A Man for all Seasons

Since 1988, this portly businessman has hardly left King Street. He’s been out there in all weather, through all seasons, but he doesn’t always remain in the same location. When he appeared in 1988 he was standing in front of the Henley Arcade on the north side of the street staring up at the clock in the tower of Victoria Hall. Now he poses on the other side of King.

The little man is, of course, the sculpture that graces the King streetscape. His creator, sculptor William McElcheran, christened him Introibo ad Altare Dei. Cast in bronze in Italy, Introibo stands at 6’ 6”and weighs 650 pounds. He is not unique -- he’s a clone. Four of him were cast before the mold was destroyed. One remains in Italy, another is at Commerce Court in Toronto and the other one is in a private collection in Philadelphia.

This exuberant sculpture, Cobourg’s first outdoor public work of art, was purchased by the Art Gallery of Northumberland with the aid of a government grant. He is on extended loan from the gallery to the town of Cobourg for all of the citizens of Northumberland County.

introibo statueBetween 1988 and 1994 Introibo was repeatedly vandalized. He was knocked over several times and also spray painted on other occasions. He was removed from King Street and traveled to the former CDCI East (now Cobourg Collegiate Institute) where he spent some time in storage. But Introibo had a champion! It was through the efforts of well-known Cobourg businessman, Bill Patchett, that the sculpture was returned to his post on King Street. Bill said: “It was time he came out of the [storage] closet. It is a creation and it’s time he was back in the public eye.” This time, the traveling man was placed on the south side in front of Brocanier’s Clothing for Men, with a security camera keeping a vigil for his safety. Long-time citizens of Cobourg would describe the location as in front of the old Allen building at 23 King Street West.

McElcheran was a complex man -- a deep thinker with a penchant for philosophy. Thus he imbued his creations with many layers of significance. His work is mainly figurative, about man’s relationship to his urban environment -- business and commerce. The businessman is a recurring theme in his work.

So who is Introibo ad Altare Dei? His rather odd name is significant, words taken from the beginning of the Latin Mass that translate as I will go unto the altar of God. McElcheran explains his creation this way: “When people think of a saint in ideal terms, they tend to conjure up spiritual images, not the corporal (or corpulent) ones associated with my sculpture. When we think of someone really evil, we think of some fat Italian, some Mafia type. And you get a figure that looks like Pope John XXIII, put him in a fedora hat and he’d fit right in with a Jack Levine painting of a Mafia funeral.”

introibo plateSo the whole point of making Introibo look like a pope, a holy man, was to reinforce the theme that an individual’s preconceived notions about reality are constantly being challenged by experience. To simplify the sculptor’s words: looks can be deceiving, things are not always as they seem, or don’t judge a man by his hat! Introibo ad Altare Dei, the businessman, is Everyman, fraught with human foibles, sometimes a saint and sometimes a sinner.

Today, William McElcheran’s little businessmen pose in art galleries, public places, private collections and corporate head offices. Additional works by this noted sculptor can be found in cities throughout Ontario as well as in Calgary, Tokyo and Munich.

Next time you stroll along King Street, take time to have a good look at Introibo ad Altare Dei. Read the inscription and enjoy this interesting work of art. And a final question: Where do you think Introibo ad Altare Dei’s next travel destination will be? Will Cobourg’s man for all seasons find a main street in another city, one with a warmer climate?

Sources Consulted
Files: Art Gallery of Northumberland