10 students helped Fafard make frog sculpture in 1971 — and University of Regina wants to find them

·5 min read
Wendee Kubik reunites with the College Avenue Campus frog sculpture she helped build with Joe Fafard in 1971. (Deanna Patterson - image credit)
Wendee Kubik reunites with the College Avenue Campus frog sculpture she helped build with Joe Fafard in 1971. (Deanna Patterson - image credit)

For over 50 years, the University of Regina College Avenue campus has been home to an iconic frog sculpture.

The frog is credited to the late Saskatchewan sculptor Joe Fafard. But it was not a solo endeavour — many other hands are also responsible for its creation.

The frog, built in 1971, suffered substantial weather damage over the years and is currently undergoing extensive restorative work.

But before the University of Regina unveils the restoration, they are looking for the 10 student artists, all women, who contributed to the frog's journey — a journey that began when Fafard was hired to teach sculpture in the late 1960s.

Former student, frog sculptor remembers Fafard

In 1968, 26-year-old Joe Fafard became an art instructor at the University of Saskatchewan Regina campus at the School of Art.

"He was kind of a quiet person, but he was a very deep person," remembered Wendee Kubik, who was one of Fafard's students.

Kubik is a retired professor of Women and Gender Studies. She has a BA in Fine Arts from the University of Saskatchewan Regina Campus and was one of the student artists who helped build the frog sculpture.

Fafard's passion for community art made an impression on Kubik.

Fafard "was very democratic about everything," said Kubik. "He was very much in the community, heart and soul. [The frog] was this idea that he had, but everybody had to buy into it. It wasn't something that he was imposing on us."

Frog inspired by funk sculpture colleague

Fafard taught alongside another instructor named David Gilhooly, a ceramicist from San Francisco.

Gilhooly's primary art style was funk sculpture — a movement that emerged in California in the late 1960's.

Funk sculpture "is very hippie-adjacent and anti-establishment — it's about unconventional materials and using a lot of humour and kitsch in your work," said Alex King, art historian and curator preparatory for the president's art collection at the University of Regina.

"Often funk sculptures are kind of ugly," said King. "They have a bit of a rough finish. It's just sort of very irreverent, very anti-establishment, very much about the spirit of that time."

Gilhooly didn't stay at the University of Saskatchewan very long. According to King, it's rumoured that his contract wasn't renewed due to his habit of giving all of his students A's.

Although he was only in Regina for a couple of years, Gilhooly had a big impact on the art department and on Joe Fafard.

Back then, Fafard "was making very serious work, kind of like kinetic sculptures, very formal," said King.

But Gilhooly's work was much more playful and lighthearted. One series he sculpted while in Regina was called Frog World, which were portraits of people combined with frogs. Gilhooly created a whole Egyptian royalty series, such as King Tut, but as a frog.

LISTEN | University of Regina art curator and historian seeks to uncover hidden history of College Avenue frog sculpture:

Gilhooly also painted a series of portraits of notable Regina artists during this time, but re-imagined as a variety of monkeys, like baboons and orangutans.

Fafard shared his university studio with Gilhooly and was inspired by his colleague's work.

During the 1971 school year, when Gilhooly was wrapping up his time at the University, Fafard taught a class of ten female students in the winter term.

As an homage to Gilhooly and his funk art style, Fafard proposed a large frog sculpture for the outdoor green space as a collaborative project with his students.

Frog last remnant of 1970s outdoor sculpture trend

Kubik said outdoor sculptures were a common sight on the College Avenue Campus during this era.

She remembers many mysterious art pieces appearing around campus, including a large gargoyle installed on the roof of one building and other small sculptures hidden in the bushes.

"You'd be walking along and there'd be another one, and then there'd be another one," said Kubik. "And people would report on what they found, and then they'd be gone. And it was fun. It was great fun."

The frog was one of many collaborative sculptures that Fafard led with his students, but it is the only one that still survives. Other sculptures of the era include a woolly mammoth, a cow and a bust of Norman MacKenzie, the founder of the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

The Podium/University of Regina Archives & Special Collections
The Podium/University of Regina Archives & Special Collections

Frog sculpture hops back to life

The frog sculture "is very beloved," said King. "I didn't grow up here, but everyone seems to have a memory about climbing on the frog when they were a kid. And I know how thrilled people are to see that it's being taken care of."

Kubik agreed that the enduring public appeal of the frog sculpture is exactly what it was built for.

Fafard "talked a lot about community art and having art that all people could experience," said Kubik.

"When we would see families with kids on it, I just thought, well that's exactly what it was meant to be. It was meant to be community art."

The sculpture was not initially built with the intention of lasting forever. The inside of the frog is hollow, originally supported by wood framing and chicken wire. But due to years of outdoor exposure, the interior wood has started to rot out.

Restoration work includes rebuilding the wood frame and using spray foam to reinforce the interior, as well as a fresh weather-proof glaze.

The University of Regina is looking for more students from that 1971 art class who helped conceive and build the frog sculpture. A plaque is being prepared to commemorate the restoration and the history of the frog. King says former students who want to share their experience can contact her directly.

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