“I normally create ‘conversational pieces,'” says sculptor Ruth Abernethy. Two of her most famous bronze installations are pianist Glenn Gould sitting on a bench in downtown Toronto and Oscar Peterson at his piano at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. They invite people to come close, to interact with the pieces. Not so her newest creation, a bronze sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II. That decision is deliberate. “Her Majesty is a different person,” Abernethy notes.
Abernethy’s vision of the Queen seated on the throne of Canada from the Senate (seen above as bronze model) is classical in its representation, befitting a monarch not known for her modernist tendencies. Elizabeth wears the gown she chose to open Parliament in Ottawa in 1977. Her Canadian orders are pinned to her chest, a spray of maple leaves in her left hand while a robe tumbles down the right side of the throne. Meant to be seen from below—”We often see royals when they are on a balcony,” Abernethy explains—it will be seated on an imposing, three-metre-high granite plinth. The peak of the throne will tower six metres off the ground.
Spearheaded by the Canadian Royal Heritage Trust, the initiative aims to unveil the sculpture in 2017, the 65th anniversary of the Queen’s accession and the 150th anniversary of the nation. The trust, which is “dedicated to preserving, presenting and enhancing the royal heritage of Canada,” just got the official OK from the Queen. Surprisingly, it will be the first statue to feature the Queen on a throne.
Now the push is on to raise the funds needed to transform Abernethy’s model into a full sculpture, explains Michael Smith, vice-chairman of the statue project, in time for Canada’s 150th birthday bash. In total, the registered charity needs $650,000 in donations. (It raised 10 per cent of that amount even before the sculpture got the royal seal of approval and has seven levels of donors from “friends” ($10 and more) up to the $25,000-plus “eminent patrons,” who get a bronze maquette of the sculpture.)
Nothing has been left to chance, certainly not its location. The statue is destined for Queen’s Park, home of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly. With the backing of Premier Kathleen Wynne as well as the leader of the Opposition and the Speaker, the area (the exact spot has still has to be finalized) is just to the southeast of the main entrance, near the statue of another imposing monarch, Queen Victoria, the only other enthroned royal in Queen’s Park. (A statue of King Edward VII astride a horse is at the northern end of the park.) The present Queen’s statue will complement that of her great-great grandmother.
Right now, Abernethy is working on the final version of the statue’s head, while her assistant, Cassandra Koch, is busy on the intricately designed throne. When asked to describe her vision of the Queen, the Wellesley, Ont.-based sculptor doesn’t hesitate: “purposefulness, focused, effective and serene. She knows what her job is.”