Vancouver Was Awesome: Charles Marega

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A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.

Few people have left such an indelible mark on Vancouver as Italian sculptor Charles Marega. Made shortly before he died, Marega’s twin Lions guarding the entrance to the Lions Gate Bridge are his best known work, but his sculptures also include the Burrard Street Bridge adornments, the Joe FortesPresident Harding, and David Oppenheimer monuments in Stanley Park, the George Vancouver statue at City Hall, the pedestrian entrance to Stanley Park, the maple tree marker in Maple Tree Square, the Edward VII fountain beside the art gallery, and the nine maidens on the Sun Tower. Visitors to the old Vancouver Art Gallery at 1145 West Georgia Street were welcomed by Marega’s depictions of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Some of Marega’s most interesting work is relatively unknown. His proposal for a monument for his friend Pauline Johnson was rejected as too costly, but he did make her death mask. A bust that he made of Benito Mussolini was quietly stashed away in the City Archives after the Italian consulate shut down and fascism became almost universally reviled.

The Great Depression was a hard decade for Marega. He lost his wife and work for sculptors was scarce. No doubt his initial embrace of Mussolini was demoralizing as the clouds of war drew near, and his vision of casting the Lions Gate lions in bronze was thwarted by budgetary constraints. He died from a heart attack in 1939 after teaching an art class. He only had eight dollars in his bank account at the time, but left a rich legacy in a city that tends to look to nature for its beauty.

Source: Photo by AC Kelly, City of Vancouver Archives #1399-399

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