Sculptor Doug MacDonald has built an impressive career creating pieces for yards and gardens, but he has one strict rule.
"I don't do gnomes and things like that," says the former professional photographer with a grin.
Much of Doug's work is made up of miniature recreations of existing architectural features from places like the Parliament Buildings and Adelaide Hall; a women's residence at Queen's University in Kingston. "In the beginning I didn't really notice a lot of these buildings," he says. "(But) I became interested in gargoyles. I remember passing this church on Jarvis Street in Toronto and it was just littered with them. I was photographing them and tried reproducing them in clay just for my own fun. Then I just became absolutely addicted to it because it's like a treasure hunt."
With some night classes at Sheridan College under his belt, Doug decided to go public with his work at a craft show and got very positive reactions. "They were just snapped up right away."
Many passers by were also asking about how the plaster sculptures and wall plaques would fare in the outdoors. The answer was not very well, but the questions led Doug to begin exploring concrete, which he continues to work with.
While concrete normally screams "gray," Doug gives his pieces an aged look with the addition of various oxides, silica sand and other ingredients. "Then it looks like a piece of aged limestone," he points out. "I'm trying to do something a little more high-end."
But Doug is quick to add that he's not out to make elitist art; his most expensive pieces come in at just over $200.
He has been a full-time sculptor since 1990 after leaving the world of photography to escape what he calls its "cutthroat" nature. His one-man operation, dubbed Rue Royale, is run out of his home and studio in Phillipsville, a community in the Township of Rideau Lakes. It's since attracted a steady clientele seeking out his new work for their yards and gardens at shows, such as last month's Toronto Flower and Garden Festival and stores around the Ottawa area.
Another big change included relocating to the calmer environs of Phillipsville from go-go Toronto and Doug says the move has made for better experiences for buyers who visit the studio, as well as a more relaxed living environment for himself. "They have a connection with you instead of just saying ‘I went to Wal-Mart and bought this for $10.' It's a story for the consumer to tell their friends."
Though Doug has made his name with sculpture drawn from historical architecture, he has also won fans recently with work arising from much more organic inspiration: An ongoing series of his concrete mushrooms and toadstools has proven to be quite popular. Each comes complete with a peg to keep them upright in the garden or anywhere else one might like to see them in the yard. "I did that for fun, just a one-off kind of thing, and now I sell absolutely hundreds of them at shows. I make them all by hand."
He makes them very quickly but ensures each is unique and aims for the utmost realism; perhaps too much so, if events at a recent show are any indication. "I had a kid kick one — I only had one or two left," Doug recalls. "This thing went flying through the air. Luckily it didn't impale anybody. I said, ‘What are you doing?' He said, ‘Oh, I thought it was a real mushroom.' "I've done shows just selling the mushrooms," he adds. "It's almost like I've become the gargoyle guy or the mushroom guy; that's what people call me."
When asked where he finds his inspiration, Doug admits that the rich history of his native Glasgow looms large in his work today. He was just a child when his family immigrated to Canada from Scotland. "I think it was a big culture shock," Doug says. "I was used to castles, and it was a lot of strip malls and plazas when I came."
While Doug adds that he merely "fell into" sculpting, he does wonder if it wasn't a deep pining for his ancestral home that pointed him in that direction. "Maybe I'm trying to regress back to childhood," he says. Written by Steve Fouchard