Prince Edward County, Ont.
Revealing the sculpture within
By Lin Parkin
During their careers, stone sculptor Tom Ashbourne and his wife Linda spent weekends touring Prince Edward County’s many boutiques, antique shops, and art galleries. So when they retired from corporate life in Toronto, they already knew they would end up in The County.
Although Ashbourne was always an avid art collector, he didn’t discover his own talent until he took a set of sculpting lessons a year before retiring. Once he tried it, he was hooked on the process and stunned to learn he had this hidden ability.
At his studio, he gestures around the room: “All these pieces, I often marvel that I made them. It brings a real joy and a real satisfaction. Each one of them is so totally different, yet they all came from these rough pieces of rock that you would never, ever imagine what it’s going to end up being.”
Ashbourne has been immersed in creating sculptures since 2014, and his work is receiving international attention. In 2021, he received an unexpected invitation to exhibit his art at the Florence Biennale in Italy – an immersive event where artists worldwide show their work and participate in an intercultural and interdisciplinary experience.
Attending the Biennale proved to be an extraordinary opportunity to learn from peers. “When I talked to other artists, the thing that they kept talking about was the energy in my pieces, and I had never thought about it that way. It’s usually about the symmetry, a focal point, and colour, texture and shape; all these components of art that you need to make a successful piece.”
He adds, “In the end, when I was in Florence, I realized what it all comes down to is bringing an energy to the piece.”
Ashbourne likens that to how it feels when walking through a forest, sitting by the lake, or gazing up at the sky. There is an intangible connection, perhaps partly due to the medium being a natural material, primarily alabaster stone.
Stone sculpting is a reductive art form. Ashbourne works off the rough outer layer, what he calls “the rind.” As he sands, chips, or grinds the stone down, it begins to reveal its inner contours and unique patterns. It is an interactive experience between the artist and his subject.
Ashbourne is the only artist in Canada who is currently an elected member of the Sculptors Society of Canada (SSC), Society of Canadian Artists (SCA), and the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA). He was also named one of DESTIG Magazine’s “Best of 2020.” His sculptures are displayed at his private studio in Wellington, ON., located along Prince Edward County’s Arts Trail.