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REF NO.: 327

SUBJECT: New furniture for an age-old ceremony: Memorial University receives new convocation furniture thanks to generous donors
DATE: May 19, 2005

Memorial University is getting new furniture for an age-old ceremony known as convocation, the ceremony that calls together university faculty and alumni, usually in order to confer degrees on students who have completed their programs of study.

The new furniture — a suite of chairs, a speaker’s podium, two tables, a kneeler and a bench — are being crafted in Newfoundland and Labrador, and are largely the result of a generous donation made by Lt.-Gov. Edward Roberts and his brother Douglas, in commemoration of their father, the late Dr. Harry Roberts. Lt.-Gov. Roberts is the former chair of the university's Board of Regents, an honorary graduate of Memorial and, as Lieutenant-Governor, also holds the title of Visitor to the University.

Because Memorial University holds convocation ceremonies on both of its Newfoundland campuses, its original 1960s suite of convocation furniture is shipped the 700 kilometres between St. John’s and Corner Brook each year, and is subjected to the wear and tear of transport. In 2002 plans were made to create a second convocation furniture suite so that a complete set would permanently reside at each of the St. John’sand Corner Brook campuses. Lt.-Gov. Roberts became interested in the project and offered to donate the first of the new black walnut furniture pieces, the design of which were inspired by the culture and traditions of the province; the first piece was a convocation table, which the university began using in 2003.

Designed to hold the university's mace, the convocation table incorporates themes drawn from the marine environment. The inspiration for the table's design is the traditional fish splitting table. For this reason, it comes with crossed supporting legs and a stylized notch on one side. The name and motto of the university (provehito in altum — “launch forth into the deep”) are carved into the table's edges and the inlaid blond wood suggests the notch of a splitting table. The table also features Memorial's coat of arms and a pair of cod heads, reflecting both the university and the province’s maritime heritage.

“Douglas and I are delighted to donate the suite of furniture in memory of our father, the late Dr. Harry Roberts,” Lt.-Gov. Roberts said. “He was a graduate of Memorial University College in 1931 and an early and ardent promoter of the medical school. The convocation furniture will be a lasting tribute to his continued support and interest in the university.”

The newer pieces to be presented by Lt.-Gov. Roberts and his brother Douglas include a signing table and bench, used when honorary degree recipients and other visitors participate in convocation; a speaker’s podium; a “great” chair for the chancellor as the chair of convocation, and four “lesser” chairs for the other senior university officials who participate in convocation ceremonies. A matching kneeler, used by graduates as they are hooded, has been donated by Dr. Alan Perry, former chair of Memorial’s Harlow campus Board of Trustees and an honorary graduate.

The furniture was designed by retired Memorial University designer Ian Stewart and is being crafted by Michael Paterson of Paterson Woodworking in Upper Amherst Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador. All of the pieces in the set evoke the province’s maritime location and traditions in some way. For example, the finials on the large chair are styled after a common lighthouse design, while the back of the chair contain slats that are designed to look like the blades of an oar. The ends of the arm rests on the large ceremonial chair flare to form a whale’s tail. The smaller chairs have similar design features and are adorned with carvings resembling seashells. The kneeler has a salt cod motif.

Memorial President Dr. Axel Meisen is pleased with the donation and remarked on the design and craftsmanship of the pieces. “I am delighted that this new convocation furniture has such strong connections to this province — that its design is so evocative of this place and that it has been made by talented local craftspeople,” he said. “These pieces are a delightful addition to our convocation furniture collection and I want to thank Lt.-Gov. Edward Roberts, Douglas Roberts, and Dr. Alan Perry for their gifts, which form a legacy that will be appreciated for many years to come.”

Since the ceremonial trappings of convocation began to be developed in the early 1960s, there has been a tradition of generous donors providing gifts of convocation items to Memorial. The silver mace, the symbol of the university's authority and the presence of which signals the official opening of convocation, was donated by Chancellor Lord Thomson in 1961, along with the marshals’ staves.

The original chancellor's chair and podium were presented in 1963 by then-Lt.-Gov. Campbell Macpherson. Other complementary birch wood furniture pieces were subsequently commissioned from the St. John’s firm of Clarmanis and Son Ltd.; the chairs bear the university’s coat of arms, hand carved and painted bas-relief. A complementary signing table was presented in 1996 by the former marshal of convocation, Dr. Jack Facey.

The original suite of convocation furniture will be refurbished and will have a permanent home at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook where it will be used in the annual session of Memorial’s convocation that takes place there.

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