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John M. Kelly Library & Archives

William McElcheran Sculpture

The bronze statue that stands in front of the John M. Kelly library was created by the renowned Canadian sculptor William McElcheran. The original plastic and fiberglass composite sculpture was stained to resemble bronze. It stood 142 centimeters high, 345 centimeters wide, and 35 centimeters deep. It was first unveiled on June 6, 1973. A a few years later it was sent to Italy to be bronzed. It is this bronze version which now stands in front of the library.

On the side of the sculpture facing the street is a crowd of people going about their business. On the side facing the library is a smaller, more contemplative group of people, many of whom are recognisable. McElcheran deliberately included the faces of actual scholars and teachers, both ancient and contemporary. Some of these individuals — for example, Marshall McLuhan and Etienne Gilson — taught at St Mike's and used the Kelly library.


So what does McElcheran's statue symbolize? The interpretation of Reverend Edward A. Synan (1918-1997), a noted philosopher and medievalist with the Pontifical Institute at the Medieval Studies, was printed in the September 7, 1973, issue of the U of T Bulletin:

"There are people outside and inside the Library, all of them gratifyingly different ... Some hurry by and will never go in ... Some will go in, but why hurry? Stand around and talk awhile. After you are in, ideas, facts, perspectives, are all hard to come by. One side of Bill's sculpture says this and much more."

"The other side in this artist's report on the inside of our Library... (he) has reached the people whose books guarantee them survival. ... Bill has put in conversation men and women who met only in libraries and in the intellects of those who use them. ... Not all the figures are historic -- at least not yet. Look carefully and -- who knows? -- you may find yourself."

Synan also observed that the head of Jesus Christ can be seen on the side of the statue facing the street. Synan said McElcheran was trying to show that Christ "overhears the talk of those waiting outside the library and that He can like what He hears. Knowledge is what a library is all about and it means hard work so a lot of struggle goes on, for first you must get in."

About William McElcheran

William McElcheran (1927-1999) was born in Hamilton. He began studying at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto when he was sixteen and graduated top in his class. He started out as a woodworker specializing in art works and furniture for churches. He later joined Bruce Brown and Brisely, an architectural firm specializing in the design of churches and university buildings. In 1973 he established his own firm, Daedalus Designs, which specialized in integrating sculptures into the design of buildings. A member of the Royal Canadian Academy, McElcheran has works in many provincial, municipal, and corporate art collections across Canada and in the United States, Germany, Italy and Japan.