N.B. artists chosen to cast bronze statues of prime ministers

N.B. artists chosen to cast bronze statues of prime ministers

Two New Brunswick artists chosen to create a statue of at least one Canadian prime minister are hoping to start with a Nova Scotian who held the job for only 68 days — a record short tenure.

Wood sculptor Darren Byers and mural artist Fred Harrison are the only team from the Maritime provinces working on the Prime Ministers Educational Resource and Statue Project.

Byers said he and Harrison don't know yet whose likeness they'll be asked to cast in bronze, but they have their eyes on Sir Charles Tupper, a Father of Confederation who was prime minister for  just under 10 weeks, from May to July 1896.

"We spent some time trying to figure out which one we'd like to do and he is sort of unknown in a way," Byers told Shift New Brunswick. "He wasn't in for very long."

"He was quite instrumental in the development of the railway and a whole bunch of other things."

Tupper, who brought Nova Scotia into Confederation, became prime minister after the resignation of Mackenzie Bowell. He and his Conservatives went down to defeat soon after at the hands of Wilfrid Laurier's Liberals.

Frye statue

Byers and Harrison have already collaborated on creating large-scale bronze statues.

One of their creations is a bronze likeness of Canadian literary critic and theorist Northrop Frye. A version of the statue can now be seen in Toronto and Moncton.

Byers said the statue was instrumental in the pair's being chosen for the prime minister project. The sculpture includes a couple of "Easter eggs," clues about Frye's life, including pictures on a book he holds that refer to his time spent in Moncton and Toronto.

Organizers want Byers and Harrison to include similar clues on their work for the prime minister project.

"It's really neat to be encouraged to do those things on a new project," Byers said.

"They are really encouraging. And children are great, because they go over and under and around and they see all these things, so it's a real educational factor that they are trying to incorporate."

Byers said the team spends a lot of time researching a person's background before creating a piece.

For the commissioned Frye sculpture, they knew he had to sit on a bench with a book.

But Frye wasn't an especially affable man, Byers said, so the artists placed another book beside him, "so that when you sit down, it sort of bumps you over.

"We felt that it was important to honour who he was and how he felt to us … as well as trying to give the committee what they wanted."

Controversial project

The privately financed statue project has attracted much attention, including online petitions both for and against it. The project conceived by a former school principal in Kitchener, Ont., but because of some public opposition, that city and Wilfrid Laurier University in nearby Waterloo both rejected having the statues exhibited on their properties. 

Instead, the sculptures of 22 men and one woman will join an existing bronze likeness of Sir John A. Macdonald at Castle Kilbride, a national historic site in Baden, west of Kitchener, where they will form a prime ministers walk.

The first two statues will be unveiled on Canada Day, and a third one will be installed in November.

Byers said he and Harrison were not involved in creating the first three statues, and he doesn't know which prime ministers they'll represent.

The New Brunswick team hopes to do its first sculpture next year, pending funding from the project.

It may seem strange to have a wood carver and a mural artist collaborate on a bronze statue, but Byers said bronze is easier than wood because they can use a mould.

"There's a little more forgiveness and a little more freedom, in a way, to work with the bronze," he said.