Mardie Rees makes big sculptures, and always has. She’s drawn to monuments, three-dimensional renderings that command attention
Her latest project, however, is her largest yet. The Gig Harbor sculptor unveiled her new work, an eight-foot four-inch sculpture of C.W. Lonsdale, the founder of Shawnigan Lake School in British Columbia, at a local celebration Thursday before the sculpture is shipped north.
Rees said she wanted to have the unveiling, which happened Thursday and then again on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Real Carriage Door Company’s office, because her friends kept asking her what she was working on. The sculpture has taken her three years to complete, so she had to keep providing the same answer. Now, she gets to show off her results.
“When I would try to describe how big it is, people wouldn’t have a clue what that really meant or would look like,” Rees said.
The scuplture was commissioned after a Shawnigan Lake alum saw Rees’ sculpture on the campus of Gig Harbor’s St. Anthony Hospital, depicting the titular saint. It will loom even larger in its completed version, after it is molded in silicone, cast into bronze and placed atop a four-foot granite pedestal at the Vancouver Island school.
“They wanted something with a similar emotional impact” to the sculpture of St. Anthony, Rees said of her Canadian patrons. “They loved the feeling that the sculpture had.”
The desire to capture that feeling, Rees said, is what made her a sculptor. She grew up in Gig Harbor around the handcrafted three-dimensional work of her father, Don, a timber frame builder and the founder of Real Carriage Door (Rees’ brother Scott and husband Jeremy Broderick also work for the company). The family spent three years doing community development work in Quito, Ecuador, while Rees was in high school, and it was there that she discovered her love for art.
Rees moved back home, graduated from Gig Harbor High School and then attended Laguna College of Art and Design in Southern California, where she trained in different media before gravitating toward sculpture.
“I just always found myself more drawn to the sculpture department, sculpting on the weekends and working on the biggest things I could get my hands on,” Rees said.
Her senior project was the largest ever completed at the school, a life-size, four-by-seven-foot high-relief piece. “I had difficulty even getting it out of my studio,” Rees said.
Rees has always liked larger sculptures, she explained, partly because of their rarity, especially on the West Coast, far from the monumental statues of Europe or New England. But she also wants to craft the human form, and larger canvases help her invoke the emotion that the Shawnigan Lake alum noticed at St. Anthony. She starts by researching, learning as much as she can about the subject of her sculpture.
“I want to know what they wore, what their environment was like. If I can find anything they wrote, I like to read that. I want to have a sense of who this person is and what makes sense for them,” Rees said.
Rees uses her research to determine the look, wardrobe and pose of her subject. She’ll start with charcoal outlines, then do a maquette, or scale model roughly one-third of the piece’s final size, out of clay to work on the sculpture’s physicality. For Lonsdale, she chose to represent the headmaster as a young man, looking toward his future.
“It’s not just about the perfect anatomy, but also about getting at the soul of a particular person. That’s my focus,” Rees said. “And if I don’t feel like that’s brought out in a particular work, I just work harder. When I feel like that’s really coming out of a piece, then I’m done.”
And after three years of work on Lonsdale, she’s finally done. The unveiling events featured food, beer from 7 Seas Brewing and arts and crafts tables for kids, and Rees said she hopes the celebration was as special for her guests as it will be for her.
“I really hope that they walk away in awe of what’s possible to create, and maybe with an understanding of this individual,” Rees said.