Talking with Today’s Children about Elizabeth Fraser Williamson

The Story of the Thoughtful Scratch

written for elementary school children in neighbourhoods near Guild Inn Park by Sara Williamson, a daughter of the sculptor

This bronze sculpture of a bear called Thoughtful Scratch was born very near here, right in Guildwood Village. To be more exact, he was born in Guild Inn Park in the historic pioneer log cabin. Have you ever visited Guild Inn Park?  It is right on the edge of the Scarborough Bluffs. My mother, Elizabeth Fraser Williamson, lived there in a cottage in the woods as resident sculptor of the Guild Inn for twenty-five years. Every day she would walk from her cottage to her log cabin sculpture studio to change a big lump of wet gray clay into a sculpture.

Sometimes she would put on her long wool shawl with its earth tone stripes and take a trip to the Toronto Zoo on Meadowvale Road. She would spend a long time watching the ostriches, and alligators and for the longest time of all she loved to look at the polar bear. She loved the shape of him. She thought of what was under the fur and skin – the bones covered by muscle. Why did she like the polar bear the most? My guess is that his big curving shape reminded her of big smooth rocks that are so pleasing to lie on in the sunshine.

She went back to her cottage and looked in books and magazines for photographs of bears – bears walking, bears standing, bears sleeping, young bears playing, bears’ heads. She imagined what a bear might think about, what an intelligent, calm natured bear would think about. She imagined what it would be like to stroke the nose of a bear and to run her hand down his back. Of course she knew people should never touch a wild animal. We just admire bears from a distance.

After studying the bear a lot, she went to her log cabin studio. She had taken a big slab of clay from the barrel and had worked it into a conical shape. Then she let her hands do the thinking – pushing the clay in places, adding a strip of clay to round it out in another place. Slowly the shape of a bear appeared. With some little wire tools to help she sculpted the bear’s intelligent thoughtful face and named him Thoughtful Scratch..

She said

“To know a MOUNTAIN

One must Climb

To know a sculpture

One must touch –

Through sensitive hands

One feels the purity of forms –

The Power of shape.”

Now an interesting thing about clay sculpture is that you can keep the clay sculpture and you can make a metal or plaster copy of it by getting an imprint with a mold. Elizabeth Fraser Williamson took the clay Thoughtful Scratch to a foundry southwest of Toronto called ArtCast.  Workers at the foundry made a rubber mold all around the sculpture except for the bottom. Then after they did four other things to create the final mold, they poured hot melted bronze metal into the mold. When the bronze hardened, they took it out of the mold and voila! – a bronze bear ready to be polished and given a brownish tint of colour called a patina. There is an illustrated description of the casting process at the ArtCast website.

Since this first bronze edition of Thoughtful Scratch was made, two other bronze Thoughtful Scratch sculptures were cast and given an earthy green patina. One is in the City of Toronto Archive Collection as part of the 191 sculptures in the collection of Elizabeth Fraser Williamson.

More about Elizabeth Fraser Williamson’s Sculptures

The 191 piece collection was originally purchased by the Joseph Lebovic Foundation with the agreement that it would be displayed for everyone to see. A group of artists and art lovers named themselves the Friends of Elizabeth and volunteered their time to create and run the Lebovic Gallery in a commercial building in the north end of Scarborough. It was a very dynamic creative space. Exhibits of paintings and glass art gave the sculptures a fresh environment. One group of young artists had a heavy metal band to open their exhibit of strong dark paintings. That was a very stimulating cross over between the music, the sculptures and the paintings!

Eventually, through the efforts of a City Councillor from Scarborough, David Sockneki, the sculpture collection and their molds were gifted to the City of Toronto. In the future, when the Guild Inn Park is developed you will see some of her sculptures there.

Right now there are two places in Scarborough where you can see Elizabeth Fraser Williamson’s sculptures. On piece is at the Albert Campbell Library on Birchmont. The others are at the Scarborough Civic Centre. On the second floor beside the elevator is her sculpture  called Generations commissioned by the Board of Education. On the main floor, in the Rotunda near the stair way is a show case with some of her clay, cement and bronze sculptures and over against the wall is a metre high cement sculpture with the face of a lion on one side and an owl on the other side. You can pat them when you go there.

One more place that marks the life work of Elizabeth Fraser Williamson is a large purple pink granite rock beside the Pioneer Log Cabin in Guild Inn Park. There is a plaque that says “She loved nature and created beauty”. You can sit on the rock, look at how nature sculpted the big trees around you and be happy.

Elizabeth Fraser Williamson came to Scarborough over forty years ago with a strong vision. She wanted sculpture to become as popular as paintings in homes, offices, gardens, and public places. She made sculptures that are small enough to sit in your living room, beside the computer, on a window ledge, or hung on a door or tree trunk.  I bet you can imagine many other good places for a small sculpture.

She died in 2000 but her sculptures are still here. She wants you to see Thoughtful Scratch and feel him. That is what makes sculptures so special. They are 3 D. You can feel the shape as well as see it. You can look at the sculpture from all sides and angles.

You and I began learning to sculpt when we were very young. Have you made houses and castles out of wet sand?  Or put big balls of snow together to make a snowman? Or warmed a lump of play dough in your hands until it was soft so that you could roll it into a spindly worm or push it into the shape of an animal or person?  Maybe you have used potter’s clay that you bake in an oven or self-hardening clay that doesn’t need baking. As you explore sculpting, your imagination grows.

The people who developed their talent in clay in Elizabeth Fraser Williamson’s classes are older now. You who are in grade school and your parents are the next generations.  You can build on the sculpting history of Scarborough and tell everyone that you and they can make sculptures, own sculptures and enjoy sculpture. As my mother said “Sculpture is a language and there is no end to learning it.”