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ACCOMPLISHED ARTIST: Leo Mol was Manitoba's best-known and most honoured sculptor


Winnipeg Free Press
July 07, 2009

During a Winnipeg-based career lasting more than 50 years, he sculpted popes, cardinals, royalty, statesmen, community leaders, artists of the Group of Seven and many other notable figures.

Born Leonid Molodozhanyn in 1915 in the village of Polonne, Ukraine, he learned to work with clay from his father, a potter.

Mol was a top student at the Leningrad Academy of Arts in the 1930s. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, he was conscripted and sent to Germany, but in 1945 managed to flee to Holland and continue his training. In 1948-49, Mol and his wife emigrated to Winnipeg.

Starting here as a ceramic artist and church painter, Mol gradually gained prominence as a skilled sculptor and stained-glass artist. By the 1960s, he was earning international commissions for bronzes.

He was chosen to create a bronze monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko in Washington, D.C., followed by two more in Argentina and Brazil. In the year 2000, Mol gave a statue of Shevchenko to the city of St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), where he had studied art.

To make his bronze casts, Mol used a revised version of the centuries-old "lost wax" process -- a rarity in Canada. The costly, time-consuming process involves sculpting a Plasticine model over an armature, then creating a plaster mould, inside which molten bronze ultimately replaces melted wax.

Mol was well-known for sculpting animals such as bears, graceful female nudes, Ukrainian subjects, and busts or full-length likenesses of prominent personalities. He sculpted portrait-heads of many Winnipeggers, which helped pay his bills and keep his skills sharp for major commissions.

His works around the city include the nine-foot Queen Elizabeth II in the courtyard of the Manitoba Centennial Centre and the sculpture of children climbing a tree in front of the Richardson Building.

He designed and executed more than 80 stained-glass windows for Manitoba churches. The most impressive include a magnificent Last Supper scene at Westworth United Church and 16 windows illustrating the history of Ukraine's people at the Sts. Vladimir and Olga Cathedral.

Institutions with Mol works in their collections include the Vatican Museum, National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Art Gallery of Ontario, McMichael Canadian Art Collection and Winnipeg Art Gallery. His pieces are in private and corporate collections throughout Canada, the U.S., England and Europe.

The Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Assiniboine Park opened in 1992 as a permanent showcase for Mol's body of work. Roughly 250,000 people visit each year.

In 2002, the Mol sculpture Lumberjacks was featured on a Canadian postage stamp.

Mol's art dealer David Loch says the market for his works is strong and their value is growing. A version of the now-famous bronze of pilot Tom Lamb that stands about 16 inches tall has appreciated in value from $1,500 to $28,000. Some of Mol's life-size figures that started at $15,000 are now worth $80,000 to $90,000.

Mol was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1989 and to the Order of Manitoba in 2000. He received honorary doctorates from the universities of Manitoba, Winnipeg and Alberta, as well as many other honours. He was an elected member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

-- Alison Mayes

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