All About Estates

Best Laid Plans: The Sculpture Fund

Florence Wyle and Frances Loring, 1919.  Photo by Robert Flaherty

 

Frances Loring (1887–1968) and Florence Wyle (1881–1968) were Canadian sculptors and life partners. In 1963 they prepared mirror wills to “assist and encourage Canadian Sculpture” through a testamentary trust, The Sculpture Fund.  Their beloved home, a Victorian church in mid-town Toronto, was to become a meeting place for sculptors and artists.  But after their deaths, which was within days of each other, these best laid plans unraveled.

The “Girls”, as Florence and Frances were known in Canadian art circles of the mid 20th century, had well-documented lives.  Two biographies are dedicated to them: The Girls, by Rebecca Sisler (1972) and And Beauty Answers by Elspeth Cameron (2007).  Friends of the Group of Seven, they produced a steady output of academic figurative sculpture.  These include the QEW lion, Robert Borden bronze on Parliament Hill, and various smaller sculptures and reliefs.  They spent most of their lives broke and struggling, but produced art for 60 years.

And they had a vision that sculpture and sculptors should be supported in Canada, in particular through purchases by major museums.  The Sculpture Fund trust was the intended vehicle.  All their work was to be sold to provide funding.  A Sculpture Advisory Committee populated by public gallery representatives, artist societies and their Executors – all of a similar age – was to carry out the mission.  Their dilapidated old church at 110 Glenrose Ave in Moore Park (featured in a 1965 CBC film) was bequeathed to The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA) to be used as a meeting and studio place for members.

So what went wrong?  According to Amy Nugent, a Vancouver-based cultural worker and fundraiser, pretty much everything.

The Church

“RCA was not sure what to do with The Church,” writes Ms. Nugent.  The Academy lacked energy and money to carry out the conditions of the gift.  One of the executors proposed RCA renounce the gift to enable others to fulfill the intended purpose.  Instead RCA sold the Church for $44,000 in 1972 and created a trust fund.  According to Ms. Nugent and public records, after some activity in the early years, this fund is not supporting Canadian sculpture.

The Sculpture Fund

Late in life, Florence and Francis started selling their sculpture at three sales, which reportedly grossed $97,000.  Most of the proceeds were  lost to an art dealer with a drug problem. Another 200 or so works were stored by the new owner of the Church.  In 1984, 185 of these works were donated to the Art Gallery of Ontario by the Executors.  The Fund never got off the ground.

Copyright & the Friendly Neighbour

A neighbour befriended Florence and Francis later in their lives.  After their deaths, without authorization, he took 21 of Florence’s paintings, 40+ sculptures (the best final pieces), and Florence’s relief and medallion molds, among other things.  He sold these items at auction in 2007 and kept the proceeds.  Despite the fact that the wills limit reproduction rights to a maximum of ten per mould, a Toronto art dealer has reportedly been producing unauthorized editions.

Mistakes and Stock Characters

Collectively these factors conspired to produce a heartbreaking outcome.  Florence and Frances’ legacy was ignored, stolen and lost.  Any estate planner will recognize the mistakes — and the stock characters.  These include: the elderly friends who were honoured to serve as executors; too much complexity with insufficient funds (the church); lack of clear accountability (the Committee); the “friendly” neighbour; and the self-interested dealers.

Amy Nugent’s crusade for an ethical accounting will not reverse history, but on a practical note, she is attempting to relaunch The Sculpture Fund.  At the very least, society needs protectors of the “moral rights” of artists.  Maybe Ms. Nugent’s work will help other artists avoid a similar fate.

About Malcolm Burrows
Malcolm is a philanthropic advisor with 30 years of experience. He is head, philanthropic advisory services at Scotia Wealth Management and founder of Aqueduct Foundation. Views are his own. malcolm.burrows@scotiawealth.com

3 Comments

  1. Teresa

    October 31, 2019 - 8:02 pm
    Reply

    There’s even more to this story: two of the three executors (a lawyer and retired museum director) were also elderly and passed soon after Frances and Florence. The last remaining executor was an artist and unable to oversee and advocate for The Sculpture Fund.

  2. Mary Zapor

    November 1, 2019 - 1:03 am
    Reply

    Frances Loring was my great aunt. As a young child my mother would hang out in the studio. Such a shame what happened. Whether this was just a sad turn of events, or if their being female artists before their time and thus less valued, who knows. Interested if there can be some salvaging of their remarkable legacy.

    • Malcolm Burrows

      November 1, 2019 - 1:13 am
      Reply

      Mary – Thank you for your comment about your Aunt Frances. It’s a depressing story of errors, human failings, greed and more than a bit of sexism. We need to tell their story and help salvage their legacy.

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