

This exhibit features other talents too. Photographs by James R. Page capture small details in the presented sculptures and Kay Lovett has edited a film that shows multiple interviews of Jan including clips from Weird Homes.

The exhibit at the Sooke Region Museum runs until March 31. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

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Brianna Shambrook is collections and exhibits manager of Sooke Region Museum.