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Park cabins a hidden refuge for artists

Vancouver’s initiative to house artists in its park field houses is new. But it’s not the first time artists have…

By Emma Smith , in Blogs , on November 21, 2012

Jack Darcus has been an artist for over 50 years and a park caretaker for 20. (Photo: Emma Smith)

Vancouver’s initiative to house artists in its park field houses is new. But it’s not the first time artists have ended up in the park cabins.

Jack Darcus is testament to that.

Darcus sits comfortably behind a desk littered with brushes and paint in his Granville Island studio. He talks freely, bringing his hands up to his face to rest under his chin.

This house in Kitsilano’s Hadden Park is similar to the field house Darcus lives in.  (Photo: Emma Smith)
For 20 years, Darcus has worked as a caretaker in one of Vancouver’s parks. (He prefers not to say which one.) He’s lived in the small cabin, kept the area clean and watched over the park, picking up broken bottles left by rowdy teenagers.

He graduated from UBC with a fine arts degree in the early ‘60s with dreams of making movies and painting, but he was broke.

When a friend moved out of a field house, he told Darcus about the deal: free rent in exchange for taking care of the park.

“That for me was a godsend,” says Darcus. “Because a film project I had didn’t get the financing I’d hoped to have. I could see myself moving to Toronto to direct television, which I didn’t really want to do.”

Back then, Darcus says the field houses “attracted people whose income was perilous and they needed the break of having free rent.”

That meant writers and artists.

But it wasn’t just for economic reasons that artists gravitated to these cabins in the woods. Darcus says he’s produced paintings in that house that he couldn’t have done elsewhere.

Darcus paints with egg tempera, an ancient medium that combines egg yolk, pigment and either vinegar or wine. (Photo: Emma Smith)

He thinks it’s a great idea by the city to officially use these houses as artists’ spaces, with no requirement to manage the park. But he’s careful to point out that the space doesn’t guarantee high-quality art. That’s still up to the painters, sculptors and dancers who will use the space for the next two and a half years.

Living in the field house allowed Darcus to stay in Vancouver and devote himself to his craft. He eventually saved enough money to open a studio on Granville Island, where he now works and teaches.

He speaks with pride about his dual role as artist and caretaker. He understands his job in the park as “making it safe and happy”

“Some of my best friends are the dogs that people own and I’ve been through a few generations of dogs with people now.”