Monday, June 13, 2016

Commission piece



Title- Edward R. McDonald's Crossword Game
11,25 x 24'', acrylic on gessoed hardboard
painting # 239, 2016

Board games are versatile props which I have used many time in my still life paintings, especially Monopoly. Scrabble on the other hand had eluded me up until now. Opportunity recently came knocking at my door to produce a narrative painting based on the possible new found origin of the game that even pre-dates the first version of Scrabble. The game was invented in 1938 by architect Alfred Mosher Butts. It was initially called Criss-Crosswords based on a previous variation of a game he also invented named Lexiko. The definitive version of the game and current name was modified by James Brunot in 1948. In 1952, the Selchow and Righter company bought the rights and started mass producing the game. It has been translated in 29 languages and approximately 150,000,000 units as been sold worldwide. 

In January, I received an invitation by the Chamber of Commerce of the sea side town of Shediac, NB to produced a painting based on an earlier version of the crossword game that was invented by one of it's town's former mayor, Edward R. McDonald. What was once part of New Brunswick trivia took a more serious turn once the US patent was recently uncovered dating back to July 6, 1926 and predates the Criss-Croswords by 12 years. A Canadian patent was also issued for the same game on December 7, 1926. While the rules differ somewhat, what they share is the grid checker board, and the lettered tiles with number values (for the exception of vowels) using the same fonts as today's Scrabble board game. The initial project is the brainchild of Pierre Cormier, a member of the Chamber of Commerce and is responsible for taking steps in uncovering the patent that was found by an Ottawa patent lawyer in the recesses of the Smithsonian , the world's largest museum and research centre. 

The painting was initially conceived for a box cover illustration with the intent of manufacturing Mr. McDonald's Crossword Game in light of the 90th anniversary of his invention. It remains unknown if the game was ever marketed and sold beyond a prototype made which his daughter Elizabeth Carvell, 89 recalls her father playing with a neighbour when she was a child. My involvement with the project was only to produce the painting. Since my initial meeting with the Chamber of Commerce the scope of the project has taken a different approach in honouring one of it's most outstanding citizen. As of now, the propose re-edition of the game has been put on hold for the time being and the image will be used for promotional purposes.  

I took part of a press conference held in the historical Webster House in Shediac this past June 8. My speech was to elaborate on the narrative behind my conceived imagery. John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association announced that Hasbro, the current owner of the Scrabble Game will be supplying a large number of games to the town to demonstrate their support for their initiative. Many Scrabble related activities were revealed for the up-coming summer season. The town will form the first certified Scrabble Club in the Atlantic provinces, and will be hosting an International Scrabble Tournament from September 30 to October 2 with Mr Chew presiding over the event. On September 17, Shediac will also host a roaring 1920's Gatsby themed night in conjunction with Scrabble related activities, highlighting the flapper fashion period recently popularised during the later seasons of Downton Abbey.

click on image to view the Global News broadcast


 Biographical notes-

Edward Richard McDonald (born- Shediac, NB 1870, died- Shediac, NB, 1952) defines the word renaissance man as an adventurer, lawyer, politician, writer, inventor and family man. In his youth, as the son of a captain, he travelled extensively by sea for three years, serving before the mast on large sailing ships and during which he visited many ports around the world. An experience which he considered gave him training and a greater conception of life. Upon his return, he studied law and was admitted to the Bar of New Brunswick, but his career was not confined solely to that field in earlier years. He travelled to Florida where he engaged in the real estate market for one year. He then made his way to Leadville, Colorado where he was employed in the gold mines for a couple of years before heading north of the border to Alberta where he was involve in ranching. He then became a gold mining prospector for a year in Porcupine, Ontario. After all of these endeavours, he resumes his law practise in New Brunswick and acquired a province wide reputation as a lawyer, being regarded as among the ablest appearing in the criminal courts and other branches of the law, embracing all the courts from the lowest to the highest. 

He was also a very active politician on the local and provincial scene. He served as mayor for four years as well as an alderman on the Shediac Town council for two decades. In addition, he also served as town clerk for many year and councillor for the Shediac Parish at Westmorland Municipality Council for sixteen years.  In 1935, he was elected as one of the members of the Legislative Assembly for Westmorland County serving a four year term during which he played a prominent role in the debates of the House and serves in several committees. 

He was one of the first person in the province to own and operate an automobile and the first in Shediac. He purchased his first vehicle in 1903, sporting license plate # 111. His love of the sea also made him an avid sailor and yachtsman. 

In 1908, he co-wrote a science fiction novel, The Mad Scientist: A Tale of the Future with Raymond Alfred L├ęger under the pen name Raymond McDonald. 

Upon his passing in 1950, he left to mourn his wife, the former Annie Gertrude Ryan, a son E. Ronald McDonald and three daughters, Gertrude Capreol, Mildred McLellan and Elizabeth Carvell.  He is the great grandfather of Todd McLellan, the current NHL coach of the Edmonton Oilers and Chris Williams, an animator, screenwriter and director working at Walt Disney Animation Studios. In 2015, he won an Academy Award for co-directing the best animated feature Big Hero 6. 

