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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The mystery of the missing hand: public art on Wharf Street set to return this year

Eroded by a decade of visiting dogs, ‘Hands of Time’ installation will see slight redesign upon its return

By Michael John Lo
January 5, 2023
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The mystery of the missing hand: public art on Wharf Street set to return this year

Eroded by a decade of visiting dogs, ‘Hands of Time’ installation will see slight redesign upon its return

A statue of a hand holding a railway spike used to be attached to the base of this Wharf Street lamp post. Photo: Charles Kuyper / submitted
A statue of a hand holding a railway spike used to be attached to the base of this Wharf Street lamp post. Photo: Charles Kuyper / submitted
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The mystery of the missing hand: public art on Wharf Street set to return this year

Eroded by a decade of visiting dogs, ‘Hands of Time’ installation will see slight redesign upon its return

By Michael John Lo
January 5, 2023
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The mystery of the missing hand: public art on Wharf Street set to return this year
A statue of a hand holding a railway spike used to be attached to the base of this Wharf Street lamp post. Photo: Charles Kuyper / submitted

A work of public art has disappeared from Wharf street, but the city says that the statue of a hand holding a railway spike will be back on its perch soon.

Nothing but a small, jutting piece of pipe remains of the unassuming Wharf Street sculpture, part of the 12-piece art installation of The Hands of Time. The installation was created by artist Crystal Przybille and installed across the city in 2012 for the commemoration of Victoria’s 150th anniversary.

Charles Kuyper recently went looking for the sculptural works last week and managed to find all but one.

“We actually went back a second time to try to find it,” Kuyper said of the missing artwork.

The Navy veteran is part of a regular Wednesday night running club that did a scavenger hunt run based around the public art installations last week. The Hands of Time are primarily clustered in Downtown Victoria, near its waterfront, but also features two Indigenous co-created installations in Vic West and Beacon Hill Park. The twelve bronze-and-steel sculptures, which all involve life-sized depictions of hands, were created to symbolize different aspects of Victoria as well as the area’s history before it was colonized. 

A hand just outside of Chinatown delicately spreads a Peking opera fan. Another pair pans for gold, near the Custom House, where mining licenses were once administered. Hands holding teacups, just outside the Empress Hotel, signify Victoria’s connection to Britain. Hands carve a canoe paddle. Hands dig for Camas, a traditional food for the lək̓ʷəŋən people. 

The Wharf Street sculpture is located near a now-demolished E&N railway terminus station and was inspired by the history of Island rail in the 1880s, then a crucial deciding factor for Vancouver Island settlers in joining the confederation of Canada. 

The statue of a hand holding a railway spike recently disappeared from its Wharf Street home. Artist Crystal Przybille is preparing to replace it. Photo: Crystal Przybille / submitted

“I’ve been in the city for 41 years. But seeing something like [Hands of Time], it was kind of cool,” Kuyper said. “I’m hoping more people find out about it.” 

The sculptures are well loved, Przybile said, adding that city staff have told her that they have been “pleasantly surprised” by the amount of people who have passed along positive comments about the sculptures in a municipal hall that usually receives more complaints than praise. 

Przybile, who is now a sessional instructor at UBC Okanagan, has been aware of the missing sculpture for some time—having visited Victoria last August to perform some repairs and maintenance work on Hands of Time, only to find one of the works missing from its lampstand perch. 

It was unfortunate timing, she said. “I knew it was loose. And when I went to repair it, it was gone.”

A decade of dog pee on the low-lying statuette may have contributed to its disappearance, said Pryzybile. Galvanic corrosion stemming from acidic dog urine began separating the statue from its lampstand, and then someone likely pried it off once it was loosened. She said that a regular on the street told her that the statuette on Wharf Street was still there just a few days before her arrival.

She’s preparing a new design, one which will feature a plate mount and corrosion-preventing gaskets that secure the statue from dog pee and dislodgement. 

In a statement to Capital Daily, the City of Victoria confirmed that the city is working with Przybile to replace the statue as a continuation of the maintenance work that first began in 2022. The city has established a dedicated reserve fund for the maintenance of public art in the last few years, according to the latest Create Victoria progress report.

While the City of Victoria did not give a timeline beyond 2023 for the statuette’s return, Przybile is hopeful that it'll be replaced before the summer. 

Kuyper has a suggestion: put the work higher up, away from curious pets looking for a place to do their business. 

“I get the idea of putting the railroad spike close to the ground,” he said. “[But] even if it’s a little bit higher, it will probably be in a safer position.”

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