November 21, 2020
a COMET’s return
By Heidi Gedlaman
For several years, Kathryn (Fodchuk) Dobbin had no idea where her sculpture, built in the 1980s, was.
A restored Comet sitting next to the Bow River pathway in the vicinity of the Pumphouse Theatre.
Kathryn (Fodchuk) Dobbin built her monumental size scultpure Comet in 1983 as a commission for the City of Calgary, while she was a student of Katie Ohe’s at the Alberta College of Art and Design (now Alberta University of the Arts).
A swirling, dancing orb atop a 15 foot high, sweeping arc of steel, Comet occupied the southwest corner of Memorial Drive and 10 Street NW, where it inspired many a passersby to reflect on the cosmos…and also daring kids to climb and swing on it. The entire piece rotated on its base, meant to gently turn with the wind, but kids soon figured out they could get it turning at a good clip.
One evening Kathryn and a friend walked by to see a handful of 10 year-olds spinning it with all their might, one of their friends hanging on to the very top, his little body flung out parallel to the ground as he whizzed around.
Over time the shaft connected to the base cracked, and was rebuilt to be twice as long, welded in multiple layers for strength. Eventually it was broken again, when someone tied a cord to the top and swung from it, breaking the lock nuts on the housing and bringing it crashing to the ground. Comet was removed from site and stored away; having moved to Vancouver, Kathryn had no idea what had happened or where
her work was taken.
Five Comet years later, she found herself traveling down Memorial Drive, and saw her creation standing across the river outside the Pumphouse Theatre. There it stood, a bit crinkled and damaged after its stint on Memorial Drive, and showing more signs of age – pitting and rusting – until February 2020 when Dobbin was contacted by Sophia Zweifel, a conservator at the City of Calgary, and asked to restore the piece. Zweifel indicated that the piece became part of the City’s collection in 2007, and was flagged as a priority for restoration. She also emphasized how important it is for a conservator to work with the artist, “and not make decisions on their behalf, as even small errors or adjustments can impact the concept and integrity of the artist’s work. It’s exciting to have Kathryn come back and revisit Comet after decades, and for her to see it and experience working with it in a new light,” said Zweifel.
Kathryn said she made the decision to come back to Calgary to give Comet the attention it needed not only because she had long wanted to return to the piece — but also because she knew “it needed its dignity restored.”
“Comet is true to its nature. It’s lucky to get two orbits in one lifetime”
The artist is seen here at KOAC’s studio last August restoring the main body of the sculpture.
Kathryn has a long history with her former ACAD instructor Katie Ohe, describing her as “one of my pillars, the other being my father.” She felt that Katie’s studio at KOAC was the ideal place to give the time and attention her piece needed to make it shine again.
Dobbin had left her footprint at the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre a long time ago. Her Dandelion, another of her full-of-kinetic-grace pieces, is one of the most photographed sculptures at the Centre.
She reached out to Katie, and was invited to be KOAC’s Artist in Residence for the month of August 2020, where, after having Comet disassembled and sandblasted, Kathryn went to work welding damaged joints and grinding the steel in preparation for paint. The piece wasn’t painted originally, as she prefers to leave materials raw, to let the physical work show and speak to the construction and history of her art. This time however, to unify its appearance after extensive repair, Comet received a coloured coat of corrosion-resistant paint inspired by a glowing deep-indigo piece of covellite rock Kathryn carries in her pocket; a beautiful, galactic blue with a metallic shimmer — fitting for this Comet’s dignified return.
“The Comet is true to its nature and this one seems to have an elliptical orbit of 37 years,” said Dobbin. “I decided to call it Comet’s Return. It’s lucky to get two orbits in one lifetime.”
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