EDUCATION: SCHOOL'S CEREMONIAL MACE CREATED BY LOCAL ARTIST MICHAEL BURTCH
It is both an honour and a daunting challenge to have been asked to create Algoma University’s ceremonial mace, in celebration of our new independence. It was an honour because the mace is a lasting symbol of a new institution founded on its rich past and daunting because of the significance of its every aspect. In the end, simplicity, which is never really simple, was the guiding principle behind the design and creation. As I write this, I still keep finding multitudes of early sketches, all of which mutated over time to the finished mace.
Being a sculptor, I wanted to create a work that exhibited substance and physical presence. I also wanted it to have an architectonic aura. The shaft reflects the strength and endurance of an architectural column, and is ringed in a fashion similar to medieval columns. I chose birds eye maple to form the drums of the column because of its rarity, mysterious origin and resilience. Its local source the sugar maple is strongly identified with Algoma. The black walnut of the ring ornamentation and ‘capital’ provides a tonal accent to the light maple and represents, in the form of the now extinct giant black walnut, a wood that was plentiful throughout the Great Lake Basin area in Pre-Columbian times but suffered exploitation as it was harvested in colonial Canada for its use as the staple of furniture construction.
The head of the mace is executed in copper and brass. Copper, the first metal to be shaped by human hand has played such an important role in every culture and in particular in our First Nations. It is the sign for earth and fire, the conductor of spiritual energy. The circle within the circle is a universal symbol, resonating with infinite meaning. The outer circle of copper suggests an abstract, enveloping bird wing, the void of the smaller circle the earth and the two intersecting discs point to the four directions.
The head is crowned with the copper Thunderbird, an adaptation of Dora de Perdercy Hunts stylized emblem for Algoma University. The copper Thunderbird also alludes to the name given to the great Canadian painter Norval Morisseau, a man whose life’s path crossed through Algoma University, when it was still in its infancy.