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For the composition I was given a copy of the US patent, a re-printed photo of Mr. McDonald when he was elected mayor, another picture appearing in his vintage automobile, a book on the history of Shediac and some printed documents. After meeting with members of the Chamber of Commerce and visiting city hall which has several paintings documenting the history of Shediac, I did some research and decided to incorporate a few more items in order to create a more cohesive composition. 

The patent itself was drawn by Fetherstonhaugh & Co. It serves at the most important artefact and the base of the composition upon which objects are layered on top. The patent agency was founded by lawyer and agent Frederick Barnard Fetherstonhaugh in 1890. The other commonality that Edward McDonald shared with Frederick Fetherstonhaugh apart from them both practising of form of law, was that he was also an automobile enthusiasts.  He was well known for having the first electrical car in Canada,which he help design and also bore his name. The 1893 automobile could reach a top speed of 15 mph and the 270 lbs batteries lasted for 5 hours. 


On eBay I was able to acquire a pair of early 20th century 12 K gold filled spectacles, which I was told he wore. Also a collectible postmarked first official flight letter pertaining to the Air Mail service when Shediac was designated part of the Pan American Northern Route which flew over the Atlantic Ocean during the summer months using a Boeing B314 Yankee Clipper plane, which could land on water. This service route included Port Washington (Long Island, New York),  Shediac (Canada), Botwood (Newfoundland), Foynes (Ireland) and Southhampton (England). The inaugural trip occurred on June 24, 1939. This specific letter was postmarked July 1, 1939 to Quillin's Stamp Shop in Washington, DC. and was flown from Shediac to New York with final destination in Washington, DC. The Air Mail service has historical significance and did contribute greatly to the town of Shediac, it's economy and it’s status as one of the Atlantic link to the US and Europe until the service ceased it's operations by the end of World War II. 

The US Patent Office is currently located in Alexandria, Virginia (near Arlington). In 1926, when the Crossword Game patent was issued, the office would have been located at 8th and F Streets, NW in Washington, DC which now houses the National Portrait Gallery which I was very fortunate to visit back at Easter 2012. 


At first, I didn’t know how I would incorporate the First Official Flight letter (1939) since it precedes McDonald’s game (1926) by more than a decade.  When the Criss-Crosswords was patented in 1938, one can imagine that word of this game might have reached Mr. McDonald's ears by the following year. Being a lawyer, he might have sent a letter to the US Patent office in Washington in order to discuss possible infringement on his patent and concept. It helps to create a link even if it's only an assumption from my part pertaining to this period in time.

The score pad in yellow is also known as a legal pad, which bodes well since Edward McDonald was in the legal business. I wrote both his and wife's name has the honorary players for this match. I was able to acquire two sets of lettered tiles which are sold at Michael's and painted them all by hand in black and white for use for my study and the prototype. I also incorporated a monogram using a drawing of a tile letter R found on top of the patent itself which I re-positioned and a painted black lettered M tile which rest on the edge of his picture. I borrowed a wooded letter stand from a Scrabble game in order to display the tiles which spells ''crossword'' but also to make a reference to beloved game which also bear's its name in their title, Scrabble, the Crossword Game. We've had a French and English edition in our home for at least 25 years, which at the time was manufactured by Irwin.   


My painting and prototype of 
Edward McDonald's Crossword Game


In the wake of the press conference held of June 8, an initial article was published on May 28, 2016 in the Moncton's Times & Transcript and affiliate newspapers (Saint John's Telegraph's Journal and The Fredericton's Daily Gleaner). My painting of the crossword game was featured on the front page of the Moncton edition. Journalist James Foster who covered the story later contacted me to conduct an interview for a related story which also surveys my own artistic career thus far. 


Media coverage in print 



I wish to thank the Shediac Chamber of Commerce for bestowing upon me this unique opportunity and visibility. Also for giving me carte blanche in order to create a narrative painting which focuses on paying homage to one of it's most honourable citizen. Mr. McDonald had left a legacy to the town of Shediac which remained dormant for almost a whole century. The town can finally boost the title of being the Scrabble Capitol of Canada in addition of already holding the title of The Lobster Capitol of the World.  



Ron Cormier, president of the Shediac Chamber of Commerce
playing the role of Edward R. McDonald and Sophie Doiron-Belliveau 
in 1920's period costume after the press conference at Webster House,
 June 8, 2016. 


Left to right:
Pierre Cormier, Shediac Chamber of Commerce member and project initiator
John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association
Ron Cormier, president of the Shediac Chamber of Commerce
Louis Babineau, Shediac Co-op




The 15 ft long Shediac sign in fiberglass coated
Crossword letters will be on display this summer
alongside the World Largest Lobster in Shediac, NB


-commission