The famous Gastown Steam Clock is being temporarily replaced by a unique art installation designed by a Vancouver couple, who are installing it starting this week.
The new art piece will be a tall, reflective cylinder mounted onto the existing base of the Steam Clock that feels different from the way it looks.
“It is not made of brick or stone or metal or one of those hard materials, it is something soft with the visual qualities of metal. It is playful with its movement and instability,” says Jennifer Carruthers, who designed the art piece along with her husband, Tom.
The project will be called Make it Rain, which comes from the fact that the cylinder depends on water vapour, which is the essential element of clouds.
The 37-year-old clock is being repaired for the first time in its history. That ignited an idea with the couple to replace the empty space with a playful piece of art.
The Gastown Business Improvement Association agreed to let the Carruthers create the temporary installation.
The couple started a crowd-funding campaign to finance the project and were able to raise the required $20,000 through Kickstarter.
“Sometimes you just have to go for it. This is an opportunity that isn’t coming again,” adds Jennifer.
To the couple’s surprise, some people thought that the cylinder would replace the steam clock permanently.
“Some of the newspaper headlines indicated that we were replacing the steam clock but we aren’t,” explained Tom.
“Another man walked past us and said, ‘Isn’t it a shame, they had to sell the steam clock to pay for something else in the city.’”
Jennifer and Tom Carruthers: People are still connected to the iconic location (1’04”)
In fact, the famous steam clock is simply being serviced and will return to its original location at the corner of Water and Cambie Streets in a few weeks.
The last clock master
The man who built the original clock, Ray Saunders, believes the clock will never be replaced permanently as it is designed to stay for hundreds of years.
Saunders says the steam clock cost $58,000 to build back in 1977 and was meant to look older than that.
“I knew when I built it that it was going to look like it has always been here and that was the idea. It looks like it has been here since the 1890s so people believe it’s a 100 years or more old. They don’t know I built it just 37 years ago” said Saunders.
Ray Saunders: I had an emotional moment when they took the clock down to fix it (23″)
When asked about the Make it Rain art piece, Saunders said, “I think it’s great, I love it. It’s a beautiful piece and I think it should be placed somewhere in the city after it’s removed from here.”
Even a plastic replica is an icon
Before the art piece was installed, a small box marked the location of the steam clock.
“People are still taking pictures with it and the steam clock is still occupying people’s imaginations,” according to Jennifer. She says it is a landmark that people use as proof they have been in Vancouver.
“Now there is something missing with it not being here. We wanted to put an object back in to this space that could be a focal point for people.”
Tom says that when he was growing up in Vancouver, Gastown was to him a story, and the steam clock was a huge part of that narrative.
“It was the touch on the fingertips that’s a little warm, the suspense of waiting for the steam to come out and the whistles to blow.”