Helen comes to life in Heights banner project

She’s been a symbol of the Heights for more than a half century.

Helen, the Swinging Girl, has grown to become the icon of the North Burnaby neighbourhood.

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While the sign itself remains intact, the image has come to life in a new way, thanks to the work of a popular artist.

Recently, the Heights Merchants Association unveiled new street banners for Hastings featuring the neon Swinging Girl sign re-interpreted as a needle-felt wool doll.

The doll was created by Vancouver artist Holman Wang of Cozy Classics.

He told the NOW he was excited about doing a project in the spirit of community building, noting he and his family spend a lot of their time in the Heights.  

 “I was just really excited to do a public art project, which is something I hadn’t done before,” Wang said, adding the merchants association pitched the idea to him about making Helen a three-dimensional figure.

So the artist went to work.

In a process that took about 20 hours, Wang turned the image of a sign into a figure using wool to sculpt Helen, and felt sheets for her outfit.

“I was just trying to give her some personality and some life and some character, beyond what people already know about her as a swinging neon sign,” he said.

While the actual figure is less than 10 inches in size, the banners are a larger showcase of the work Wang has put into the project. 

 "We commissioned artist Holman Wang of Cozy Classics to make our classic neon girl a little more real," said HMA executive director, Isabel Kolic in a statement.

She said the sign, with new typography spelling "Heights" instead of "Helen's" is a symbol of the long-time entrepreneurs and local businesses on the Heights, and the business district hopes to carry on the legacy of the sign for many years to come through the new banners.

The original sign marked the location of Helen’s Children’s Wear until it was refurbished with the help of City of Burnaby’s Community Heritage Commission. The sign now swings above Cioffi’s Meat Market and Deli at 4142 Hastings St.

Wang is anticipating his new banners will help bring Helen’s story to an audience that might not be aware of her history. And especially for children, he’s hoping youngsters will want to learn more about and understand the history of the community.

As for the banners, they’ll go up along Hastings Street in early December.

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