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Welland's Murals:
22. Steam Engine

About the Mural
Steam Engine by Ron Baird, Stouffville, Ontario. Painted in 1988, on the side of the Bell Canada Building on Cross Street, 21' by 22'. As a large-scale steel sculptor, Baird's affinity for metal and heavy machinery came through in his mural. The steam engine, which combined brute strength and hard labour was used to help build the old canals. The engine is as brightly coloured as a child's toy.

The sky is patterned in hexagons, which mirror the shape of the paving stones in the streetscape and create an image of honeycomb, with man as the bee, building not wax cells, but canal walls. The paint drippings on the old engine are representative of rusting iron, running down the old 'work horse.'

The Artist's Interpretation
"This mural is about the pounding excitement of the live steam era. Iron leviathans snorting and scratching in the pit of the Welland Canal. Proud men with hard arms and dirt on their faces, building a bypass around the greatest waterfalls on Earth."

"The work has to be designed very differently from a piece in an art gallery. It has to be bold and colourful to compete with all the other visual things in the streetscape. In some ways, it's a lot more fun doing murals because you can be impulsive and make changes. You can be more reckless with murals. I really enjoyed that freedom."

"The project for Lynda and me was a holiday from building public sculptures and a chance to make a drawing 22 feet high. It was a family affair - wife, kids and a nephew all came to help. We felt like a circus family, swinging over the scaffolding, slapping on paint with a crowd of spectators watching each change. We had a captive audience of strikers picketing the Bell Facility to encourage us in this public glorification of the working man."

Your Virtual Guide's Comments
One of the more impressionistic of the murals, we experience the impression of a steam engine, rather than a photographic likeness. The throbbing machine, with its mighty pistons, flywheels and billowing clouds of black smoke dominates the image. The grim expression on the face of the engineer is somewhat perplexing. It is almost as if he doubts his capacity to control his charge. Could it be that the locomotive is more powerful than his ability to restrain it? The abstract backdrop of repeated hexagons, some of which spill over onto the locomotive eliminates any distraction from the central theme of the mural. 

About the Artist: Ron Baird, Stouffville, Ontario
Since his graduation from the Ontario College of Art in 1964, the main thrust of Ron Baird's work has been the site-specific sculpture in architectural settings. Much of this consists of large metal pieces, many with elements that move in the wind, such as the huge "Spirit Catcher" featured at EXPO '86 or the 33 metre "Weather Tower" in Toronto. He has an active interest in graphics and is well known for his whimsical etchings of animals.

Ron has been a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts since 1972, recipient of the Royal Architectural Institute Medal for Sculpture, founding director of the Latcham Public Art Gallery and also recipient of numerous Ontario Arts Council Awards. A major retrospective of his first 20 years of work was organized by the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in 1984.

From 1985 to the present, Ron and his wife, Lynda, have collaborated on large scale, site-specific sculptural projects.

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The Welland Murals site is supported by the Black Lantern Experience.