The son of prominent Canadian sculptor Haydn Davies says his father is prepared to let one of his most famous works decompose in a field rather than surrender to what he terms the "ransom demands" of the Ontario community college that originally commissioned, then dismantled the piece.
Bryan Davies, 56, of Peterborough, Ont., made the observation recently after talks between the Davies family and Lambton College of Applied Arts and Technology in Sarnia, Ont., broke down over how best to compensate the ailing 84-year-old Haydn Davies for the destruction in late June of one of his earliest pieces, titled Homage.
The large, Stonehenge-inspired work, made of red cedar and installed outdoors in 1974, was razed in late June by Lambton after officials decided it had deteriorated to the point where it was a threat to public safety. Neither the artist, who is currently recovering from a heart attack, nor his family was consulted in advance of the decision by college administrators. The action sent shockwaves across Canada's artistic community.
The remaining pieces of Homage were taken to a compost area on Lambton property where they remain stacked to this day. Last month, Lambton president Tony Hanlon informed Bryan Davies in an e-mail that the college was "open" to returning Homage's pieces to Haydn Davies in Toronto. However, "I must have your assurance and that of your father that no legal action will be pursued against the college and no further public criticisms of the college will be initiated."
The Davies family is refusing to meet these criteria. Bryan Davies said: "My father cannot, in good conscience, agree not to speak out. . . . From our point of view, if it means sacrificing Homage for the sake of Canadian art and the hope that nothing like this will happen again, then . . . let it be composted."
The stand follows a series of discussions between Lambton and the Davies family that started in July and intensified in August. On Aug. 23, Bryan Davies presented Hanlon with a six-point proposal that included requests for an apology to his father, the return, at Lambton's expense, of the existing pieces of Homage to the family, the commissioning of a new, $60,000 Davies sculpture for possible installation at the Lambton County Art Gallery and the payment of Haydn Davies's legal fees, to a maximum of $5,000.
The college subsequently declined this proposal. As Cindy Buchanan, Lambton's spokesperson and director of marketing, business development and innovation, said last week: "The money request is not within the mandate of the college or in the best interests of the students. . . . The $60,000 isn't going to happen." Moreover, an apology is unlikely since "we believe Lambton was well within its moral and legal rights" to dismantle Homage. As an alternative, the college would prefer to commemorate Homage with an annual student bursary named after the artist and the installation of a plaque at the college's front entrance, Buchanan said.
Bryan Davies is unhappy with this offer. In the meantime, "because my dad just wants some kind of closure," the family agreed to pay the costs of shipping the Homage debris to Toronto from Sarnia. (The sculptor has said he'd like to consider including pieces of Homage in whatever new work he may conceive.) However, when Hanlon said on Sept. 6 that "regardless of who pays the transportation costs," he needed assurances from the Davies that they'd stop criticizing the college and refrain from a legal challenge, the Davies family felt it was "being held hostage" and decided to go public with what Buchanan said were "confidential e-mails" between Lambton and Bryan Davies.
"That kind of brought the discussion to a halt," Buchanan said, and the silence now has lasted more than three weeks. "Where are we right now? I don't know."