by Mary Lou Devine
Even before I met Rosemary Breault-Landry, I was a fan of her work. In the first instance, a few years ago, I was visiting the Kemptville Public Library and came upon a recently dedicated bas relief which was on public view on the north side of the building. The bronze sculpture was one of a man and a woman dancing. Through the gestures and the movement inferred by the piece, one could see the pleasure that this brought to both of them. I read up on the background of the sculpture and learned that it portrayed a philanthropic couple who resided in Kemptville and who were being honoured by the town for their generosity. Breault-Landry says that the sculpture was inspired by the couple themselves. Prior to starting the piece, she met with the couple, who were in their 90’s and were still actively contributing to their community.
I next encountered Breault-Landry’s work when I walked into newly opened Apple Crate Gallery in Manotick last year. Her bronze works “Resistance”, inspired by Quebec Dance choreographer Tedd Robinson and “Surrender”, also a bronze which was a reversal in thought from the same inspiration, were on display and immediately caught my attention. While Breault-Landry mostly works with live models, these two sprang directly from her head to her fingers after having seen a performance by Robinson. The two sculptures were very different from the bas relief I had seen in Kemptville but both had an attention to detail that I found quite fascinating.
Rosemary Breault-Landry was born and raised in Windsor Ontario. While sculpting has become her passion, it was not her first career. She was a Registered Nurse and practiced for almost 30 years in Quebec City, retiring in 1996. While working and raising a family, she says that she has always been drawn (pun intended) to art and took painting and other art-related lessons on a part time basis but felt that she needed to express herself creatively, with more depth. As a result, she registered for summer courses at the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) in Toronto. Those part time courses soon became full time and, while it took her nine years to graduate from the school in 1992, she did so with honours and has not stopped living her dream since.
Breault-Landry says that she has always been fascinated with the human figure and that she loves expressing feelings and spirit in her artwork. Her knowledge of human anatomy and training in drawing and sculpture has served her well in this regard. This is very obvious when one sees a depiction of Ashley MacIssac as “The Devil in the Kitchen” which is also a bronze piece. MacIssac is immediately recognizable as the subject of the sculpture and Rosemary has completely captured his essence, vibrancy and joie de vivre.
Upon her retirement from nursing, Rosemary began teaching sculpture and drawing in Quebec City. In 1998, she worked for an entire summer sculpting portraits in the style of Auguste Rodin at the Musee des Beaux-Arts on the plains of Abraham. In the fall of that year, she was successful in winning a nation-wide contest to sculpt a bust of the first native Senator, James Gladstone, a Cree by birth and Blackfoot by adoption. Senator Gladstone became a Senator in 1958, two years before registered Indians gained the right to vote. After much research and contact with the Senator’s family with respect to their preferences and wishes for his dress, Breault-Landry sculpted the Senator in full ceremonial feather headdress with boughs in the form of a crown. He is wearing an undershirt and a leather jacket on which a native pattern was created using a hammer and metal punch. The sculpture sits at the entrance to the Senate and has followed it to its temporary home at the newly refurbished train station until such time as it returns to Parliament Hill with the Senate.
While she sculpts in other media such as hydro-stone and hydrocal, her bronze sculptures are what captured my attention. I asked her about the process for producing a bronze and she indicated that the sculpting process from clay to bronze is a complicated one. In order to produce a bronze, she first has to be convinced of its worth and has to be completely satisfied with the initial clay figure. Once she has reached that level of conviction, a rubber mold of the clay figure is produced and is taken to the foundry. Layers of wax are then poured into the mold, with wax ports and air vents being added. A ceramic shell is made both inside and outside the wax form. This process can take up to 6 weeks as each layer has to be totally dry before adding another 6, 7 or even 8 layers. When the ceramic shell is baked, the wax melts out and scalding liquid bronze is poured into the area where the wax once was. After cooling overnight, the ceramic is broken away at which time the bronze can be finished, polished and a patina applied.
Breault-Landry says that her favourite part of the sculpting process is the initial one; the production of the tactile “hands-on” work in clay. She states that this is the most rewarding and, sometimes, frustrating part of this kind of creation but admits that she loves a challenge.
Rosemary currently teaches college level courses in figurative sculpture and drawing at the Ottawa School of Arts, Orleans Campus. When asked if she feels that teaching brings something to her work, she responds by saying that the interaction with other artists/students is always an important part of teaching. She attempts to convince her students that they are also creators in their own right and she loves to see them evolve as they learn, loves “seeing the lights go on when they make discoveries that they get to express.”
While Breault-Landry feels that the steps to succeeding as an artist requires a lot of hard work drive, conviction and passion, it is important to note that art is not really work at all but, rather, a fulfilling expression of the soul. When she is creating, she does not see time pass and is happy to state that artists can continue to create well into their later years and that she does not have to retire (again).
I, for one, hope that she continues to create for a long time to come.