It was a wonderfully bright, sunny day when I, together with my dad, daughter Amy, Uncle Joe and Aunt Milly, visited the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Winnipeg. Situated in Assiniboine Park, the Sculpture Garden is accessed by following the winding paths through the beautiful flowerbeds of the park’s English Garden.
The Sculpture Garden opened in 1992. It was created by the Manitoba Government and the City of Winnipeg to display the artwork of Leo Mol (1915-2009), who had gifted his personal collection to the city. Mol believed that the sculptures should be on display for the public to view as had been the way in ancient Greece and Rome. Since it’s inception, the garden has been expanded twice to accommodate more sculptures. It now covers 1.2 hectares and contains over 300 cast bronze sculptures.
Entering the garden, we encountered several figures of frolicking bears amongst the shady trees as well as a sculpture of two lumberjacks. I have since learned that this sculpture was the subject of a postage stamp in 2002 and am determined to find one to add to my collection.
Emerging from the trees, we encountered a pond filled with lily pads and two of Mol’s many female nudes, sculpted in the 1970s and 1980s. Sitting on the edge brandishing a camera worth as much as many people’s cars was a photographer patiently waiting for a dragonfly to alight on two leopard frogs sitting on a lily pad. The beauty of the gardens together with the brilliance of the sculptures must attract many photographers, professional and amateur alike. I know my daughter and I were clicking away furiously.
The next path we walked down took us to what I think of as the Ukrainian portion of the garden. Leo Mol (born Leonid Molodozhanyn) grew up in Polonne, Ukraine, where he was taught how to mold clay by his father, a potter from a long line of potters. Despite leaving Ukraine at the age of 15, Mol’s work was strongly influenced by his Ukrainian heritage, and he established strong ties within the Ukrainian community in Manitoba.
In the Ukrainian portion of the garden, we encountered two striking sculptures of Taras Shevchenko, a bust and a full body sculpture, along with a rendition of his poem, ‘Haidamaky’. The Ukrainian poet, painter and playwright was a popular subject of Mol’s, whose commissioned renditions of the famous man can be found in the US (Washington D.C.), Argentina (Buenos Aires), Brazil (Prudentopolis) and Russia (St. Petersburg).
More figures, Ukrainian and otherwise, can be found in the indoor gallery. Here are housed many of Mol’s smaller sculptures as well as the large busts of different popes. During his long career, Mol was commissioned to sculpt numerous important churchmen, including Popes John Paul XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II, Cardinals Eugène Tisserant and Josyf Slipyi, and Archbishops Hilarion, Maxim Hermaniuk and Andrey Sheptytsky. These can be found in the Vatican, Philadelphia and Altöetting in Germany.
Inside the gallery are also displayed several of Mol’s paintings. When Mol left home at 15, he moved to Vienna to study painting under the tutelage of Wilhelm Frass. It was Frass who later secured for Mol a position as assistant to the sculptor Franz Klimsch, who taught him to work with terra cotta and plasticine. Mol worked for Klimsch and studied at the Kunst Academy in Berlin until 1945 when he and his new wife Margareth fled to Holland to escape the advancing Soviet army. There, Mol found work in a ceramic factory in Schijndel near the refugee camp at Eindhoven where the couple resided. Eventually, he was also able to take some classes at the Academy of Arts in The Hague. The couple remained in Holland until 1948, when they received permission to relocate to Canada.
More sculptures surround the gallery – Moses, more female nudes and Alexander Young Jackson. Over the course of his career, Mol made bronze casts of many notable persons, including the members of the Group of Seven.
The final section of the garden features a pergola with a pond spread out in front. Two more female nudes grace the patio while across the pond stands a large figure of Moses. It is peaceful place where one can sit and rest and watch the ducklings swim amongst the lilies.
Those interested in the process involved in creating these incredible masterpieces can visit the onsite studio with its moulds and plaster casts and watch the National Film Board’s video, ‘Light and Shadow’. In crafting his creations, Mol would begin by making a clay model. This was then coated in liquid rubber and plaster was layered on top with tubes inserted through the plaster. The clay is then removed. Beeswax is used to coat the inside, and then cement is poured in. The whole structure is heated, causing the beeswax to melt and run out. Molten bronze is poured through the tubes in the plaster. It fills the space left by the beeswax. Once the bronze has hardened, the plaster outer layer is removed as is the cement inside, leaving the bronze figure. This is known as the Lost Wax Process.
Mol was an amazing artist. His sculptures are displayed prominently in cities around the world while his stained glass windows grace the walls of churches throughout Winnipeg and Manitoba. Mol was a member of the Manitoba Society of Artists, Sculptors Society of Canada, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, Allied Artists of America, Münchner Künstlergenossenschaft and the Society of Ukrainian Artists in the Diaspora. In 1989, he was inducted in the Order of Canada, and in 2000, the Order of Manitoba. In 2002, he was given Ukraine’s Order of Merit. In addition, he received honourary degrees from the University of Winnipeg, University of Alberta and University of Manitoba.
Here, on the Prairies, we are privileged to have the pleasure of viewing many of Mol’s creations free-of-charge in the lovely gardens which bare his name. I highly recommend spending an afternoon amongst these superb likenesses of historical personages, wildlife, female nudes and other astounding images.