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Trent Alumnus Donates Portal of Hope to the University

Being too short to see the rowing races, and being too young for the beer garden, witnessing the unveiling of anart piece seemed right up my alley. I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the artist, David James, and gained some insight on the beautiful stone slabs that he graciously donated to our campus.

You’ve probably seen “Portal” before; you know that really big black 8000lb sculpture near Gzowski? Well, David James showed up during Head of the Trent to officially unveil it, as well as its smaller sibling located in the library. Before the unveiling, I sat down with James and we discussed Portal’s significance in relation to our campus, and spoke briefly about his very exciting life.

A formative time of his life was spent here; in 1971, James obtained a B.A. in Political Studies and History. When I asked him if Trent inspired him at all in terms of pursuing art, he burst into laughter and answered NO; Trent had nothing to do with him wanting to be an artist.

When he came to Trent, he had wanted to become a journalist, and Trent helped him pursue that dream. While Trent didn’t push him to be an artist, he continued, he emphasized how Trent is great for allowing you achieve your goals:“If you wanted to do something, if you had the courage, you could do it here.”

With his passion for journalism, James helped establish Trent Radio. Being a journalist for CBC some years, James went on to be a management consultant, and finally he decided to become an artist. And quite the success artist he has been.

Working with glass and stone, James creates acclaimed sculptures, rich in colour, texture and design. It takes a lot of patience to create these pieces. He explained the process briefly: his smaller version of Portal cooked in the kiln for three-to-four weeks, and most of that time was the sculpture cooling. While this piece weighs 200lb and is crystal containing 48% lead, it is very delicate. He expressed the frustration of removing a piece from the kiln, and discovering a scratch on the softstone surface, and having to start again from scratch.

In 2008, he created the large granite Portal, which has been praised in various art circles. What is most fascinating about this piece, perhaps, is that it has called Trent its home since 2010. So why Trent? I asked James why he wanted it to be here and he said that when he was approached to make a nonfinancial donation to Trent as a member of the school’s Alumni, he felt that Portal would be rather fitting. He went on to explain that he had“strong ties, emotionally” to this area.

His mother’s family has been living in Peterborough for generations, and his sister also calls this place home. He spent some great years on campus here, including experiencing HOTT. The romanticism of the autumn leaves and the overall atmosphere of Trent also come to his mind.

Going beyond the personal connection to the school, he felt the symbolism of Portal was highly relevant to a university environment:“For centuries,”he explained,“Portal has symbolized looking on to the future… universities are about us building the future…”Essentially, this piece emphasizes the hope of looking on to the future, and how we aren’t exactly sure how our path will turn out (like James’ case himself).

To place such a symbolic art piece at Trent is inspiring. It acts as a merger of the past, present, and future, and being set in stone, it suggests that our hopes aren’t easily destroyed. James firmly believes in to the importance of public art; it’s purpose is to“enrich our everyday lives”as it evokes wonder and intrigue. Art is meant to be a means of escape, encouraging us to think about it, James expresses at the unveiling.

He also explains that looking at art is not enough. To really understand art, you need to embrace it; make a connection with it. When he was backpacking through Europe years ago, he found a connection with the famous statue, The Thinker… by climbing onto his  shoulders. James encourages us to do whatever it takes to evoke a feeling of passion and adoration with pieces of art. I don’t know about you, but I’ve made a connection with Portal, and it has left me filled with hope for my future here at Trent.

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