Sculptor immortalizes 'truly stunning' story
By Alistair Burns
The B.C. Catholic
Louise Solecki Weir, a talented sculptor, wanted to honour her deceased father. But her original goal transformed into a two-year odyssey to craft a bust of Blessed John Paul II.
"My father survived four years as a prisoner of the Japanese, and he had contacts with the Polish War Veterans' Society," she said.
Weir put her plan in motion in 2010, offering her services for a fundraiser. "I thought someone would like to be immortalized," she recalled.
After a successful bid, a couple came forward and changed the equation; instead of a self-portrait, they wanted a sculpture of the late Pope. The couple requested anonymity from The B.C. Catholic. Then the sculpture turned larger than life-size.
"I spent a year and a half slowly working on the piece, four hours a day," Weir said. Her guess is that she has spent 100 hours on the piece.
A graduate of York University in sculpture, Weir also works with the UBC medical department to learn human anatomy. "I wanted to make a name for myself as a portrait sculptor. It's a very rare thing to do; there are not many of us."
She explained the creative process for the bust. She started with water-based clay, inserted wires and slabs, and added smaller pieces of clay.
In order to truly capture Blessed John Paul II's vitality, she decided to use dozens of photos from throughout his lifetime. The portraits neatly pinned around her studio run the gamut of his life. Prints of his early years as Pope in the late 1970s overlap with photos of his visits behind the Iron Curtain in the '80s. Others show a frail Pope at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto.
"I needed photographs that showed his head from every angle: looking down, left, right, slightly tilted," she explained. It was extremely difficult to get a straight-on shot "that didn't show him squinting." Without this attention to detail, a true 360-degree sculpture would not have been possible.
"The challenge of working from photos is that when we see or work from a flat surface, our eye just wants to fill in what's behind. Our eyes are not that accurate; once you start working with your hands, it's different," she commented.
Weir's father passed away during the year and a half of her sculpting. "My father was very supportive of my career. It was rather comforting to work on this piece during the time after his death."
Kazimierz Brusilo, the president of the B.C. branch of the Canadian Polish Congress, became involved in Weir's project by giving some pointers on the Pope's description.
"I met John Paul II several times, including a private meeting. I got the feeling he was extraordinary," recalled Brusilo. He was struck by the "reality of the piece, since Louise has done such a good job."
Her work made him think again "how young Karol Wojtyla survived under Nazi rule to post-war under Soviet occupation. His story is truly stunning," he said.
Now the bust is off to be cast at In Bronze Foundry in Langley. In three months local Polish dreams of having a piece of art dedicated to their homeland's greatest son will be fully recognized.
Weir hopes that "people sense a presence, that they realize that John Paul II was a very special man" when they gaze upon her completed sculpture.
Brusilo said he learned from John Paul II's life that "Catholics shouldn't be fearful of death. If we truly believe, then we should be more at peace."