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Artistic genius

Q&A with Tribute Award recipient Morgan MacDonald

Campus and Community |

In his business, Morgan MacDonald, BBA’04, doesn’t have the luxury of do-overs.

The bronze sculptor is this year’s recipient of the Alumni Horizon Award for exceptional achievement by a Memorial graduate under the age of 35. Since the age of 23, Mr. MacDonald has been redefining the landscape with his work. His first commissioned piece was the life-size bronze monument, The Rower, at Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s. Many notable monuments have followed: the Sealers Memorial in Elliston, N.L.; A Time, which is installed on George Street in St. John’s; the RCMP memorial in Moncton, N.B.; and a depiction of the Danger Tree at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook all stand as a testament to his unique talents. His current project, 100 Portraits of the Great War, is a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel. Gazette contributor Lisa Pendergast spoke with Mr. MacDonald, this year’s recipient of the Alumni Horizon Award.

LP: How did you first become interested in bronze sculpting?

MM: I think it came from a natural inclination and appreciation I have always had for art. I can’t really attribute it to one moment where a light bulb went off, but there were key moments of discovering what sculpture is all about. Looking back, influence came from moments such as my parents encouraging me to take local art classes, the support from my high school art teacher and travelling to Rome and Florence and seeing the work of the old masters.

Morgan MacDonald with one of his 100 Portraits of the Great War sculptures.
Morgan MacDonald with one of his 100 Portraits of the Great War sculptures.
Photo: David Howells

LP: You were enrolled in the bachelor of fine arts program at Grenfell Campus for a year before enrolling in the bachelor of business administration program. Why did you decide to switch programs?

MM: I always had an entrepreneurial mindset and my goal has always been to develop my artwork in a manner that would be professionally sustainable. The first year of fine arts school at Grenfell was an invaluable introduction to fine art. I always thought that a business degree would enhance this experience and help me develop along this artistic path and, worse come to worse, I could rely on my education for other opportunities. The reality of the fine art profession is that it is incredibly difficult to work full time doing your own art. Successful career fine artists have to take charge of their own development and direct their creative passion as a business. It was, in essence, my attempt to join the best of both worlds, the creativity and pragmatic grounding.

LP: How has Memorial influenced your career?

MM: Memorial has given me the education, the opportunity and, to a greater degree, the ability to learn. It has also given me an appreciation of the fact that people are the centre of what is important in whatever you do in life. The colleagues and the experiences that you have in university are some of the most important connections that you will ever gain to help accomplish your goals. I would also add that I have been given a broader perspective on the professional world and the many different opportunities that education can unlock.

LP: While attending Memorial, you apprenticed with nationally acclaimed sculptor Luben Boykov. How did you meet him? What was it like working with him?

MM: I met Luben through one of his local art classes. At the time he was teaching sculpture and I took his class. It really was by chance and fortuity that he had landed in Newfoundland and Labrador as a Bulgarian refugee and decided to stay here and make a home. There was a point where I felt it was necessary to get some hands-on experience and approached him to take on the role of an apprentice at his foundry. Much of my time was spent learning the introductory skills of sculpture and working on many of the monuments that went through the foundry at the time. I feel very fortunate to have helped Luben create his work during this time and feel privileged that I was able to be a part of that.

LP: Where do you get your ideas and inspiration for sculptures?

MM: Like any artist they say you paint what you know, so I guess I sculpt what presents itself in my own experience. I always say if you hang around the foundry too long and there is a project that needs completing, you may end up becoming a model. It is whatever I am drawn to at the time and find inspiring. For me it is the history, the heritage, the culture, but also any powerful and moving human story. Because bronze as a material endures for such a long period of time, I seem to be drawn to things that are worthy of commemorating in very broad themes and are pertinent to public exhibition. What I find most inspirational are the personal and powerful stories that can be depicted and told.

LP: Many of your monuments are dedicated to service people. Why is the military so important to you?

MM: The military is something that runs deep in my family, but I haven’t always known about it. I don’t think I appreciated any of my family history until I was older. My great-grandfather was a First World War soldier with the Newfoundland Regiment and my grandfather was a soldier in the Second World War with the Canadian Army in France. I treasure the memories of spending time with my grandfather and my grandmother, who was a war bride, but I was never aware enough to be able to ask the right questions. It is only when you are older that you realize the gravity of what it meant to be a soldier in France fighting during this time. Looking back at the service he had, I can only imagine the stories he could tell.

LP: Of the sculptures you have completed, do you have a favourite?

MM: I am asked this question fairly often and I say it’s like trying to pick a favourite child. They are all special in their own way. It’s all part of the journey and there isn’t one sculpture that is more important than the other. They have all been very special times in my life. If anything, my favourite sculpture is the next one I am going to create.  

LP: What will you be working on next?

MM: That is a closely guarded secret, but there are some exciting things planned for the future. You will just have to wait and see!

Mr. MacDonald will be honoured during the 35th annual Alumni Tribute Awards on Thursday, Oct. 13, at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online or through the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development at 709-864-4354, toll free at 1-877-700-4081 or email rsvpalumni@mun.ca.

Lisa Pendergast is a communications co-ordinator with Alumni Affairs and Development. She can be reached at lpendergast@mun.ca

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