Port Angeles artist looks to gift sculpture to Canadian university as tribute to fellow artist
Port Angeles sculptor Duncan McKiernan looks at his sculpture “Homage to Elza,” a tribute to Canadian artist Elza Mayhew. McKiernan plans to donate the piece to the University of Victoria. — Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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McKiernan, 88, cast the tower-shaped “Homage to Elza” after the 2004 death of Elza Mayhew, a “top-notch” Canadian artist he had met in the early 1970s.
The Port Angeles man, a noted artist in his own right, has made arrangements with Mayhew’s son, Alan, to transport the 40-inch piece to a University of Victoria museum.
“Everything seems to be in order, and I have a hunch — a hope — that we’ll get the OK to consummate this deal,” said McKiernan, the first director of the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center.
“If it all comes together, it’s going to be great.”
McKiernan will have to wait a few weeks to find out whether the university will accept the sculpture. A selection committee will make that determination at its next meeting in May.
“They’re very particular, and they should be because there’s a lot of trashy art around,” McKiernan said.
“You can get some awful junk in sculpture.”
McKiernan described the “Homage to Elza” as an abstract, which means “it doesn’t necessarily represent anything.”
“It’s just form,” he said.
“It’s not very thick. It’s a little less than a quarter of an inch. That’s the way most bronzes are. They look like they’re much more thick and heavier, but they’re not. Otherwise, the weight would be tremendous.”
McKiernan said he cast the towering Elza Mayhew tribute sculpture as “a courtesy, really, to her family.”
Jake Seniuk, who succeeded McKiernan as executive director of the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, said the piece was cast “kind of in the style of Elza Mayhew’s own work.”
“It’s sort of unique in Duncan’s body of work, which tends to be more figurative,” said Seniuk, who directed the fine arts center from 1989 to 2012.
Seniuk said McKiernan was “very proud” to feature Mayhew’s art in a Port Angeles show.
McKiernan cast the “Cormorants,” a larger-than-life bronze statue depicting two majestic birds and displayed at Port Angeles City Pier. The sculpture was mounted on 2-ton granite rock in 1980.
Seniuk said the “Cormorants” was “pretty much the first piece” of public art in Port Angeles.
City Pier is also home to McKiernan’s 1989 state centennial bell, which is similar to one displayed at the state convention center in Seattle.
McKiernan has cast several editions of the “Firecat,” a life-sized bronze depicting a sleek cougar leaning over a rock, as well as many other animal and human figures.
McKiernan’s works are displayed in private collections around the U.S., Canada and Japan.
Rather than sending an original clay or wax piece to a fine arts foundry for casting, McKiernan has always preferred to create his own bronzes from start to finish, using a small but efficient foundry in his home studio.
These days, McKiernan is “a little bit limited” by his physical condition.
He has suffered two strokes and uses a wheelchair, but he scoots around his two-story house on an elevator he had installed for his late wife, painter Margaret “Peach” McKiernan, when she was having hip problems.
“I couldn’t live here now without it,” he said.
McKiernan, who lives alone now, has been married three times.
The hilltop house offers sweeping views of Port Angeles, where McKiernan was born and where he developed his creativity as a youngster.
He whittled totem poles out of scrap wood from apple boxes as a boy and sold them at a downtown store.
After moving to Tacoma at the age of 16, McKiernan took two years of architectural drawing at Stadium High School.
He applied those skills as an artist and boat builder after serving as a Marine in World War II.
“I got close enough to get blown up with a Japanese hand grenade,” he said.
“You know then you’re doing something wrong. But I wasn’t injured too badly.”
After the war, McKiernan moved to Aberdeen, where he built a 42-foot gaff-rigged schooner, the Windolee.
McKiernan launched the wooden boat in 1969 and sailed up and down the West Coast of the U.S. and Mexico with his wife and daughters.
“I’ve had a good life,” he said.
McKiernan eventually sold the Windolee, which is now based in San Diego, and moved back to Port Angeles in 1975.
“I like it here,” he said.
“I’m going to live here until I kick the bucket, and I hope that’s not anytime soon.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: April 24. 2014 6:27PM