Back in 1986, the beautiful Remic Rapids site along the Ottawa River was not much to look at, John Felice Ceprano says.
He actually came across the now iconic rock sculpture site by happenstance, as he was cycling along the Ottawa River Pathway and just needed a spot to take a break. “At that time, the Remic Rapids site was [hidden] by thick bushes and trees lining the river’s shoreline,” he said. For Ceprano, the first attraction to the particular site was not the rocks, but the Ottawa River itself. “Its natural beauty. The open landscape. Plus, the soothing sound of the rapids,” he said, adding that he didn’t notice the rocks until a later visit to the site.
On another visit, Ceprano explained that the river’s water had receded, revealing a plethora of interesting rocks in various geometric shapes. As it peaked his interest, Ceprano said he ventured into the shallow water and created a dam-like sculpture that recirculated water to a dry area of the riverbed. “That first installation was just free-spirited,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing and when I had finished the line of rocks, I looked at it and thought, ‘I’ve replicated the skyline of the city in stones.’” He noted that this first sculpture was the seed of inspiration and he’s been doing balanced rock art ever since. “There was no inspiration taken from anything but nature itself,” he said.
In terms of Ceprano’s creative process, he said that he does not plan out his sculptures. Rather, he waits to see the river’s water level and what rocks are available to him. “I go out there with no plan at all,” Ceprano said. “What happens is that I allow myself to feel my way through it. But as time passes, it develops into something that I can identify with.”
If you’re curious about Ceprano’s art, you can see him in action all summer long at the Remic Rapids site, where he sometimes spends up to 13 hours a day creating his unique installations as well as teaching people about balanced rock art. He’s been doing this for nearly 30 years.
“It’s not just about doing the sculptures,” he said. “It’s also about being involved in the community and providing a space for people to meet, and to also demonstrate how I do the work.” Ceprano added that he’s done demonstrations for the general public, for students and for camping groups. According to Ceprano, the Remic Rapids site is actually cut in half, with one part being dedicated to public learning and the other, to Ceprano’s own creations. Each year, Ceprano also hosts five “Art On The Rocks” performance events at the site that feature art, music and theatre pieces.
For Ceprano, Ottawa is the “perfect balance” between an urban and natural environment. “The beauty is that Ottawa offers both,” he said. “You can live in the city and have a good time. Or you can move out into the countryside and enjoy the benefits of a healthy, country-style life.” Ceprano noted that he actually visited Ottawa without any plans in 1973 and ended up finishing his bachelor’s degree here at the University of Ottawa. “It’s a spectacular city,” he said.
If you’re thinking about seeing Ceprano’s sculptures for yourself, opt to visit Remic Rapids at sunset. The rock sculptures are even more hauntingly beautiful in the sunset’s warm, reddish glow. You’ll want to have a camera with you!
To learn more about this artist and to see more images of his work, visit his website and keep an eye on Ottawa Tourism’s social media accounts. He’s bound to pop up again!