25in25: A Public Art Retrospective – Cooper’s Muse by Alan Storey


Alan Storey’s the Coopers Mews pays tribute to the industrial history of the north side of False Creek. In particular, it references the Sweeney Cooperage that operated between the 1890’s and 1981, when it closed to make way for the new Cambie Bridge, B.C. Place Stadium and the Expo ’86 grounds. The cooperage was capable of taking logs directly from False Creek, milling the wood into staves and assembling them into barrels. At one time it was the largest barrel producer in the British Empire, producing over 2,000 barrels per day.[1]

Situated in a small park off Marinaside Crescent near the original site of the Sweeney Cooperage, Storey’s artwork consists of several simple components. At the entrance of the park is an elevated steel track with a row of barrels sitting on it. The track travels snake like through the length of the park. The upper track begins as a double track, and as it moves through the park it becomes a single track. Underneath, a path of wood, concrete, and grass follows the track above. Sections of steel rails at ground level intermittently edge the path.  A wooden boardwalk marks the beginning of the path, but as it continues though the park the boards appear less often and are replaced by sections of concrete and finally, just grass. These elements allude to both the cooperage and the industrial landscape that has now disappeared from False Creek, replaced by parks and Condominium towers.

25in25: A Public Art Retrospective – "Coopers Mews" (2002) by Alan Storey - Photo by Braden Scheck

25in25: A Public Art Retrospective – “Coopers Mews” (2002) by Alan Storey – Photo by Braden Scheck

On viewing the work I am reminded that the cooperage was the subject of B.C. filmmaker Phillip Borsos’ documentary, made in 1976 soon after he graduated from art school. Cooperage was a precursor to his Academy Award nominated film “Nails”. Borsos also used the cooperage for scenes in his acclaimed feature film “ The Grey Fox,” about the aged train robber Bill Miner.

Storey’s work evokes this history in an experiential way.  He has produced numerous works that have an element of interactivity, as does Coopers Mews. The five wooden barrels that sit on the elevated track have holes cut in the tops. As one steps on the wooden boardwalk it causes the barrels to emit steam that is forced through a pipe to make a different sound, depending on which board is stepped on.  The sounds and steam are direct references to the steam process used in making the barrels and the machines of the cooperage.

Coopers Muse is about history, memory and the changing face of the city. It captures and reflects the history of the site and provides a vehicle for the public to contemplate that history. The track and the path, meandering and diminishing as it travels through the park, mimic the way memory wanders and fades with time. Yet memories can be triggered by sound, smell and sight. Storey uses these elements to help focus the viewers’ thoughts. The park itself is a contemplative space to view and experience the work. Coopers Mews is a device for remembering the past, appreciating the now and wondering about the future.

By Greg Bellerby – Bellerby is a curator and writer who divides his time between Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia and Los Cabos, Mexico.

[1] City of Vancouver Archives, http://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/sweeney-cooperage-ltd-2.


Alan Storey is a Vancouver artist who has been creating public art commissions, site specific gallery installations, interactive works for over 30 years. One of his earliest and acclaimed public works is Broken Column (1987), an aluminum pendulum installed in the HSBC Building in Vancouver. He has created numerous public artworks throughout the Lower Mainland, Washington State and in Montreal, Quebec. In 2016, the City of Surrey unveiled Storey’s City of Signs, a wind-driven kinetic photographic sculpture on the wall of their Operations Centre. His drawing machines have been exhibited at galleries across Canada, the USA and Europe. Storey is a recipient of numerous grants and awards, including the Canada Council/National Research Council Artist-in-Residence (2003–05) and the Vancouver Mayor’s Award for Public Art (2009). His works reside in public and private collections across North America.

Culture - Public Art - 25th Anniversary - 25in25 series - logo - footer - colour

The City of Vancouver’s Public Art Program celebrates 25 years of creating extraordinary artworks for public spaces. Every two weeks during 2016 we’ll share the story of a unique artwork created through the program. Over 260 pieces have been commissioned since 1991 through civic initiatives, community grants or private sector rezoning requirements. These are only a few of the key pieces that have helped to define Vancouver as a unique place and a world-class city for public art!

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