A Departure

Installation  October  2009
Dimensions Variable

Commission: City of Lethbridge.
Marking the Centenary of the Alberta CPR High Level Bridge.

A Departure is based on three types of driver train wheels that have crossed the Alberta CPR High Level Bridge over the past hundred years. The largest sculptural element in the installation is a train wheel emerging from the ground, acting here as a bridge connecting the first era of steam locomotion, in its golden age when the bridge was built, with the current era of diesel electric trains.  The largest wheel is based on the last class of Mikado steam engines, which the CPR kept in service until the early 1950s.  The two smaller wheels are drawn from the beginning and end of the centenary period, the earliest based on Switcher trains built at the turn of the century.  The sculptural components have been installed in relation to one another, designed so that they work together as a set of objects that frame views of the bridge, the river valley, the Galt museum, the seniors’ home, and the University of Lethbridge. When facing the bridge, you can peer through the spokes of the large wheel to see its older counterpart, as if looking back in time. When standing between the bridge and the two steam engine wheels, you can see a late twentieth century wheel appearing to roll into the future.

While the bridge has remained constant in form and structure, its rails are a timeline marking milestones in rail technology, most notably the radical shifts in the second quarter of the twentieth century when innovations in diesel technology spell the gradual obsolescence of the steam engine. By installing the three wheels on different inclined angles, they enter into a visual interplay depicting dramatic changes in train wheel design since the bridge’s completion. With their enlarged scale and monumentalized form, the wheels themselves become lenses, bringing into focus the pivotal periods of political, cultural and technological change that have occurred over the last hundred years. Although based on careful research, the sculptures are not exact historical replicas of wheels from specific models; instead, each is a composite, bringing together subtle design elements from its respective time period.

—Ilan Sandler 2009