Museum’s sculpture display a ‘double legacy’ to late artist

A bronze sculpture by noted Victoria artist Elza Mayhew was unveiled Wednesday in its new public home at the Royal B.C. Museum.

The bronze piece, nearly three metres in height and weighing 489 kilograms, has taken up permanent residence in the native plant garden outside the museum.

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Named Caryatid after the sculpted female figures used as pillar-style supports in classical Greek architecture, the piece will be a companion to another Mayhew sculpture, Spirit, that was installed in 1967.

Angela Williams, deputy CEO of the museum, said she was delighted when asked whether the museum would offer a home to another Mayhew.

Getting the sculpture out of storage, refinishing it and arranging for its placement was a two-year project, she said.

“I am just so thrilled,” Williams said at the sculpture’s unveiling. She told the small gathering that the display can be seen as part of the museum’s ongoing efforts to make public a greater proportion of its collections.

Mayhew was born in Victoria in 1916 and lived most of her life in the city. She died in 2004.

She studied French and Latin at the University of British Columbia and in 1963 finished a master’s degree of fine arts at the University of Oregon.

Her sculptures, which range in size from small to monumental, have been described as “totemic” in nature. They have been exhibited across Canada, and in the U.S., Japan and Europe.

Two other Mayhew pieces reside on the grounds of the University of Victoria: Coast Spirit and Bronze Priestess.

During the last years of her life, Mayhew was diagnosed with progressive brain disease — the result of poisons from the styrene blocks she used to cast her sculptures.

At Wednesday’s unveiling, her daughter, Anne Mayhew, said Caryatid has not been seen publicly since 1988, when it was on loan for the opening of the Port Angeles Art Center.

The sculpture was in storage in her mother’s studio in James Bay until the offer to the museum was made. “She is home now,” she said.

With Spirit, the works become “a double legacy to my mother’s work,” she said.

Meanwhile, UVic officials announced a major gift from another B.C. sculptor, Jeffrey Rubinoff, on Wednesday.

Rubinoff insisted the size of the gift be confidential. But UVic communications staff said it is enough to establish what will be the largest donor-funded endowment award on campus.

The Jeffrey Rubinoff Scholar in Art as a Source of Knowledge Endowment will support an ongoing fellowship to fully fund a PhD candidate studying art history.

It will also provide travel costs for that scholar and two undergraduate students to attend the annual Company of Ideas held at the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park on Hornby Island.

Rubinoff was awarded a master’s of fine arts in 1969 in the U.S. Afterward, he returned to Canada to pursue an artistic career, originally in Ontario.

In the early 1970s, he moved to a 200-acre farm on Hornby Island. Over the decades, Rubinoff has continued to sculpt in steel using metal he forges in his own foundry.

The Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park is now home to more than 100 of his pieces.

The endowment coincides with the 50th anniversary of UVic’s department of art history.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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