Vancouver sculptor David Marshall wanted everybody to understand, enjoy and touch sculpture. And because two of his major works the 2.4 metre (8-foot), semi-abstract marble carvings Three Carrara are now permanently on display in VanDusen Botanical Gardens, joining Three Forms, carved onsite during the 1975 Vancouver International Stone Sculpture Symposium he is a little closer to getting his wish. As his friend and biographer, I am delighted that people having a light lunch at the gardens café can marvel at the newly installed Three Carrara and perhaps wonder who carved it and how it got there.
These two Marshall sculptures are still the only ones the public can admire in Vancouver. For more of Marshalls work, they have to cross the border and go to Bellingham.
Marshall (19282006) was born on a farm in Alberta, grew up in Toronto and arrived in Vancouver in the winter of 1948, penniless but determined to become an artist. He went on to become a founding member of the Sculptors Society of British Columbia, forming lifelong friendships with other Vancouver sculptors, such as Elek Imredy, Peter Paul Ochs and Gerhard Class. His life was about obsessively serving his muse in stone, ceramic, wood and bronze, but he always felt that the Vancouver public really didnt care about his work.
Beginning in 1990, he carved Three Carrara at Capilano College (now Capilano University), after retiring from several decades of teaching there. For two years, he and his assistant, German Galdamez from El Salvador, carved and polished the white stone. Marshall only briefly commented on the third piece, reminiscent of a whale, calling it an animal figure. The other two pieces are highly stylized, one angular, the other rounded. Together, they reprise recurring themes in Marshalls work: relationships between man, woman and Nature.
When I wrote The Life and Art of David Marshall, the first book in the acclaimed series Unheralded Artists of BC, I knew Marshall considered touch the key to sculptures power to communicate in a pre-verbal, visceral manner. He felt that the secret to experiencing sculpture is sensual as well as visual and intellectual. You can fool the eye, but not the hand, he used to say. Marshall admired the Inuit, who carved some of their work specifically for the sense of touch, the first sense humans develop in the womb. He saw the Inuit integration of art into everyday life as the ideal.
But Marshall was no Inuit carver; he spent most of his life doggedly pursuing perfection in his backyard studio while his admirers, a group of fellow artists and serious collectors scattered across the globe, pushed for the international recognition they felt he deserved. Even while ill, he was planning new bronze castings and sketching new works as friends and fellow artists came to say goodbye. Marshall died at age 78.
This article is based on the book of the same name, the first book in the Unheralded Artists of British Columbia series (Mother Tongue Publishing), which illustrates and explores the lives and art of important but previously undocumented BC artists from the 1900s through the 1960s. The books are available at the Vancouver Art Gallery Shop and other venues, as well as from mothertonguepublishing.com.