George Norris – An artist at home in Shawnigan
George Norris, a highly regarded sculptor and artist, is known more for the giant stainless steel crab sculpture in the fountain outside the HR McMillan Planetarium in Vancouver than himself, but George preferred anonymity to celebrity. The crab sculpture was a result of winning the bid in a Vancouver Centennial Celebration Contest. It was completed in 1968. Generations of people have used the crab as a photo backdrop, and it is considered the most photographed piece of public art in British Columbia. Most of his works are unsigned and unnamed because he did not want to influence the viewers’ interpretation of the art. George left many public sculptures and artworks, including some at UVic; one in the courtyard of the Victoria Public Library (George called this a dynamic Mobile Steel Structure); several at U.B.C.; and many more that can be found around Vancouver and in other locations.
Showing promising talent, George’s teachers in grade school encouraged his parents to provide art classes for him. He later graduated from the Vancouver School of Art (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design)…the school that another Shawnigan artist, E.H. Hughes, had also attended.
An early environmentalist, George preferred a simple rural life. He and Phyllis (his wife of 53 years) moved from Vancouver to Shawnigan Lake in 1983 and George became very involved in the small community. He worked tirelessly to map the existing trails (of the era) around Shawnigan and created extensive maps of the same. In the 1980s, George created, and reproduced, an iconic map of Shawnigan Lake which was beautifully illustrated with plants and animals from the area. It has been a “must-have” since it became available.
George submitted a building design for the ‘new’ Shawnigan Community Centre (that was built in 1994). Although his design was not chosen, he was instrumental in developing a plan to create artistic enrichment for the new centre. He proposed integrated crafted details that would act as a backdrop for community activities. He also suggested that if the public had a hand in creating these details, it would give them a sense that the facility was their very own and much more than a load of construction material. With a team of local artists and artisans leading the way, the community was encouraged to participate. George offered regular carving sessions in his studio – four sessions a week on evenings and weekends that went on for a year. The result was fifty images carved by novice carvers from the community that were inset into posts and lintels.
After George suffered a head injury on a hike in the area, he and Phyllis moved to Victoria. George died in Victoria on March 12, 2013, but his legacy in Shawnigan lives on.