Frances Loring and Florence Wyle by Robert Flaherty, 1914
The Queen Elizabeth Monument, by Frances Loring
The Queen Elizabeth Monument, by Frances Loring
Study of a Girl, by Florence Wyle
Study of a Girl, by Florence Wyle, 1931
Affectionately called "The Girls," Frances Loring and Florence Wyle were also known as the first women of Canadian sculpture. Spanning more than 50 years, their careers as sculptors have given Canadians a rich body of work that may be discovered and admired in many public spaces and galleries throughout the country.
Loring and Wyle's influence on Canadian art and artists has been significant. They challenged the establishment by setting forth to prove that sculpture was as important an art form as any other, and they succeeded amidst adverse conditions.
At the turn of the 20th century, sculpture in Canada was still very much considered a curiosity, rather than an admired art form. The lack of patrons, the serious shortage of foundries and the relatively high cost of materials were all factors contributing to an inauspicious environment for sculptors. In addition, these artists had to rely heavily on commissions as a source of revenue.
Born in Wardner, Idaho in 1887, Frances Loring studied art in her native United States, as well as in many European cities, before settling in Canada in 1913. Her decision to move to Toronto was motivated, in part, by a desire to participate in the artistic development of a young country. Loring achieved this goal and many others throughout her illustrious career.
Influenced by her training in the neo-classical tradition and by her exposure to a newer vision epitomized by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, Loring's work has a dynamic quality and a unique heroic style. She quickly became known as an outstanding architectural sculptor and was recognized for her numerous public monuments. One of her favourite works was The Queen Elizabeth Monument, originally located at the eastern entrance of the Queen Elizabeth Highway in Toronto (now located in Gzowski Park, Toronto). Loring's heroic style can also be admired in the many war memorials she designed following the First World War. Her last commissioned piece was a statue of former Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden, erected on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, in 1957.
Loring was devoted to her own work, but she was also concerned with the general plight and common problems of her colleagues. Together with Florence Wyle, she lobbied diligently for recognition and created a climate that made sculpture accessible for others.
Loring met Wyle in 1905, at the Art Institute of Chicago. Their initial meeting spawned a lifelong friendship and professional collaboration. Wyle, who had been studying sculpture for a few years, had originally set out to become a doctor. Her premedical studies and her profound respect for anatomical perfection had a significant effect on her work as one of Canada's finest academic sculptors.
Born in Trenton, Illinois in 1881, Florence Wyle came to Canada with Loring in 1913. Wyle acknowledged the classical work of Greek sculptors and strived to create works that conveyed various aspects of the human condition. The realism and attention to detail apparent in her early sculptures, gave way to a more abstract and stylized treatment of the human form as her career progressed. Wyle preferred to work in bronze, but later developed an affinity for wood. Her Ten Rivers of America, consisting of a series of 10 torsos carved out of sumac, became the model for the Calvert Drama Trophies, which she designed along with Loring and Sylvia Daoust, a well-known Canadian wood carver. In contrast to Loring's monumental sculptures, Wyle excelled in creating more intimate, detailed and refined pieces that captured her love of children, animals and nature. These themes are also evident in her poetry, which she published in Poems and in The Shadow of the Year.
In 1938, Wyle was the first woman sculptor to be accorded full membership in the Royal Canadian Academy [of Art]. In addition to this recognition, she received accolades throughout her career for such works as Torso (1930), a marble sculpture displayed at the National Gallery of Canada; Study of a Girl; and a series of decaying totems from the Skeena River area in British Columbia, which she was commissioned to replicate. Florence Wyle's extensive portfolio has been praised as rich, diversified, unique, timeless and powerful.
Frances Loring and Florence Wyle are often profiled together because their personal and professional relationship spanned more than five decades. They competed for the same commissions and even collaborated on a few projects. They were also devoted to an ideal of classical sculpture that adhered to laws of composition, design and truth to nature. However, both Loring and Wyle's oeuvres maintain individual styles reflecting different sensibilities and emotions.
In 1920, Loring and Wyle moved into an old abandoned church. This location became their home and their studio. It also became a gathering place for Toronto's artistic community and the headquarters of the Sculptors' Society of Canada (SSC). Loring and Wyle were founding members of the SSC when it was incorporated in 1928. The association's goal was to promote Canadian sculpture nationally and internationally by fostering professional standards, teaching appreciation, advising on public sculpture and organizing exhibits to enhance the visibility of sculpture as an art form.
The 1930s and 1940s proved to be the height of the pair's artistic careers. Their work was honoured on many occasions, exhibitions were frequent and they actively participated in many associations and committees. During the 1950s however, they were eclipsed by a new generation of sculptors working in a tradition rooted in surrealism. Loring and Wyle remained loyal to their vision of sculpture as a representation of life in three dimensions. They received fewer commissions and their popularity waned.
Nevertheless, in 1962, the London Public Library and Art Museum organized "Fifty Years of Sculpture," a traveling retrospective exhibition showcasing Loring and Wyle. This exhibition provided Canadians with a unique opportunity to view the work of two of this country's most talented and respected sculptors.
Frances Loring and Florence Wyle died in 1968. Each had a clause in her will whereby proceeds from the sale of their works would be added to a fund set up to purchase work by young sculptors. These works were to be displayed in public galleries across Canada. This fund, as well as their rich body of work, has had a significant impact on the art of sculpture in this country and continues to inspire both admirers and artists alike.
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