St. John’s sculptor finds a subject closer to the heart: Rush drummer Neil Peart

Artist Morgan MacDonald is hoping his latest design is selected to become a bronze statue of the late Neil Peart, and placed in Peart’s hometown of St. Catherines, Ont. (Morgan MacDonald/Instagram)

A St. John’s-based sculptor who has become well-known for works about Newfoundland and Labrador’s history and culture has taken on a project rooted in something else: a lifetime of admiration for legendary drummer Neil Peart, who died earlier this year. 

Morgan’s work in bronze includes a memorial in Elliston to the Newfoundland sealing disaster of 1914, several war memorials (Including masks of survivors of Royal Newfoundland Regiment soldiers, to mark the centennial of the Battle Beaumont-Hamel. Countless photographs in St. John’s have been taken of his statue of singer Ron Hynes on George Street and of a rower on the banks of Quidi Vidi Lake. 

His interest in honouring Peart, who played in Rush for nearly half a century and wrote the band’s lyrics, is driven by a personal passion. 

“This is a bit of a volunteer thing. It started in January with the news of Neil Peart’s passing. It came as a bit of a shock to me,” MacDonald said. 

“We’ve been long-time fans of the band … It’s kind of been a lifelong thing for me to know the music.”

Working as a volunteer, Morgan MacDonald said he has put in about 1,000 hours on his design. (Morgan MacDonald/Instagram)

A petition to honour the drummer was drawn up by residents of St. Catharines, Ont., which is Peart’s hometown. MacDonald said the petition received 25,000 signatures. 

But while the city did opt to rename the Lakeside Park pavilion after Peart in his honour in early June, the placement of the yet-to-be-made statue is still making its way through city council. 

That didn’t stop MacDonald from getting started — creating a clay maquette of what the final, larger product could look like. He said he has put about 1,000 hours into the design. 

He will also be creating a duplicate maquette to give to Peart’s sister, Nancy Burkholder, as part of an auction to benefit health-care charities throughout Ontario.  

Time stand still

The city issued the call for designs on additions which could be added to the pavilion at Lakeside. MacDonald said he has been in contact with some residents of the area and will follow the process closely. 

“They’re hoping this is the design that’s picked, but again you’re working with a city council that has a committee formed, a task force, that has a certain number of people on it that will actually go through the submitted designs and then that will be the piece that is put there,” he said.

“So, it’ll be interesting to see the designs. It’s quite exciting to see the interest around this. I’m looking forward to the process.”

Many of MacDonald’s pieces of work can be found throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. This one, depicting the 1914 sealing disaster, was commissioned for a memorial in Elliston. (Morgan MacDonald/Instagram)

MacDonald expects a decision to be made in the next couple of months, but from there it will be about a two-year journey to the final product.

And while his design may not get picked in the end, he said he’s just happy that Peart is getting honoured.  

“[Rush] went out on a limb, and they did things that were unorthodox, and the amount of travelling, and the kind of suffering they went through for their art and never getting the recognition, it was quite late in life when the recognition started to pour in,” said MacDonald. 

“But the music, for us, it’s kind of the gold standard of technicality, expression and just excellence.”

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