Spending time on campus means that you may not notice things around you. One such overlooked feature of campus is the White Lady, the marble statue with the Gene Simmons-like mask that existed in the shadows near the daycare at the former Wentworth House. Now, in the midst of the construction, she sits behind the Michael DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery, her history slowly being forgotten by those who pass by.
Despite our curiosity, few people know the whole story behind the White Lady. The statue, built between 1959 and 1962, was designed and created by the artist Elford Bradley Cox (1914-2003), a Canadian sculptor born in Botha, Alta. His primary mediums included limestone, marble, alabaster, wood, precious and semi-precious stones, porcelains, and various metals. Cox sculpted everything from animals seen in Canada – bears, lynxes, owls – to the human figure – several torsos, stylistic faces.
Cox started the statue in 1959 when a Canada-wide art competition was begun for a “sculpture of a family group” that was to be placed outside the City Hall in Hamilton, Ont. Six sculptors, Cox’s among them, were promised $250 each, and submitted models for consideration to the jury. It was decided on Jan. 19, 1959 that Cox would receive the award, and create a sculpture to adorn City Hall.
Only members of the jury had ever seen the draft for the statue, meaning it was to be a surprise at the unveiling. However, the statue was never placed in front of City Hall due to controversy between city officials.
Despite research by the McMaster Museum of Art and other interested parties, what happened to the statue afterwards was never fully discovered.
It did end up at McMaster, and there are two theories as to how. The first theory, the only proof being written in a letter by Dr. George Wallace, a McMaster professor from 1960-1985, wrote that William Kilbourn, another professor, and one of the members of the jury for the competition, suggested that McMaster University, “recompense [to Cox] and [place] it in front of Wentworth House.”
An alternate theory suggests that Lloyd Kyles, architect of Wentworth House, was the donor of the Cox sculpture.
Whatever the case, it is clear that Kyles was involved in bringing the statue to McMaster in 1962.
Plans to place her on the circular patio outside former Wentworth House failed, as she was not ‘appropriate’ for the setting, looking apparently unappealing against the brown brick, and being considered scandalous for the figure’s lack of clothing. The statue wound up next to its final resting spot next to the nursery.
The White Lady was moved slightly in 2001 when art conservator Sandra Lougheed was invited to repair the statue by the McMaster University Future Funds project. As the statue had been secluded, taggers had taken the opportunity to cover its torso and face in black acrylic paint. Lougheed took it upon herself to restore the statue to its former glory, fixing cracks, cleaning dirt and mould from the surface, and peeling away the acrylic paint.
Naturally, vandals reclaimed it mere weeks later, replacing the Gene Simmons mask with almost an exact copy. There has been no discussion since of restoring the White Lady.
Photo credit: Aurora Coltman / Silhouette Intern