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Object Name: Sculpture
Artist/Maker: Macdonald, Charles
Date of Object, From: 19300000 Circa
Date of Object, To: 19670528 Prior To
Material: Concrete; Paint
Technique: Sculpted; Painted
Description: female nude bent over washing her hair, attached to L shaped base, includes birdbath with removable basin and polyformed pedestal
Narrative: This woman is said to be modeled after Ruth Fillmore, a daughter of Roscoe and Margaret Fillmore. The Fillmores moved to Centreville in 1924 after losing work in New Brunswick because they adhered to communist principles. Charles and Mabel gave the Fillmores material to help build a house and a greenhouse. The four Fillmore children would often come to the Macdonalds' house for Mabel's cookies or help with homework from Charles. The thickness and hilly ridges of the woman's hair show the difficulty of making concrete look lifelike. Concrete typically appears hard and rigid, and to sculpt it successfully so that it looks more soft and lifelike than rock-like is a challenge. It is quite possible that Charles painted over his sculptures to help him attain more of a lifelike form, and, when the sculptures were freshly painted, they most likely looked kitsch or like folk-art. This sculpture demonstrates Charles intuitive ability to capture form, and his innate ability to sculpt three-dimensionally without formal training. Charles Macdonald was born on April 4, 1874, in Steam Mill, Annapolis County, Nova Scotia. He died at the age of ninety-three on May 28, 1967. Throughout his creative and artistic life he produced sketch books, sculptures, buildings, and over two hundred paintings. His work represent rural Nova Scotia, British Columbia, animals, community, and his time spent on the sea. They also embody his innovative approach to concrete and are pivotal to his values as a socialist and naturalist. One of the most important factors in Charles' art practice is that he was self-taught. He went to school until the age of fifteen, and drew all the while. His interests in art were unlike the career of his father, an apple grower, and that of his grandfather, a Presbyterian minister. His livelihood was built in manual labour and craft; after leaving school he worked in Kentville as a coffin-maker and then as a wheelwright. As a skilled carpenter he was able to earn a position as a ship's carpenter on the 1,000 ton barque, the Francis S. Hampshire. In 1898 Charles left Nova Scotia, and would not return to live for fourteen years. He began on the Francis S. Hampshire and later transferred to the SS Buffon, a 2,500 ton steamship. As the ship's carpenter he had his own workspace and different job requirements than the rest of the crew. Charles traveled around the world and he saw New York; Santos, Brazil; Bermuda; Tyemouth; Murmansk; St. Petersburg; Dardanelles; Holland; Nantes; Gibraltar; Malta; Pompeii; Constantinople; Suez Canal; Aden; India; France; London; and Vancouver. During his spare time he would sketch. His sketchbooks contain information about sea creatures, birds, other ships, storms, ports of call, impressions, and various interests. From 1908 " 1910 Charles lived in Vancouver, and it was during this time that he joined the Socialist Party of Canada. Socialism was yet to be distinguished as either revolutionary or evolutionary, and the SPC was a group of Marxists that had merged with the Canadian Socialist League, and that shared their ideas in mining camps and with trade unionists. The ideas spread coast to coast in 1910. The revolutionaries adhered to communism, and the evolutionaries adhered to socialism or social democracy. Socialism emerged more clearly as a political doctrine after the Russian Revolution, with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation founded in 1932 in Calgary, and with the New Democratic Party, founded in 1961. The ambition of socialism is to alter social, economic, and political inequalities through peaceful legislative changes. The goal is to redistribute power, to limit the excess of private ownership, to expand public ownership, and to regulate the turbulent cycles of the capitalist market. Charles, who had been influenced by socialist ideals and his travels, moved back to Nova Scotia in 1912. On Saxon Street in Centreville, he opened his own concrete business, Kentville Concrete Products. He believed in the material and its capabilities—little did those that sneered at him know what an important material it would be in modern architecture. WWI created a market, and soon Charles moved his business to Yoho, close to Kentville, making a firm of less than twelve employees. They made pipe, blocks, well-curbs, septic tanks, and lawn furniture. As a critic of capitalism Charles made the company a cooperative. The workers did not receive wages, but could take what they needed from the company reserves. Charles had also met