Prairie Prestige Digital Collections

Leo Mol

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Leo Mol was born in 1915 in Polonne, Ukraine, known as “village of potters” because of its abundance of clay. By the time he was 11 years old, he worked almost full time for his father, also a potter, modelling clay and using the wheel.  At 15 he went off to Vienna to study painting with Wilhelm Frass, but it was under the tutelage of Frans Klimsh in Berlin that he became immersed in sculpture, eventually studying at the Berlin Academy. There he studied sculpture and bronze casting in the historical academic tradition.   In 1949, he immigrated to Canada, first to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, but then to Winnipeg where he initially earned money by painting church murals.  By the 1960s, he gradually gained prominence as a skilled sculptor and was earning international commissions for his bronzes. He built his own studio and foundry in Winnipeg and his artistic process was documented by Slavko Nowytski in the film Immortal Image (1979). Mol lived and worked in Winnipeg until his death in 2009.

 Leo Mol meeting Pope John Paul II (UCAWA - 07_01_036)

Working in the representational academic style, Mol received many commemorative portrait commissions and perhaps his most famous patron was the Vatican in Rome.  In 1967, Mol worked in the studio at the Vatican and created the official bust of Pope Paul VI.  He subsequently did a sculptural portrait of Pope John XXIII, and in 1979 completed the bust of Pope John-Paul II. The latter was the result of personal meetings, sketches, and studies. Mol loved the historical legacy of the sculptural tradition in Rome and said that “in the daily life, you experience the heritage as you are passing by so many masterpieces.” 

Leo Mol meeting Pope John Paul II (UCAWA - 07_01_036)

Besides Italy, he earned international acclaim in Germany, the United States, and Argentina.  His more famous sculptures include former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker for the Senate Chambers in Ottawa, President Dwight Eisenhower in Gettysburg, PA, and a sculpture of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko that stands in both Washington D.C. and Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Othersculptures include busts of Sir Winston Churchill, Peter Kuch, John F. Kennedy, Terry Fox, and several full-length sculptures of famous people including one of Queen Elizabeth II that stands 2.73 metres high outside the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg.

 

Mol used the “lost wax”process, a centuries-old tradition to create his bronze casts.  This process was very costly and time consuming, as it included many necessary steps.   After a Plasticine model was sculpted over an armature, a two-part mold was created: the inner of rubber and the outer of plaster. Wax was then poured in, and when cooled became the exact copy of the original sculpture.  The wax was coated with a gritty ceramic shell mold material,  and then fired in a kiln where the wax melted away, ultimately to be replaced with molten bronze.

Mol was meticulous about keeping an inventory of every sculpture that he made, and in 1990 he donated over 300 bronzes, terracottas, drawings, and paintings to the City of Winnipeg. Completed in 1992 at a cost of $4 million, the free attraction at Assiniboine Park is visited by an estimated 250,000 people a year.  It is thought to be the only such garden in North America devoted to the work of one sculptor.  Here one sees an overview of his oeuvre and subjects, including A.J. Casson, F.H. Varley, A.Y. Jackson from the Group of Seven as well as many other busts, several female nudes, Tom Lamb, a famous Manitoban bush pilot, and other iconic Canadian figures. The centrepiece of the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden is the bronze Lumberjacks, a composition of two loggers at work representing the concept of teamwork and balance. So powerfully Canadian is its symbolism, this sculpture was featured on a Canadian stamp in 2002.

 Leo Mol's portrait of A.Y. Jackson (UCAWA - 07_01_149)

Although a sculptor, Mol also produced a number of major stained glass windows and mosaics for churches in Winnipeg and other centres in Canada, and he did many drawings and paintings. Winnipeg collector Dan Orlikow wrote of his paintings: 

"He’s very unknown for the paintings, and people may be interested to know that he went on sketching trips with the members of the Group of Seven. I have a painting he did with A.Y. Jackson in 1967 and I’ve seen the painting by A.Y. Jackson and I like the Leo Mol one better.” (Morley Walker, Winnipeg Free Press, July 6, 2009).

Leo Mol's portrait of A.Y. Jackson (UCAWA - 07_01_149)

Mol’s works can be found in several institutions in Canada, including the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Internationally, he is represented in the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., and the Vatican Museum. Further institutional support came through honorary degrees from the University of Winnipeg, University of Manitoba, and the University of Alberta.  Other significant accolades for Mol include being made an Officer of the Order of Canada and the Order of Manitoba, and becoming a Honorary Academician of the Canadian Portrait Academy in 2000.

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