Parks + Art: Mr. Fire-Man at Maclean Park Fieldhouse, Vancouver

WCMT Fellowship 2016 research: innovation in participation in public urban green space.

Vancouver, Canada.


Mr. Fire-Man (artist David Gowman), artist in residence in Maclean Park Fieldhouse, invites people to explore the craft of building musical instruments from local wood.

As part of his residency, David runs a regular Tuesday night drop-in ‘Tool Fun’ workshop from 6pm to 9pm, open to the community, the neighbourhood and to anyone from across Vancouver interested in learning how to carve and make things out of wood, at his fantastically named ‘Oncle Hoonki’s Fabulous Hornshop’.

14379970_10208733364245726_3439739215228336378_oWith a small group of regular participants making things each week as well as working on long-term projects, David also has two other team members – Martin Borden who teaches others how to make and carve, and Chef Karen Barnaby.

There are lots of different making projects on the go, from people just starting out making their first spatula shaped out of a block of wood (usually takes a few weeks) to delicate wooden spindles and self-designed carvings which are shaped over numerous sessions. David himself was making guttering for a building in another park when I visited in September.

The regularity of the session run every week, is also the real strength of this residency, with people passing by to use the park seeing the gathering every week, having time to become curious and get involved.

david-helping-people“People come from across town and they also come from the neighbourhood.”

As a visitor, it’s easy to see immediately what’s happening, to be inspired to try something out, and to be interested in other peoples’ skills and the objects they’re making.


The project grew organically out of the art group that existed in Strathcona previously, so the long term commitment to participatory making is very much part of David’s social practice.


The drop-in session has a Potluck, with people bringing food to share which creates a great social space for people to meet.

The Fieldhouse, in the corner of the park, is also David’s workshop for his own work which includes handmade carved horns and instruments, and also a space for music rehearsals with his band The Legion of Flying Monkeys.


“This is my studio and I’m in here 5 days a week – it’s the best iteration of a studio I’ve ever had!”

David also generously shares the Fieldhouse with gardeners who visit on breaks.

“Children come and visit the studio too. I try to accommodate the kids who live around here and who play in the park. I have a kind of mentoring relationship with them. When they hear the horns being played, they often come across to find out what’s happening.”

trumpet-empress-treeAt special events, designed for children and young people, and working with the permission of parents, David teaches wood work and also how to play the horns. These extraordinary instruments are made out of the Empress Tree – a special tree with hollow branches, including from ones planted in parks in the neighbourhood – with other components assembled as part of them, like old hats and instrument parts.


david-on-the-horn“Why would I want to do or go anywhere else? I have social time here: food, making, social space. It brings together all the things I want in life.”






oncle-hoonkis-fabulous-hornshop-sign spatulas-at-david-gowmans-studio the-maclean-fieldhouse chopped-wood-ready-for-spatula sue-and-martin   sue-chopping-and-martin

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