Mabel Meisner of Chipman Brook. In 1916 he sent a photograph to her of his cement brick factory with a question: 'Do you think this has the makings of a house? Most everyone laughs at it.' Mabel and Charles married in Kentville's Presbyterian Church, and began to turn the factory into a home. They lived in a tent on the flat roof while they worked. The building was made of reinforced concrete and is reminiscent of South American and Mediterranean architecture. The concrete stucco, tree shaped columns, flat roof, and yellow paint, speak of the places Charles had traveled to while at sea—Santos, Malta, and Naples. Charles' ingenuity emerged with the concrete bathtub, handprints on window sills, and sculpted concrete animals. Concrete comes from the Portland cement industry. Portland hydraulic cement was invented by Joseph Aspdin, an English Mason, who patented his product in 1824. It is a manufactured mineral that is finely ground, and works as a binder; when it is mixed with water, sand, gravel, and stone it becomes concrete, a rocklike material that is used in construction. Canadian production of cement began in Hull, Quebec in 1889; previous to this cement had come in wooden barrels from England. Concrete has been a vital medium in twentieth century, modern architecture. It was one of the essential materials in the work of Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect, designer, writer, painter, and urbanist; in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect, interior designer, writer and educator; and in the work of projects at the Canadian Expo 67. Irving Grossman's administration building had poured in place concrete; Ted Bieler moulded it into high relief in a multi-storey atria; and Moshe Safdie used it in his Expo 67 Habitat by pouring concrete into casts to make boxes that served as building blocks for terraced townhouses, and the townhouses were also supported by pre-stressed concrete girders. Charles Macdonald was an adamant supporter of concrete, and has left a legacy of his exploration with the materials in buildings from Centreville to the seaside town of Huntington Point. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, Macdonald kept his employees engaged and working with the funds he had set aside throughout the more lucrative 1920s. Charles' resourcefulness led to the construction of five innovative, concrete cottages at Huntington Point. Each cottage was made without the use of a blueprint, and because Charles designed the cottages as they built them, they exude an improvisational, whimsical character. Five cottages were built between 1934 and 1938; each cottage was made of concrete reinforced with iron and driftwood. They have unique attributes like concrete and beach stone fireplaces, exterior beach stone walls with each beach stone painted a bright colour, and individual structural forms with a different name for each free-formed cottage-- the Blue Cottage, 1936; the Spencer-Jefferson Cottage, 1934; the Green Cottage, 1936; the Teapot Cottage, 1935; and the Macdonald cottage, 1938. Charles and Mabel kept the Macdonald Cottage, and advertised the rest in the paper as get away sites so that people could escape their everyday stress. They were rented for twenty cents a night. Charles also sold them to people he trusted. The Teapot Cottage was demolished in 1982, and the others still remain. The Blue Cottage is now a Provincially Registered Heritage Property as well as the Charles Macdonald Concrete House in Centreville. Charles and Mabel met every Sunday with a small group, the Centreville Socialists. The group met at Jim Simm's farmhouse, in the afternoon, for discussion, dinner, and singing. The men would discuss politics in the kitchen, and the women spoke of things unrelated to politics. The group included: Margaret and Roscoe Fillmore, Frank Parry, Elizabeth and Ken Leslie, Otto and Asta Antoft, and Annabelle and Jim Simm. Sometimes different socialists from across Canada would stop by the meetings, including the Workers Party leader Tim Buck. In the 1930s the Canadian government outlawed Communist organizations and publications, and this action also included spying on people associated with communism, and, the imprisonment and deportation of people deemed communists. The Centreville Socialists were spied on by the RCMP, but they were left alone. The group met until the death of Jim Simm in 1951. Charles worked for his business, Kentville Concrete Products, until 1951. At the end of a workday he gave the keys to the foreman and the people who worked there, and told them that the business was theirs. At the age of seventy-seven Charles retired and spent most of his time at Huntington Point.
Dimensions: 130.70 x 33.48 x 71/48 (cm) (ht x wi x dp)
Institution: Charles Macdonald Concrete House Museum. Centreville, Nova Scotia
Accession Number: 1996 S-014
Category: Communication Artifacts
Sub-category: Art