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Hand carving coats-of-arms is his passion

Artist Donald Black became interested in heraldry through his love of military history
By Omar Mosleh

August 22, 2012

Neighbourhoods: Don Valley Village

Originally published in our Bayview MillsRiverdale-East YorkNorth York print edition(s).

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Don Valley Village artist Donald Black can proudly say he’s carved the coats of arms for every Canadian province.

And it only took him two decades.

“I didn’t have any deadlines, so it took me about 20 years or so to finish the thing,” he says with a chuckle.

The North York carver has lived in the neighbourhood for more than 40 years and has been carving since his teens.

He’s carved many ornate masks and heads, but his specialty is coats of arms.

Black became interested in heraldry when he came across some books on the subject in the Fairview branch of the Toronto Public Library. He said he was attracted to the history and tradition, but most importantly the significance of the symbols.

“They were usually military symbols to start with, because if you’re out in the battlefield it’s nice to know who your guys are,” Black said. “Coats of arms are not new, but they kind of devolved into an art form.”

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As he’s watched the craft devolve (some would say evolve) into an art form, there’ve been some changes over the years.

Some are more politically motivated than others. For example, the maple leaves at the bottom the Canadian coat of arms were formerly green.

“That’s since changed to red maple leaves and that was instituted when the Liberals put the Liberal colours on the Canadian flag,” he says, chortling.

Black hand carves all his work and the process can take anywhere from weeks to months or longer.

Some of his favourite pieces include those he has done for Osgoode Hall, Upper Canada College and the personal coat of arms he carved for former governor general Michaëlle Jean.

The piece now hangs in an Ottawa public school bearing her name.

“She said it was so impressive it would just be a shame if she kept it in her home,” he said. “She felt it should be on public display.”

Despite how many people have told him they’re impressed with his work, he’s still running out of room to display them.

“It’s hard to get rid of the things,” Black admits. “You can only put so many up on the wall.”

In the case of Osgoode Hall, Black had been commissioned for the work, but decided to donate it after spending about 125 hours on it.

For Black, it’s about the love of the hobby. A former lawyer, it provided him a reprieve from his busy work schedule.

Nowadays, he says it keeps his brain active and provides him something to do other than read.

But there’s no doubt what he enjoys most about the process.

“Getting it finished.”

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