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. It was made of a plastic and fiberglass composite stained to resemble bronze and stood stood 142 centimeters high, 345  centimeters wide, and 35 centimeters deep. It was first unveiled on 6 June 1973, but a few  years later it was sent to Italy to be bronzed.

Father John Kelly speaking beside the McElcheran statue outside the Kelly Library, 1973.
Father John Kelly speaking beside the McElcheran statue outside the Kelly Library, 1973.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you look at the statue from the street, you will see a crowd of people going about their business. If you look at the side facing the library, you will also see a smaller, more contemplative group of people, some of whom you may recognize. McElcheran deliberately included the faces of many contemporary and ancient scholars and teachers. Some of these individuals, such as Einstein or Gandhi, are easy to make out. From left to right, you can see the following figures:

  • James Joyce
  • Stephen Leacock
  • T. S. Eliot
  • Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Marshall McLuhan
  • Dante Alighieri
  • Germaine de Staël
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • George Sand
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • William Shakespeare
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Rene Descartes
  • Etienne Gilson
  • Søren Kierkegaard
  • Georg Hegel
  • Immanuel Kant
  • Eugène Ionescu
  • Jacques Maritain
  • St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Sir Isaac Newton
  • St. Theresa of Avila
  • St. Augustine
  • Albert Einsten
  • Eldridge Cleaver
  • John Henry Newman
  • Barbara Ward
  • Karl Marx
  • Charles Darwin
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Herman Kahn

Some of these scholars — for example, Marshall McLuhan and Etienne Gilson — have taught at St. Mike’s and even used the Kelly library.

Symbolism

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 at St. Michael’s College, 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. On 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.

“The picture to the left shows the scupture’s selection of past and present: they are identified below as they appear in the sculpture from left to right.”

Synan also observed that the head of Jesus 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, Deaduls 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.