Creator of Vancouver’s steel crab sculpture remembered

Published Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2013 10:43PM EDT

The crab rises from a pool, pincers raised overhead, a magnificent six-metre-tall sculpture rendered in stainless steel. For 45 years, the gleaming decapod crustacean has guarded the entrance to what is now the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in a park on the Vancouver waterfront. Designed by George Norris, who has died at 84, the crab is a work of public art that has won the approval of the public as well as that of art critics.

 The Norris crab, which is located in the middle of a fountain, is one of the most photographed works of art in British Columbia, a favourite of tourists and schoolchildren. It is certainly better known than its creator. Mr. Norris preferred anonymity to celebrity, and opposed what he described as a “cult of personality” in the art world.

He left most of his works unsigned and often refused to name his works, believing a title would affect a viewers’ interpretation of the art. The artist’s penchant for leaving works untitled did not prevent some of his works from being labelled.

An abstract stainless-steel sculpture on a man-made grassy knoll at the University of Calgary has been nicknamed the Prairie Chicken for its avian sweep. Over the years, it has been covered in molasses, feathers and toilet paper as part of campus pranks.

 Less playful was a city worker’s judgment on an abstract Norris piece, which was mistaken for scrap metal. Part of a sculpture that had once stood at Vancouver’s major downtown intersection was destroyed, a heartbreaking experience for the artist. George Alexander Norris was born on Christmas Eve in 1928 in Victoria to Christina and George Norris, who worked for the federal government as a customs agent responsible for investigating smugglers.