It was the encouragement of his honours English teacher that helped put poet Rollie Pemberton on the path to “The Garden.”
The poem is scrawled like graffiti (in Pemberton’s own hand) all over a massive steel and bronze sculpture dedicated to Alberta’s teachers that was unveiled Oct. 5 at the Alberta Legislature.
Formerly Edmonton’s poet laureate and renowned as rapper Cadence Weapon, Pemberton credited his former teacher Barton Liebel for recognizing his talent and encouraging him to develop it.
“It’s the kind of thing that Mr. Liebel would have encouraged me to do,” Pemberton said of his latest poem. “It’s the kind of thing that I would try and do to impress him.”
The poem is an extended metaphor that shows the different paths that students may take. While some experience success, others get lost.
“What I believe is that teachers are always trying to encourage students and they function as the gardeners of our seeds, the children. I wanted to show that,” said Pemberton, who was part of an artistic team that also included artist Jacob Dutton and sculptor Richard Tosczak.
The sculpture itself depicts seven student faces looking outward. Taken together, they form a tree. Symbolically, it speaks to the vital relationships between teachers, students and their communities.
Unveiling the statue, which cost $312,000, marked the official end of the ATA’s 100th anniversary celebration.
Speaking at the dedication, sculptor Tosczak said the concept for the sculpture took a long time to come together. At first, seeing that his friends in education lead chaotic lives, he developed “this really chaotic crazy idea.”
“It was really terrible. It was awful,” he said.
The final concept began to take shape when Dutton started experimenting with profiles of youth.
“Jacob put two of these back to back one day and he showed me that and I thought, that’s it, that’s fantastic,” Tosczak said. “You could see all the potential for the complex interior spaces you see in the sculpture and all the interesting views.”
As the focus of the sculpture shifted from chaos to community service, Pemberton was writing his poem completely without knowledge of the visual theme. Then he came back with “The Garden.”
“That’s when we knew we had something special,” Tosczak said.
Teachers on hand for the dedication were impressed with the finished work.
“The future — that’s my impression,” said Frank McCallum, past president of Pembina Hills Local No. 22. “There are all these different faces, but the ones that are looking up and out kind of jump out at you.”
“What a spectacular tribute to the people of Alberta and to the teaching profession,” said Rick Kremp, president of Parkland Teachers Local No. 10.
“I think it’s beautiful,” said Vanessa Amyotte, president of Evergreen Catholic Local No. 44. “Every time I look at it I see something more.”
Bring water to the garden
Guide light to the dirt
Bask in the colour and the shapes
The multifarious strains
A drought barrens the harbour
The sprouts reach with thirst
But for errant weather to break
It might first have to rain
The growth so perennial
Seeds in the forest
Though some may encircle the drift
Florets never taking root
Others bend and spread their rings
Branchgrazing a cloud
A broken limb might fall from wind
But the sapling still bears fruit
Stacks of paper tilt skyward
Such proud snaking coil
A pillar towers eternal
Just like the Ashbrittle Yew
Gardener brings to order
With an open outstretched hand
And an eye toward renewal
The sculpture we are dedicating today – The Garden – captures perfectly the symbiotic relationship between Alberta teachers, students and communities. If public education were a tree, teachers would be the roots.
— Greg Jeffery, president, Alberta Teachers’ Association
On behalf of the government of Alberta and Premier Rachel Notley, thank you so much for all that we’ve done together here and thank you for always having an open hand and an open heart to ensure that education for our children is the very best that we can accomplish in the province of Alberta.
— David Eggen, education minister