Retiring visual art professor creates kelp installation for Deep Bay Marine Field Station

Kelp Sculpture by Fran Benton - fronds

Visual Art Professor Fran Benton was quick to volunteer her talents when she heard that staff at Vancouver Island University’s Deep Bay Marine Field Station were interested in additional aquatic-themed art for the new facility on the shores of Baynes Sound.

“I’m retiring and I thought this would be a nice way to say thank you to the institution for treating me so nicely over the past 18 years,” Benton said.

Fran Benton w kelp

Fran, shown above during construction; shaped and kiln-fired close to 130 pieces of clay that forms a ceramic mural that’s almost two metres wide and five metres tall.

Kelp Sculpture by Fran Benton wall view

The pieces are modeled after bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana), the distinctive form of marine algae that have large bulbs that keep the top afloat with long, flowing blades or fronds beneath the surface. Benton, who has degrees in science and art, has taken artistic license with the fronds and has stamped and carved aquatic phrases into the clay and made impressions with shellfish. “I have an absolute passion for fossils and geology,” said Benton. “I thought, ‘why not have the fronds speak to the fact that there are ancient shellfish in the rock around here as well as reflect the clams and scallops still in existence?’”

“It depicts 65 million years of history on the Island,” she said.

As for us here at the Station we are very excited and honoured to host this piece that Fran has created for us. In many ways it typifies what we are trying to accomplish at the Field Station, at first glance it is beautiful, but as you explore the playful stamps in the fronds, it both invites curiosity and education.

Kelp Sculpture by Fran Benton detail 7

Fran has already had an artistic influence on the Field Station. Emily Rigney, a VIU biology and art student who is working as a summer student at the Field Station Bay, created a jellyfish sculpture made from shoreline trash called “Beach garbage jellyfish” following an assignment from Benton that has become a centerpiece of the Field Stations public area.

More photos and details below:

Kelp Sculpture by Fran Benton detail 6

Bull Kelp Sculpture by Fran Benton - holdfast detail

Kelp Sculpture by Fran Benton wall view

Kelp Sculpture by Fran Benton detail 10

Kelp Sculpture by Fran Benton detail 6

Kelp Sculpture by Fran Benton detail 4

Bull Kelp Sculpture by Fran Benton detail 1

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