A modern-day pioneer in cancer research is honouring a similar pioneer from the last century. Allen Eaves (’62) is funding the creation of a larger-than-life bronze portrait of Charles Huggins, who graduated from Acadia in 1920. The sculpted portrait, with installation scheduled for October 10, 2020, will be installed outside the entrance to Acadia’s Huggins Science Hall.
Eaves is a pioneer in stem-cell research and bone-marrow transplantation, and the recipient of national and international awards for his contributions to cancer research. He is President and CEO of STEMCELL Technologies, a biotech company he started in 1993; the company is currently supporting COVID-19 research. He was also the founding Director of the Terry Fox Laboratory for Hematology/Oncology Research, which he grew into an internationally recognized centre for the study of leukemia and stem-cell research.
Huggins won the 1966 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries concerning hormonal treatment of prostatic cancer. Born in Halifax in 1901, he won numerous awards for his research during a long and distinguished career with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Chicago. He died in 1997.
“I think scientists need to be recognized better than they are now,” Eaves says. “They contribute hugely, and Charles Huggins was a pioneer in understanding how hormones are involved in cancer. And he was local, so we should celebrate him.”
Internationally renowned artist, sculptor
The creator of the portrait is Ruth Abernethy, an internationally renowned Canadian artist and sculptor. Her commissioned bronze pieces include figure portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, Glenn Gould, and Oscar Peterson.
Abernethy is the sculptor of other outdoor bronze portraits of local scientists, also funded by Eaves. The most recent piece, Disruptor, is a large sculpture on Middle Dyke Road that honours Abraham Gesner, the inventor of kerosene and the undisputed father of the petroleum industry. Work at the Trestle, on the Wolfville waterfront, portrays Vernon Smith, a civil engineer and the builder of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway; he was Eaves’ great-grandfather. Dr. Apple, across from the Kentville Research Station, portrays Eaves’ father, Charles Eaves, who created North America’s first atmospherically controlled fruit storage in 1939.
“The Annapolis Valley is a beautiful little gem, and many people there don’t appreciate the big things that have come out of the place,” Eaves says. “This is an opportunity to celebrate them.”
Abernethy wanted to capture Huggins at the moment he received his Nobel Prize. She presents him in a tuxedo, standing behind an armchair that is true to the chairs reserved for Nobel prizewinners at the ceremony. His fingertips rest on the back of the chair. To ensure accuracy of his clothing in the 1960s, she called on theatre costumers – experts in how garments were cut and created during different decades.
“It’s that moment, where science is such a backbone for contemporary life, that I wanted a touch of elegance, and a lab coat wasn’t going to cut it,” she says. “This is a man being honoured, and it’s a black tie event. I really felt that it was deserved, and it is a true moment for Charles Huggins.”
Represents science at Acadia
In the Nobel presentation ceremony, each recipient comes to a chair that has a certificate propped up on it. “We’ve used the certificate panel to introduce Huggins – his accomplishments, a few life details, and what he is being honoured for,” Abernethy says. “That’s cast in bronze and will be welded in place, almost vertical, in the back of the chair, so there’s lots of space for you to sit in the chair with Huggins behind you.”
Huggins represents the Huggins Building and his own accomplishments, but he also represents science at Acadia, Abernethy adds. “This is somebody you could really look up to.”
“We need to become more of a science-based society and celebrate the successes,” Eaves says. “We need to give young people incentives to take up science and make further discoveries.”