Public art at Jardin de Sculptures in Winnipeg’s French Quarter
La Maison des artistes is an artist centre of contemporary art that works with the francophone community in Manitoba and the French-speaking community at large. It is located in the building which was the St. Boniface City Hall for 70 years prior to amalgamation with the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1972. The three-storey red brick building was designed by architect Victor Horwood and built in 1905-1906. There were offices on the main floor, Council chambers on the second, and residences for the Chief of Police and his Assistant on the third. The courtroom and 11 jail cells (two for women, nine for men) were located in the basement. Today, in addition to La Maison des artistes, the building also houses the Riel Tourism Board, which offers information for attractions and events throughout St. Boniface and French Manitoba.
Jardin de Sculptures opened in the lot adjacent to the building in 2008. The garden contains a number of sculptures situated among greenery along wide walking paths.
In front of the building is the sculpture Volte by Marcel Gosselin. A Google search for translations for the word “volte” gave me answers such as “make a u-turn” and “turnabout or reversal of opinion or policy.” In the context of this sculpture, it might mean “to go in circles”. The sculpture is meant to signify the circle of life and the importance of families, with each generation building upon the prior.
The granite sculpture Monument by Michel de Broin was commissioned by the Winnipeg Arts Council in collaboration with La Maison des artistes for the newly constructed garden. It was unveiled in 2009. Michel de Broin is an artist of international acclaim who does innovative work. When he first visited the newly created garden, he was surprised by how formally it was laid out. The newly planted cedar trees were wrapped in burlap to protect them during the winter. Those burlap-wrapped trees, the draping of snow in the winter, and the statues at the nearby St. Boniface Cemetery inspired the piece. He called it, ” a decidedly contemporary spin to a classic motif.” The figures are concealed and anonymous. They remain a mystery.
The staff at Winnipeg Arts Council seem to love the story of the unveiling of this statue. I’ve heard it told at a couple of public art events I’ve attended. The sculpture was draped in red velvet. When the big moment of unveiling occurred, the red velvet was pulled away, only to reveal a set of draped figures.
Entre Chien et Loup by Joseph Fafard resembles something between a wolf and a dog. All kinds of shapes can be found in the cut-out spaces – a church steeple, a man’s face, angels, birds, tree branches.
La Promise by Madeleine Vrignon examines the conflicted relationship of women with traditional marriage. Information on the La Maison des artistes website says, “A sign of purity, the wedding dress symbolizes the transition to a new life where spirituality and sexuality will try to anchor.” When I look at the sculpture, the unattached hands reaching upward gives a sense of freedom and possibility and the bodice speaks of sensuality, while the wide skirt seems to ground and maybe even confine. You cannot see it in this photo, but the back of the skirt is teethered to the ground. Is it security or bondage?
Curositês by Francis Montillaud is an allegorical scene reflecting on human nature. “Between vice and virtue, curiosity gives rise to a situation in which wonder, harmony, pride and suffering coexist.” The expressions of the children in the sculpture pieces are vivid and wonderful.
Jardin de Sculptures is a peaceful little garden. More permanent sculptures are planned. There is also space for temporary installations. To me, the feel of the garden changes a bit depending on the season and time of day.
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