Prolific Canadian chiseler continues to create


Frances Gage reads from the book written about her life and talent.

Frances Gage reads from the book written about her life and talent.


Positive outlook and drive inspire others at Streamway Villa
Monday, February 3, 2014 — Lisa Bailey

COBOURG, Ont. – From the town  park and art gallery near her home at Streamway Villa in Cobourg to the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Frances Gage’s artistry graces many spaces for all to see.

At 90, she continues to create today, fashioning pendants and other small pieces from clay as gifts for staff members at the long-term care home.

“Never stop working, never stop looking. That gives you all sorts of ideas that you want to use,” Gage advises when asked what she’d tell others inspired to sculpt.

Gage has been described as one of Canada’s most prolific sculptors, though she prefers to be called a “chiseler.”

“Sculptors do everything, chiselers are mostly carvers,” she explains.

Gage has created hundreds of works of art in everything from wood to cast stone for many commissions in public spaces. She’s done everything from portrait busts of business leaders and walnut relief panels at London’s Fanshawe College, to crests for Toronto’s bridges and a marble sculpture called “Woman” at the Women’s College Hospital.

Gage studied at various art institutes, including the Ontario College of Art and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She was friends with Frances Loring and Florence Wyle, who were known as the first women of Canadian sculpture, and she had a connection with Canada’s renown Group of Seven landscape painters, producing a portrait of AY Jackson and working in a rat-infested studio shack in Toronto that Tom Thomson once used.

“It had tremendous atmosphere,” Gage says of the shack, describing it with the remarkable memory and sharp wit that endears her to many.

“It had an orange floor that was high in the middle and low in all four corners, so I didn’t have to sweep the floor at all,” she says with a smile.

Gage’s life was chronicled in a book a few years ago, sparked by a talk she gave at the Art Gallery of Northumberland in Cobourg. She returned to the gallery after moving to Streamway Villa and shared with fellow residents during an outing the story of her piece called “Proud Cat,” which is displayed at the gallery.

“It was so great to hear about the history of it and the work that went into this one piece,” says Streamway Villa life enrichment co-ordinator Christina Verleysen.

“She’s absolutely a talent and one amazing lady,” Verleysen says, noting Gage’s positive outlook on life and drive are to be emulated.

“I’ve never seen someone with so much passion about what she did, it’s unbelievable. She’s so open about it and she’s very modest at the same time.”

A visit to Gage’s room reveals some of her life’s loves. Her radio plays classical music – a source of inspiration, she says – and books reflect a love of reading. Photos of friends and animals adorn a large area on one wall.

“To see how many friends come here on a daily basis and the flowers that are delivered just shows how much she means to so many people,” Verleysen says.

Among the photo display are pictures of Gage teaching in Guelph decades ago. “I think I learned more from teaching than from anything else, because when I was teaching (students) I thought about what they should be doing and then I thought of what I should be doing, which is something quite different,” she says.

Among Gage’s favourite creations is “Woman” at the Women’s College Hospital, which honours all of the women who work there, and “Sheltering Form,” which is in Cobourg’s Victoria Park and dedicated to victims of abuse.

Asked what it means to be able to share so many of her creations with the public, Gage replies immediately. “It makes me feel very responsible. I feel I’ve been given so much and I have to give it back,” she says, citing as examples the scholarships she received to attend the École des Beaux-Arts and the Art Students League in New York, and all of the people who mentored and taught her.

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