Sheep made of seaweed have tourists, locals flocking to Bonavista gallery

The ocean inspires artists in all kinds of ways. Barbara Houston’s creations might just be some of the quirkiest ever.

Houston makes miniature and life-sized sheep made from something you’d never expect — seaweed.

The Saskatchewan native now lives in Bonavista, but it was on Fogo Island where she first became enamoured with all the strange things she saw brought in by the tide. 

“Being from the Prairies, it was a completely different take on things … and seeing the seaweed roll up in the different colours and patterns and observing the environment around me which was very new.”

Houston was excited by the new material and also moved by stories of how local farmers used to care for their animals. 

“I learned about sheep being taken by a boat over to an island to graze unfettered by predators for a number of months. I couldn’t get over the fact that a bunch of men would wrangle sheep into a small boat and drive them over to an island.” said Houston.

Houston was inspired to make her creations after she learned stories of local farmers moving their sheep to grassy islands by boat.

“It was really beyond anything I’d ever understood or heard about ever and something started in my brain that I thought I would make something sheep-like.”

What she has come up with are, in fact, very sheep-like. 

The seaweed and kelp take on the appearance of shaggy sheep fleece.

Houston uses wood and other recycled materials for the rest. 

Houston’s seaweed sheep come in miniature size at less than eight centimetres high. The life-sized sheep are 1.2 metres long and a metre high. (Jane Adey CBC)

The legs are old fence posts made of black spruce and the ears are old pieces of plywood. 

“The ear tags are rifle casings that I would find down along the shoreline,” said Houston.

The strange site of seaweed sheep has locals and tourists flocking into Houston’s gallery.

“They just stop and they laugh and they think it’s hilarious and we get to talk about it which is great. People just knocking at the door to come and talk about the sheep and to touch them to see, sort of, how they’re put together and why I would even do this,” said Houston. 

Houston uses all the colourful seaweed and kelp available at the beach in Bonavista, where she has a studio. (Jane Adey CBC)

At about 1.2 metres long and a metre high, Houston’s seaweed sheep aren’t the easiest souvenirs to tuck away in a piece of luggage.

Still, tourists want them and they’re buying them.

Houston is in the process of sending two to British Columbia. 

“I think that the sheep are just a great talking point. They tell a story. The materials are a very, very intentional story. Being an artist, I saw it as something that was very tied to place.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador