Sadly, Del Newbigging, the artist who sculpted the Alexander Wood statue at Church and Alexander - a much beloved symbol of the right to live without persecution - died of cancer August 23 at the Princess Margaret Hospital.
Raised on a farm in Listowel, Newbigging, who was a visual arts teacher for 35 years, worked in many mediums but came to favour sculpting and the art of making medals. In the last decade, his work showed widely in Europe and in many galleries in Canada and the U.S., and he served as president of the Medallic Art Society of Canada.
A glimpse of the range of Newbigging's artistry can be seen in the playful and cheery children's book (he was a father of two) he authored and illustrated: Robert Rat Has a Problem.
In 2005, the artist completed the bronze likeness of Wood, and it took much finagling by himself, the Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area, it's president Dennis O'Connor, now-councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam Krystn (CWVBIA), and others to secure the permits for its current placement.
The piece was thrillingly received by the gay community, and while the sexual orientation of Wood, a T.O. magistrate from the 1800's, has never been rigourously clarified, he was nonetheless the victim of homophobia.
The story is an astounding tale of 19th C gay hatred, with huge contemporary resonance, despite the details. A rape victim reported she had scratched the perpetrator's genitals, and to find the guilty party, magistrate Wood examined suspects' private parts, occasioning a major scandel which pretty much wrecked his life. Wood was called a "Molly'', the epithet at the time for a gay man and his landtract, fifty acres east of Yonge, north of Carlton, became known as "Molly Wood's Bush''.
Newbigging admitted that he didn't have a firm grasp of what Wood looked like and that the only source for the magistrate's face was an antique silhouette. "I picked up his bow tie and ponytail from his silhouette, and from the silhouette I could see that he had a flower in his lapel. He was a dandy,'' he said.
Describing the welcome party for his much-adored creation on his website, he wrote: "On Saturday, May 28, 2005 a large crowd assembled for the official unveiling. The program included a choir, pipe band, drag queens, red balloons and much more. Alexander Wood is back again in his own Molly Wood's Bush.''
"I've been lucky, really lucky," Newbigging said in early August, following his diagnosis in May. "Like Edith says, ‘Je ne regrette rien.' I've done a bunch of wonderful stuff, surrounded by lovely people. It's time for me to get on with the trip.'' A celebration of Newbigging's life will be held at the Mount Pleasant Visitation Centre on Sat, Sept 29 at 1pm, on what would have been his 78th birthday.