Exhibition a loving tribute to sculptor Leo Mol

Mol's craftsmanship is legendary. So, too, are his work ethic, his drive and his single-mindedness.

It doesn't hurt that he is represented by one of the country's most commercially successful dealers, David Loch, who buys for the likes of Toronto's Ken Thomson and Winnipeg's Hartley Richardson.

"With Leo, it's never been about the money," says Loch, who is collaborating with officials of Winnipeg's Ukrainian community to present a summer-long indoor exhibition of Mol's sculptures, drawings and paintings, some of which have never been seen publicly.

"If he hadn't been doing the work, we would not have the (Assiniboine Park) sculpture garden."

Leo Mol: A Retrospective has its official opening 2 p.m. Sunday at Gallery Oseredok in the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre at 184 Alexander Ave.

More than half of the 58 pieces in the show, which runs through Sept. 23, are paintings and drawings, which the public seldom associates with the Mol brand.

"Most of them are landscapes," Loch says. "He has always done them as a way to relax."

Mol is expected to attend Sunday's opening. Despite his age, he still keeps active.

He and his wife, Margareth, remain in the St. Boniface home where they have lived since moving to Winnipeg in the early 1950s.

He surrendered his driver's licence three or four years ago. A few times a week, he'll take a bus to one of his old haunts, perhaps the Loch Gallery on St. Mary's Road, or Oseredok.

He sits and has tea with whoever is around. He loves to talk about the old days the way the elderly do.

"We so enjoy his visits," says Bohdana Bashuk, Oseredok's senior administrator. "It's marvellous to hear about his work and his studies in St. Petersburg in what was such a robust political past."

Oseredok president Ken Romaniuk has worked with Loch to curate the exhibition, He says it is being undertaken to pay tribute to Mol, not just for his artistic accomplishments, but for his many years of dedication to the Ukrainian community.

"He helped renovate the centre in the '70s," Romaniuk says. "He was hands-on. He'd be down here helping to paint."

Among Ukrainians here, Mol (whose birth name was Molodozhanyn) is considered as influential an artist as the painters William Kurelek, Myron Levytsky and Natalka Husar.

"Leo Mol is known as the best Canadian sculptor," says Daria Darewych, a Winnipeg-born art historian who teaches at York University in Toronto.

"This is not just in Canada but in the Ukrainian diaspora everywhere."

He has done at least three bronze monuments to the poet Taras Shevchenko, one of which stands in Embassy Row in Washington, D.C., and another in Argentina.

He was commissioned to do likenesses of Pope Paul VI, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, all of which are part of the modern religious art collection of the Vatican Museums in Rome.

Besides the sculpture garden in Assiniboine Park, opened in 1992, his work dots the city.

His sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II stands in the courtyard of the Manitoba Centennial Centre.

He has done busts of the likes of former mayor Stephen Juba, wildlife painter Clarence Tillenius and former Winnipeg Art Gallery director Ferdinand Eckhardt.

The Juba bust will be on display in the Oseredok retrospective, as will a rare Tyndall stone portrait of a man who may or may not be Mol himself.

"He has accomplished so much with so little fanfare," Loch says. "It's incredible."

In 1963, the great American art critic Clement Greenberg was commissioned by Canadian Art magazine to write a piece about the significant artists of the Canadian Prairies. Mol made the cut as "a good and sensitive modeller of figures and heads."

Canada's visual arts establishment has always been cool to Mol's work because his traditionally realistic style has been resistant to modern art developments.

"He has been true to his own vision and his training," Darewych says. "That takes admirable strength."

When Romaniuk looks at Mol's work, whether in sculptural or painting form, he gets a "profound feeling of his Ukrainian roots."

By Morley Walker

The Winnipeg Free Press
Entertainment, Thursday, June 9, 2005, p. d1

2005 Winnipeg Free Press. All rights reserved.

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