By Michael James
Northern Life, Monday, July 21, 2003

Monica O’Halloran-Schut is a sculptor with the soul of a poet.

For the past three or four years she has been working with stone, transforming inanimate rock into friezes that are beautiful and alive. (A frieze is a broad, horizontal band of sculptured, painted or other decoration, especially along a wall near the ceiling.)

Yet it wasn’t until a chance encounter with FNX Mining Co. Inc. chief executive officer Terry MacGibbon at one of her exhibitions in Toronto that she discovered the joy of working with ore mined from the Sudbury Basin.

As the story goes, MacGibbon, a geologist, was so impressed with O’Halloran-Schut’s work, he commissioned her to create three pieces for the FNX head office in Toronto.

MacGibbon’s sole condition was that she use rock the company had mined from the Sudbury Basin. Locally, FNX operates the McCreedy West Mine.

The centre-piece of the trio – an eight-by-four foot frieze which hangs on the wall – consists of the “FNX” logo etched into a background shaped like the mineral-rich Sudbury Basin.

As the theory goes, the basin was created millions of years ago when a giant meteorite crashed into the region.

It wasn’t, however, made of solid rock as the National Post erroneously reported a couple of weeks ago in an article about O’Halloran-Schut.

Rather, as with her earlier work, she used variations of powdered stone, only, instead of containing granite or mica, the crushed, Sudbury Basin rock was rich in minerals and ore.

“Because the base is a man-made substrate (the underlying foundation), I’m able to bring stone into people’s homes or corporate offices that ordinarily wouldn’t be physically possible,” she said.

The first time she incorporated the ore into her work, it was like an epiphany, she said.

“When I added the ore to it (the substrate or underlying layer), it was like I’d struck gold,” she said. “It was just amazing. The sparkle and richness of colour it adds to the piece is truly lovely . . . it’s warm and it draws people into the piece.”

For O’Halloran-Schut, it was one of those magic moments when an artist discovers a new medium with which to work.

“It is a new medium . . . a new way of working, both with stone, and with ore,” she said.

Naturally, there’s a strong element of trial and error involved, she said, as is the case with any new process.

“What I’m going for is a three-dimensional process,” she said.

O’Halloran-Schut’s passion for colour and texture exploration inspired her to create her own unique mixture of mediums for paintings and sculpture.

One of the most arresting examples of her mixed media, 3-D process is a work called River of Life. The globular-shaped piece is 42 inches in diameter, three inches thick, flat-backed with a raised surface made out of crushed stone, and is set off with 22-carat gold leaf. The gold leaf bisects the stone plaster-like surface, its irregular shape resembling the southern tip of the South American continent.

O’Halloran-Schut said she has been pleasantly surprised by people’s response to her exhibit at the One of a Kind Show at the National Trade Show in Toronto.

“I was observing these people when they came in and they just wanted to rest their hands on the stone . . . and run their hands down it,” she said. “There’s something they connect with, I suppose.”

O’Halloran-Schut recounts the story of a woman who stopped by her booth to check out her work.

“She was standing there looking at my work and her eyes filled up with tears,” she said, “and I thought, ‘Golly, is the work that bad?’

And my friend went over to her and asked if there was anything she could explain about the work, and the woman said, ‘No. I don’t know what’s come over me, but there’s something in this that is just so beautiful. It speaks to me.’

“It was a very humbling experience to be a part of . . . It’s a real privilege to know that the work of one’s hands can impact people in some way.”

The sculptor is now hard at work in her studio, adding to her body of work in preparation for her next three exhibitions.

O’Halloran-Schut’s work can be viewed online at