I was eleven years old when my parents loaded me, my grandmother and aunt into our ‘65 Buick and drove downtown from Toronto’s west end to see “that sculpture.” Henry Moore’s The Archer had just been installed in front of the new Toronto City Hall. It was 1966. Within a day of the ceremony, one newspaper reporter estimated that “over fifty thousand people had come to see the sculpture, spending an average of five minutes each, wandering and gazing at the three dimensional piece.” (Torontoist)
We were part of that pilgrimage. All I remember is that my aunt said the controversial bronze piece of art looked like someone’s behind, and my mother was embarrassed she’d say such a thing.
The acquisition of The Archer (actually called Three Way Piece No. 2) remains the most talked about piece of art in Toronto’s history. Moore at the time was widely considered the most accomplished sculptor of his age. But Toronto, and its City Council, weren’t sure they were ready to move into the era of modern art. So touched by Toronto’s brave purchase (led by Mayor Phil Givens), Moore would go on to gift the Art Gallery of Ontario with hundreds of sculptures, drawings and prints. These included the large plaster casts used to create the original bronzes. The Henry Moore Sculpture Centre at the AGO opened in 1974 to display these plasters.
Early this January, I was a visitor to the gallery, stumbling upon the Henry Moore plasters by accident when trying to find an exit. I hadn’t been to that section of the gallery in years, forgetting the sheer magnitude of the sculptures and their strange, enticing shapes.
A week later, and there I was attempting to draw one of them, Large Figure Standing: Knife Edge, to be exact. It was part of the gallery’s adult education program—basic drawing on Wednesday evenings. Although there’s nothing basic about drawing these plasters, I’d encourage anyone to do the same. You’ve got every shape, and therefore, every shadow, both cast and natural. Plus holes, and textures, soft and smooth edges as well as great knobby bits. Best of all, to steal a phrase from our teacher, no one’s going to accuse you of not making your drawing exact because who carries around a sculpture with them to compare? You also get to be one of those cool art students who sit on the little chairs in the galleries with their sketchbooks.
So a big shout out to a great art teacher, Lauren McKinley Renzetti . And thank you—several decades earlier—to the remarkable Henry Moore and Toronto’s mayor at the time, Phil Givens, who lost the next election for his support of public art.