MONTREAL — Harry Rosen scored a hat trick this fall in his quest to brighten the lives of people through his art and leave a lasting legacy.
The 85-year-old dentist and McGill University professor had three more of his colossal sculptures of triumphant human figures installed at three very different institutions around Montreal.
He donated the bronze works to Mount Sinai Hospital in Côte St. Luc, the Montreal Heart Institute in Rosemont, and the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
As usual, they are intended to inspire.
The Mount Sinai’s three-metre high To the Summit and Beyond is a climbing figure with an arm extending heavenward. La Connexion at the Heart Institute depicts two androgynous figures leaning into each other, suggesting our mutual dependence, while they pump their fists, and the MAB-Mackay’s Maximus is a youth with arms raised.
MAB-Mackay, the most recent recipient, serves children and teens with motor or communication difficulties, as well as people of all ages with hearing and visual impairments. Nine-year-old Ainsley Rowcliffe had the honour of unveiling Maximus, which bears the inscription “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
This makes a total of eight of Rosen’s trademark sculptures that have been erected since 2008, beginning with the Montreal Children’s Hospital, followed by the Jewish General Hospital’s Lady Davis Institute, the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, the YM-YWHA and the Westmount YMCA.
At the MAB-Mackay dedication, representatives of those eight institutions gathered to pay tribute to Rosen, who has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
The sculptures are not commissioned; he just continues to make them and then tries to find an institution – or, as he prefers, “ a soulmate” – that will accept them as a gift. His only condition is that they are displayed outdoors and in a place where the maximum number of people can see them.
It’s not hubris that drives him, but a belief in the ability of public art to contribute to the betterment of society.
“Public art is a real responsibility that I take seriously,” he said. “Whoever goes by a sculpture becomes an art critic.”
Concordia University’s public art specialist and historian Clarence Epstein said Rosen’s work has become a brand denoting the blending of philanthropy, humanity and art. “Harry has a vision, and he is not easily dissuaded… To have eight works put up in such a short time is remarkable.”
Although these most recent works are cast in bronze, stone has been and remains Rosen’s favoured medium. Rendered in a patina that resembles stone, the latest trio are in the same style as his stone works, which are composed of many thin layers of sedimentary stone, painstakingly ground into shape and carefully positioned.
Rosen has been working with heavy, hard materials from the earth for 50 years.
It began after he and wife, Delores, bought a country home in the Laurentians, and he had to remove rocks to make a beach for his three children. Then he was building walls and terraces, even an amphitheatre.
Gradually, as he heaved and manoeuvred those rocks, his attitude changed. He saw their beauty and artistic potential.
“As I grew older, I moved from the functional to the esthetic,” said Rosen, who calls creating with such formidable material his “mishegas.”
Rosen is a prosthodonist, a specialist in restoring teeth, which requires building skills and a dexterity that he has been able to transfer to a much bigger tableau.
Not only does he work alone in making the sculptures, he also oversees the all-important task of designing and constructing their foundations, usually with a team of volunteer professionals and tradespeople.
“We dentists always talk about permanence and perfection,” he said. “In truth, there is no such thing, but we can come close.”
The MAB-Mackay location seemed destined for a Rosen sculpture. In the middle of the parking lot, a large rock, apparently an outcropping that could not be removed, jutted up. Rosen just levelled it off and a pedestal emerged.
David Stenason, chair of the MAB-Mackay Foundation, said Maximus is being enjoyed by clients, their families and the staff, and is an attractive centrepiece in what was an expanse of asphalt.
Rosen has never shirked from the heavy lifting and works in all kinds of weather.
“One day [at Mount Sinai], a guy stopped and was watching me work – I was dressed like a labourer. Finally, he comes up and says, ‘Can I ask you a question? Who is your boss, making an old man like you work so hard?’’’ Rosen chuckles at the memory.
The Heart Institute’s acceptance of his work has been particularly gratifying for Rosen because it is the first francophone recipient.
Quebec Culture and Communications Minister Hélène David was a guest speaker at the dedication of La Connexion, saying the sculpture conveys the humanitarian spirit of the founder 60 years ago of the Heart Institute, her father, Dr. Paul David, a pioneering cardiologist. The inscription on the nameplate is “L’un pour l’autre.”
Rosen sums his mission up this way: “It’s one thing to be creative – most people are – and another to have a vehicle for that creativity. I’m grateful and lucky I found that means of expressing myself and sending a meaningful message to people.”