Spring has sprung. Flowers are everywhere. But in Fairfield there’s a branch that’s sprouted an arm. It’s muscular, molded from plastic, and once belonged to an action figure.
Ida Wellwood found it on the bush near her front gate, after her neighbour attached it there in an attempt to be silly. She smiles and laughs while remembering the moment. “It was a delightful discovery,” she says.
The experience was so delightful, she decided to grow the branch with an arm into a tree full of dolls.
And that’s what made the videographer and I gasp in unison as we were driving towards Ida’s front yard. After hours of searching for a suitable story for the end of the six o’clock news, we saw dozens of Barbie dolls hanging from a tree like acrobats at a circus.
Ida’s doll tree began with eight Barbies that once belonged to her friend’s daughter. Dolls donated because of a miscommunication. Dolls the daughter wanted her mom to keep. A mistake that nobody realized until Ida used her artistic talents to transform them.
Now the tree’s blooming Barbies have sprouted wings and wear hats made from tea-spoon strainers. There’s even one that’s emerging from the mouth of an alligator.
Ida did damage control by sending photographs of them to the daughter. “So she knew people were delighted to see them. And she forgave her mother for giving them to me.”
Those original eight dolls inspired other people to donate their Barbies. Now Ida’s front yard is full of them. “It’s a creation of the absurd because people like to stop and look at things that are absurd.”
The videographer agrees. He smiles while spending way longer than usual capturing the intricacies of what Ida’s created. During that time, the artist reveals how her delightful childhood was undermined by a horrible, decade-long relationship. A relationship she’s grateful ended while she was still young enough to learn how to live again. When I ask how one keeps a broken spirit from dying, she says laughter: “By making someone laugh. And you can, even if they cry, they still laugh.”
Laughter is just one of the many responses from people passing by that keeps the Barbie tree blooming. “There’s no big message,” Ida says. “I’ve seen people (see the tree) and write down what does it mean? And it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just to delight.”
Adam Sawatsky is co-host of CTV News Vancouver Island at Five. On weekends, he hosts ‘Eye on the Arts’ on CFAX 1070.