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Ruth Abernethy

  • Life-cast bronze
  • 1999
  • Bench 1.5 m x 0.5 m x 1 m, Figure 0.7 m x 0.5 m x 1.3 m
  • 250 Front Street West, CBC building, Toronto

About the artwork

The artwork is based on an original photo by Don Hunstein and commissioned by Glenn Gould Foundation. It was unveiled following the Glenn Gould Gathering, an international symposium of Gould’s devotees, musicologists and scholars.

Gould was a master at crafting his public image so this portrait replicates a small photo taken by Columbia Records photographer, Don Hunstein. Seated on a plank park bench, Glenn presents himself in an enigmatic pose. Outside his namesake studio he engages Torontonians and throngs of sports fans from the Rogers Centre across the street.

About the artist

Ruth Abernethy was born in Lindsay, Ontario. She grew up on a small farm with an inventive and musical family.

Hired for professional theatre at age 17, she subsequently studied at Malaspina College (University) in Nanaimo, British Columbia. At age 21, Ruth was Head of Props at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (MB) and joined the Stratford Festival (ON) where she received an unsolicited Guthrie Award in 1981. Ruth has worked with most of Canada’s regional theatres, the Louisville (US) and National Ballets (CAN), executing and managing work for renowned international designers. She received Canada Council support for pursuing arts explorations in Japan and Europe in 1985.

Ruth designed an off-the-grid home, launched her solo art practice and was offered studio sessions with actor/artist Anthony Quinn following her first bronze commission in 1996. Her refined method of mapping and carving figures led to the commissioning of ‘Glenn’ (Gould) at CBC, Toronto in 1999, the first of numerous distinctive public portraits including Mackenzie King, John Hirsch, and Arnold Palmer. A bronze portrait of Al Waxman was acquired for the National Portrait Collection in 2003 and her figure portrait of Oscar Peterson was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010.

Each studio work evolves from a conceptual conversation, within which, countering ideas are distilled to potent, well-structured forms. The process of creation is fundamentally abstracted, even if the resultant sculpture is perceived as a literal rendering. With great regard for the public audience, Ruth encompasses studied regard for playful thought and timeless paradoxes, seeking to create moments of personal encounter that linger in the imagination.

Fun facts

  • Gould is a constant source of inspiration for Abernethy. The dedication and commitment of the great Canadian pianist gave Ruth the impetus to create a dynamic sculpture - although he is sitting on a bench - that seems to move and dialogue with anyone who sits next to him, and some actually do.

Engagement questions

  • Toronto’s identity is partly shaped by its public realm. Do you think Toronto would be less appreciable without this sculpture?