Morgan MacDonald is taking apart the sculpture that he’s been working on for just about a year. He’s not starting over. That’s part of the process when working with bronze. Soon his piece of art — sealed with thousands of pounds of bronze and depicting a tragic scene of Newfoundland history — will make its way to the community of Elliston.
“You actually end up making the statue three times. Once in clay. Once in wax. And once in bronze,” says MacDonald.
Standing next to the completed Sealers Memorial in clay at the Newfoundland Bronze Foundry on Marine Drive, he says this is the hardest step. This is where he makes clay moulds of exactly what will become the finished version in bronze. He’s taking it apart now because his creation will actually be broken down into 70 to 80 pieces. They will eventually become ceramic casts that will have melted bronze metal poured into them. Then the whole creation will be reassembled.
“As you’re sculpting it you have to think about five steps ahead so that when you go to make the moulds you’re not painting yourself into a corner,” he says, laughing. He adds that it’s a misconception that you just dip a sculpture in the bronze.
“At first it’s so difficult to start because there’s nothing.”
The people in Elliston who spearheaded the idea knew what they wanted, and MacDonald had some writing to help him visualize, particularly Cassie Brown’s novel “Death on the Ice” which tells the story of the 1914 sealing disasters.
There were many images from that book that could be considered worthy of the memorial. The one chosen was of Reuben and Albert John Crewe, residents of Elliston, and father and son who were found frozen together in an embrace.
“There’s a real eerie part in the book that’s almost prophetic. The father and son are literally frozen together and they couldn’t pull them apart. They’re frozen in a solid block of ice. And there’s a part there where they’re literally hoisting them onto the ship, and the thought that came to me while I was working on it was it’s almost going to be a 100 years to the day and I’m going to be literally hoisting this into place much like they were being recovered onto the ship.”
MacDonald is working to have his sculpture finished by April 1. His clay version, partially disassembled, may be incomplete, but somehow captures perfectly the anguish of the lives and families that were torn apart by the disasters of the 1914 seal hunt.