By Will McGuirk
There were no limits to artist, author, filmmaker and environmental activist Bill Lishman, not even the sky was out of bounds.
Lishman, aka Father Goose, because he most famously taught geese to fly, passed away Saturday Dec. 30 2017, at his underground home in Purple Woods, which overlooks the southern shore of Lake Scugog, Ontario.
The home itself is a piece of art, marrying nature and technology in a seamless blend of domes curving into each other. The workflow of tasks, chores and family life were all considered at the project’s inception, right down to the fridge Lishman designed; a circular set of shelving which is pulled up from the kitchen counter top.
His daughter Carmen Lishman posted on her Facebook page, “A beautiful thing that Dad often said: ‘there are no straight lines in nature’. . . Dad's nature followed no straight lines. He provided our human world with beautiful curved lines and natural inspirations. His explorations of bird flight and migration captured our imaginations. An active mind kept him conjuring creative solutions to the world's problems.”
Flow and movement were central to the mind of Lishman. How a family moves in a space below, how a bird moves in the space above, how the world moves in space around - all were thoughtfully answered in his work. Everything he made seemed to either take flight or was about to.
In 1993 Father Goose successfully led 18 hand-raised geese to their traditional migratory home in Virginia. The following Spring the geese returned to Lishman’s farm. The 1996 movie “Fly Away Home”, starring Anna Paquin and Jeff Daniels, was inspired by Lishman’s experience and was nominated for Best Cinematography at the 1996 Academy Awards. Lishman continued migratory explorations (Operation Migration) with other birds including sandhill cranes and whooping cranes. His work led to an additional migratory path which will help preserve the whooping crane.
2017 began with his participation in the Durham Reach exhibit at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, the piece “Wild Man” from the IMAX movie “The Last Buffalo” was displayed. Lishman also had a piece in the Durham ArtFest 25: Reframed held at Gallery 67 in September. Displayed was a maquette of his sculpture “Transcending the Traffic". The piece was created for Expo’86 and is a 26 metre tall cone wrapped with a spiraling flow of traffic, from wheeled vehicles through to walking.
In the 2015 year-end update on Lishman’s website, he writes he was involved in producing a coffee table book on microflights over the Oak Ridge Moraine, was working on a project for relief aid using the small aircraft he designed and built, installed 25 steel figures at Bridgepoint Hospital in Toronto, unveiled his stainless steel Iceberg sculpture at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa and listed a treehouse on his property on Airbnb.
At the end of the letter he says he was asked in an interview what he thought 2016 may bring he says - ‘Aliens will finally reveal that they are actually Angels and will save us humans from ourselves’.
One can imagine Bill as a young boy staring up , under a clear night sky over his parent’s farm in Pickering, at the blinking lights of planes passing overhead, planes or space craft perhaps. One can imagine his awe at the beauty of such a scene, the openness of the sky, the cosmos, the mystery and a building desire to go there, to get up there, to be up there. In a way the entirety of his life’s work has been as if he was reaching up from Durham to his destiny beyond, as if he has been constructing his own Jacob’s Ladder to join the heavens with the earth.