Photo: Ken McAllister.

Photo: Ken McAllister.

“Many societies found security for themselves and their towns in columns or archways. Totems give a terrific feeling of security and they also mark time. They tie people to their past and future and I feel that my works are likewise – markers in time and of a place.”
— Elza Mayhew

Elza Mayhew, 1916 - 2004

Elza Mayhew was born Elza Edith Lovitt in Victoria, British Columbia, January 19, 1916. Mayhew received a BA from the University of British Columbia in 1937 and a MFA from the University of Oregon in 1963.

In 1938, she married Charles Alan Mayhew, the couple had two children. Charles died in June 1943 when his plane went down during a hurricane near Sri Lanka while he was serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Mayhew was a traveller and in 1952, she took several months to complete a round the world trip, then in 1953, she spent a year living in Tokyo, Japan, with her children and in-laws. She also travelled to Europe many times and in 1963, spent time in the Yucatan, Mexico. 

Most of her work is bronze, cast in foundries in Ontario, the U.S., and England. 

From 1955 to 1958, Mayhew studied with Czech sculptor Jan Zach, who had recently moved to Victoria.  When he became head of the Sculpture Department at the University of Oregon in Eugene, he persuaded Mayhew to move to Oregon and do her major casting. (At the time, there was no foundry in Canada with the capability of casting such large pieces.) Mayhew's monumental pieces were cast at the Eugene Aluminum and Brass Foundry in Eugene, Oregon. 

In 1971, a group of like-minded artists in Victoria, BC formed “The Limners”. Mayhew, along with Max Bates, Herbert Siebner, Myfanwy Pavelic, Karl Spreitz, Nita Forrest, Richard Ciccimarra, Robert de Castro, and Robin Skelton was one of the founding members of the group and exhibited with them often. Besides exhibiting in Victoria, she exhibited work in many cities across Canada, Italy, Japan, and the U.S.A.

In 1985, she was the subject of the film, Time-Markers: The Sculpture of Elza Mayhew by Karl Spreitz and Anne Mayhew.

Her last years were spent in progressively declining mental health as a result of brain damage caused by the styrene toxins in the styrofoam molds of her sculpture, a method of casting that she had pioneered. She died in Victoria on January 11th, 2004 at the age of 87, her former studio in Victoria has been designated a heritage building by the city of Victoria.

Many major commissions, including a centennial project for P.E.I. in 1973 which resulted in the monumental sculpture, Column of the Sea, sited in Confederation Centre, Charlottetown.  

She served on the Board of Directors, International Sculpture, Kansas, from 1968 to 1979; and was a founding member of the Limners artists’ group In Victoria.

1936: B.A. from UBC, Double Honours French and Latin
1962: Sir Otto Beit Medal from the Royal Society of British Sculptors.
1963: M.F.A. from the University of Oregon, Honours Sculpture.
1964: Represented Canada at the Venice Biennale.
1989: Honorary Doctorate, University of Victoria.

Selected Collections
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON
National Capital Commission, Ottawa ON
Brock University, St. Catharines, ON
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, BC
University of Victoria, Victoria, BC
Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC
The Feckless Collection, Vancouver, BC